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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Landscape

Skunks, Skunks Go Away!

Skunks know how to make a first impression. They’re notorious for their noxious defense mechanism. When a skunk feels threatened, it can spray a foul-smelling liquid from highly developed anal scent glands, overwhelming the recipient and letting the skunk escape. The stench not only protects the skunk, it teaches predators (and people for that matter) a long-term lesson about avoiding skunks in general. The smell can last for days. Skunks not only stink, they’re destructive. Like raccoons, they’ll tear up your garden and even your lawn searching for worms and grubs (White grubs, at the larval stage of June Bugs, are the most common pest in California lawns). Skunks can also potentially carry rabies.

These furry black and white critters are primarily nocturnal. But whether they're roaming by daylight or after dark, they don’t bother sneaking around and can often be heard rustling through the brush with confidence. Despite their boldness, skunks aren’t generally aggressive with each other or animals from other species. In fact, while they tend to forage alone, they sometimes live in dens with up to ten members that include other species, such as possums.

Tomato Juice Won't Get Rid of the Smell!

Skunks have a high degree of control over their spray. They can fire a concentrated stream to neutralize an approaching threat or release a mist to engulf a pursuing predator. They can spray from one or both scent glands at a time across impressive distances. Even scarier, skunks aim for the eyes and are highly accurate up to 10 feet. A good blast from a skunk has a similar effect as tear gas. However, it’s interesting to note that about 1 in 1000 people are impervious to a skunk’s smell.

For smaller threats skunks will often put on a dance before spraying their victim. They regenerate their oil, but they can only hold a certain amount at a time, and since it takes time to make and is potentially life-saving to have on hand, they often try to fend off minor threats by intimidating their enemies with a "handstand dance" before spraying.

While they can be cute, encountering a skunk is never fun for you or your pets and if a skunk crosses your path don’t attack it or try to scare it away. If you’ve been having trouble with skunks on your property, there are steps you can take to prevent them from returning. Making your property less attractive for skunks to visit. This involves a combination of things such as restricting their access to food, getting rid of hiding places where they might nest, and using other natural skunk deterrents.

Keeping Skunks Out of the Garden

Remove and Restrict Sources of Food

Skunks are omnivores, and their diet depends largely on where they live. The number one thing that brings skunks into the yard is food. Skunks are omnivores that feed mostly on insects and small rodents. They also eat grubs, earthworms, berries, and mushrooms; skunks are major predators of bees (if you keep bees, you’ll likely have skunks). Vegetable gardens, pet food, garbage cans, and bird feeders also attract skunks. Store garbage and recycling in a shed or garage until collection day. Use lidded receptacles that can be locked or held shut with a weight and clean them every now and then to remove odors.

Next, get rid of every other food source in the yard. Avoid leaving any pet food out and get rid of the bird feeder. Bird feeders are hotspots of pest and wildlife activity. If you have fruit trees, be sure to pick up their fruit as soon as they fall to the ground. You can also protect your produce by building raised garden beds. Skunks are poor climbers that will have trouble reaching your plants if they are a foot or two above ground. You can then protect your plants even further with bed covers, which can be hinged on the side for convenience. This will also keep raccoons, rodents, and other wildlife from damaging your plants.

Add Skunk-Repelling Plants to Your Garden

It’s ironic, but skunks hate certain odors. Citrus, ammonia, mothballs and predator urine (dog, coyote, etc.) are three smells that can scare off skunks. If you use mothballs or ammonia-soaked cotton balls, be sure to keep them far away from children. There are some plants that skunks prefer to avoid, thanks to their smell or prickly leaves.

Try planting any of the following around the garden to keep skunks out.

· Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)

· Summer Squash

· Crown Imperial (Fritillaria Imperialis)

· Holly or Plants with Spiky Leaves

· Prickly Bushes and Thick Thorny Hedges

Exclude the Deck and Garden Shed

Skunks like dark, enclosed areas near the garden. It’s a good idea to exclude potential denning sites. Skunk-proof your deck and garden shed by digging a trench around them and attaching a mesh into their sides. The undersides of decks, sheds patios, and extensions are popular denning sites for skunks. Anywhere there is a gap between the structure and the soil, the animals will dig their way under and create a burrow. Females do this in the spring when they need a safe place to raise their young. In the fall, both sexes will burrow for warmth.

If you want to exclude these areas, dig a trench along the sides of the structure you want to protect. Dig about a foot deep into the ground, then screw half-inch mesh into the sides of the structure. A 16-gauge, galvanized steel mesh will offer you the best protection and will last for many years. Having the mesh stick out on the bottom of the structure will prevent skunks from digging underground. When you are done, bury the mesh.

Homemade Skunk Deterrents

Skunks like to keep to themselves and stay out of trouble. They den in dark, quiet areas and sleep throughout the day. If there is a skunk in your area, you can encourage it to stay off your property with naturally irritating sights and smells. Apple cider vinegar is a wonderful skunk deterrent. To a skunk, it smells like predator urine. Try mixing one part apple cider vinegar with one part water and spraying it on your plants to keep skunks away. You can also soak a few rags in apple cider vinegar and put them in punctured freezer bags. Place these bags around the deck and garden. Cat litter can be used in a similar fashion. Sprinkle some used cat litter around the entrance of the skunk’s den or in inconspicuous areas of the garden. The ammonia in your cat’s litter is similar enough to coyote urine that it will scare skunks.

Finally, given that skunks are nocturnal, you can harass these animals out of their dens with bright lights and noise. Simply point a flashlight toward the den and leave it there all day. You can also leave a radio on near the animal’s den to encourage it to leave. Likewise, try setting up motion-activated deterrents with flashing lights or ultrasonic noises when skunks come raiding the garden. They aren’t homemade, but they may prove useful. Motion-activated wildlife deterrents can be found in hardware stores and online.

Contact a Wildlife Removal Company

A professional wildlife removal company can tell you where the skunks are coming from and design a plan that keeps them out. He or she will examine your property for potential denning sites and, if skunks are found, they will be removed humanely. These specialists are thoroughly trained so that no skunks will be harmed in the process.

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