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Attracting & Keeping Garter Snakes - Specifics

 
pollinator
Posts: 437
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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OK so I want some help from garter snakes to combat my slugs (I am near Portland, Oregon). Everyone says "make rock piles" and "put down black plastic & boards" and "make a compost pile but don't turn it". I am not too hot on the idea of sheets of plastic or boards laying around the yard, but I am good with flat rocks (e.g. I have some 16"x16" slates I might use). I need every bit of compost I can produce, and I need it quickly so I need to turn my piles.

What I want is specifics of garter snake preferences for my area.

e.g. for a rock pile, what size of rocks? What size should the pile be? Where should it be located? Am I trying to make cavities or crevices of a certain size & location in the pile? Can garter snakes climb up inside the pile? What time(s) of year do the snakes use the rock piles? Should I put anything else in the pile (e.g. soft/insulated material)? Do they make or use "nests"?

For a flat sheet/flat rock, how much space should there be underneath? Should it be near anything? Do my snakes like to be near water? What size should the flat item be? Can I combine several small flat rocks to make a space the needed size?

For a compost/debris pile, how big, what sort of spaces do the snakes like, do they need the pile to be "hot", etc.

So if there is a snake expert here, please share your knowledge. And for the rest of us, please tell me where you have seen garter snakes roosting, or any other tips for increasing the number of garter snakes on your property.

I'll start with where I have seen them roosting (vs. just moving around the yard):
- At the base of my compost pile, between the large stones that make up the border of the compost area (spring time)
- Inside of a small cavity 6" underground (late fall)

Thanks!
 
steward
Posts: 2719
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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There are a few places on my property that the snakes seem to love.

1. A pile of rocks that faces south and catches the earliest sunshine possible. The rocks are all at least the size of a softball and some are as big as a human head. They are all shapes and types and aren't stacked in any particular fashion. This piles happens to be located next to a culvert pipe that drains water from spring rain from one side of my driveway to the other. I'm sure that pipe attracts all kinds of things that snakes like to eat.

2. In early summer I cut a small portion of my grass which is about four feet tall, and leave it to sit in the sun until it's brown. About a week later and after a little rain I pile all the grass up into mounds about 5 foot in diameter and maybe a couple of feet tall. I save it like this until it is used for mulching pathways or new garden beds. I always find tons of snakes in the piles when I go to move them. The piles creates and retains a good deal of heat and the moisture inside is inviting to everything that a snake would want to eat. Slugs, voles, mice, crickets... all very good snake food. I should mention that I cut the grass at the base so it stays long. Cutting it up too small won't allow room for critters to tunnel into.

3. They also seem to like to patrol along the fence I built from small ash branches. It's a woven fence so there are a lot of little spaces between the fence and the ground that the snakes exploit for food and shelter. I generally let the grass and weeds grow around the base of the fence as a small barrier to rodents and a shelter for the snakes and frogs.


I don't think snakes are hard to please. Just a place to catch some early sun, a nice quiet place to hide, plenty of food critters and a little peace and you'll be in business. I suggest building snake habitat away from the places you frequent. They need to warm up in the sun and that can be tough if people or other animals are constantly scaring them back into their den.

hope this helps


 
steward
Posts: 32843
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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pollinator
Posts: 1506
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
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Is there any way to get snakes to frequent a place that's shady and generally on the cool side without stinky compost that would be a somewhat high-maintenance project? In other words, using compost to heat the snakes means protecting it from getting eaten by larger animals such as the dogs or the occasional bear.

We don't really live in a snaky area--open sun and grass like in the video. We have one compost pile that is basically unused, the suburban version that looks like a flying saucer, black plastic. We have a little area that's grown up with golden rod and stuff. remarkably little grass.

Solutions as soon as possible would be great since I'm up here for a few more minutes then have to go...thanks!

Thanks!
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1506
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
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PS this is for upstate NY, not my regular location in my profile.
 
pollinator
Posts: 278
Location: Central Pennsylvania, USA
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I am not too far away geographically, and I have had garter snakes around my house consistently for the past few years. The place I see them the most often is on either the east or south side on my house near my foundation. I used old firewood as a border for my flower beds and gardens - looks cool, and the snakes love it. I also put some recycled plastic timbers along the foundation to make mowing grass easier (I will take a pic and post it later). My guess is stones or boards would work well too. The snakes seem to use them as cover to travel around the house. I imagine that is also ideal cover for mice and bugs, which are the primary food for garter snakes. I generally see one big snake (Mama?), and lots of babies each year.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 1506
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
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Thanks, I hit on a solution on the way home, a pile of leave that is kept somewhat moist should attract snakes and not much else (not bears or raccoons or such), and if we can just find a way to kep it moist regularly then it will stay warm for the snakes. A compost container with a lot of leaves in the bottom and little drainage or something like that. Also I think we really need to get to htte point of having more of our land cleared and savannah-like, which is already a part of our larger goal, in my view.
 
pollinator
Posts: 784
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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I love old threads especially ones I can contribute to. After collecting large amounts of wood chips I piled some up in an area where the soil needed some help. That was three years ago. Even though the soil still isn’t great it has become a great place to grow potatoes. The only problem with the potatoes is harvesting because it became home to a large family of garter snakes. They love the chips and now I’m blessed with a large number of them all across the property!
 
Posts: 18
Location: SW Ontario Canada
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I had a pile of wood cut offs from a sawmill that had been sitting around for 5 -6 years, consisting of a bunch of slabs and small trees of to 10" diameter.  the pile was in full sun  located in river flats down in a nice section of mixed bush,  I had been planning on burning the pile while camping at the property.  I lit it up and while pushing some logs in saw that there was a few baby garters in amongst the really rotted and splintered bits of trees.  This of course made me sad, the pile was full of insects which the baby snakes were of course eating.  So it made me think that ideal snake habitat was a buggy pile of wood in full sun.  who knew?
 
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Hi Folks, just a caution here if you're creating habitats for snakes - you'll not only attract garter snakes, but other kinds, too, such as Rattlesnakes if they live in your area.  Just this morning I stumbled onto a large rattler that was living under some cardboard in my garden.  I've been using cardboard in some of my beds to keep out the weeds, and when I went to move a piece, there was a huge rattler in the strike position with rattles sounding off.  Needless to say, I ran off with my heart pounding.  So please know what types of snakes live in your area and beware!  
 
pollinator
Posts: 406
Location: Vermont, USA
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Welcome, Laurel!  Sounds like you had quite a scare.  Glad you made it safely back to your computer to post here!  
 
Posts: 33
Location: Heart of the Great Lakes in Southern Ontario
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Want snakes? Put opaque plastic sheets on the ground--not clear translucent--even white can work. As you fry whatever plants are underneath so that you can plant your preferences subsequently, you'll create a snake magnet. When you plant the area, shift the plastic to somewhere nearby so that the snakes still have a home. I'm designing long-term repurposed old metal panels as garden bed edging. It'll keep out weeds and be raised slightly off the ground--just enough for snakes to slither under. Win-win-win.
 
gardener
Posts: 3196
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I created squares of wooden walkway from pallet boards, to suppress grass in my yarden.
Evey time I move one, we find snakes.
I say we,  because my daughter loves to catch them,  play with them, feed them and reluctantly release them.
I'm just glad to see them, I take them as a sign of a healthy place,  kind of like fireflies.
 
pollinator
Posts: 413
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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There's been an explosion in the population of garter snakes and slugs this year around my area.  I don't do anything in particular to attract or deter either.  Perhaps the rather cool and wet spring and early summer last year and again this year has been the cause?
 
Posts: 59
Location: Central Oregon Coast Range, valley side
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I've got a not very encouraging report for forest gardeners in the Coast Range rain forests.

I have buried a lot of wood.  One time a grand fir just shy of 4 ft in diameter at breast height came down.  Me and my buddy could barely deadlift the biggest rounds end over end, but we got them into position  (mostly.)  That's 1 of about 12 buried trees on a hectare, but it was the biggest one.

The point, is that large hugelkultur tends to result in an explosion of wildlife.  Most noticeably here, mushrooms, pill hugs, brown slugs, small rodents, robins, juncos, spotted towhees.   The garter snake expansion didn't get rolling until the third year.  Long ago you'd see them a few times per year, this year was more like a dozen sightings.  There are a few ~4"  minus rock piles, but I see them around the hugel beds mostly

Okay so, brief good news, in the 4th year pill bugs and brown slugs didn't quite decimate all the spring seed planting like they did in the 3rd year.  There were even more snakes.  The ecosystem is progressing!  It's working!!!

Then the progress is lost, this year was much worse for brown slugs.  Among other factors I'm sure, this Redtail hawk starts hanging around the property.  6 robins flock to harass it for hours, but it doesn't flinch against their bluff dives.  I digress.  

Bad news, I have since seen the hawk fly off with a big juicy garter snake, and the brown slugs (and pill bugs but I mostly see slime trails) probably ate 95% percent of planted seeds which made it to seedling this year.  There was literally, hundreds of baby dill plants....I scatted a lot of seed, not one survived the onslaught.  It's hard out there for a dill and garter snake.

I guess it should be mentioned that there were lots of baby brassicas they didn't get around to eating, or weren't as interested in.  Except I wish they'd eat the brassicas before the beans and potatoes and herbs, but apparently that's not how brown slugs and pill bugs work.  Or it was just that most of the brassicas happened to not be in the chosen path of destruction.  4/6 potato planting areas hardly took any pest damage.  But again, seriously, 9 out of like 200 bean plants made it, planted in a few meandering lines, and most the 9 plants were chewed down to a nub.  They just didn't die, and now that the ground has finally dried out significantly, the new growth isn't being eaten.

To save a potato variety I really did not want to buy again, I resorted to going out at night, some times pulling 10 slugs off one plant, and stomping them.  That song from Office Space is playing in my head (the one where they stomp the machine. I digress)

I did just see a blue tailed skink running around a bed today.  That's a new sighting, and the leopard slugs are on the increase, there's probably hope, but beware the plague of slugs.  It's likely immanent in this environment, and apparently it's not like aphids, where it seems to stabalize in a year or two with losses hovering around 5-10%.  Apparently it can take 5+ years for predator populations to BEGIN to significantly reduce a brown slug population if you really let it ride.  Brown slug growth was definitely exponential; I saw maybe 5 total in year 1, then maybe 40 year 2, and then year 3, holy duck, I've never seen so many slugs.  Just wait, they're still getting warmed up.

Or I got unlucky and got the wrong predator.   Or it's the right predator, and it has the wrong hunting habits.  Cut a perch for an owl 30 feet up an oak tree in the middle of the big beds, and then you get a gosh darned hawk eating the snakes instead of rodents, meanwhile the slugs continue their rampage.    Tough break.



 
pollinator
Posts: 406
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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We are on the Wet Coast, the garter snakes are having a FABULOUS year here, along with the Cinnabar caterpillar/moth/butterfly.

It may be because the mower has yet to be deployed, and the tall field grass is rife with the plant the caterpillars are raised on; or it provides lots of hiding spaces. But I'm leaning toward our unseasonably warm and early spring as the reason the other factors are able to provide extra abundance.

To attract snakes, based on what I see, basking spots are key. As I walk about they are constantly fleeing the mowed pathways, for the tall grass. I am sure they would prefer more secure rock pile type area that would act as a heat sink for when things get cooler; but any sort of wood, metal sections provide warm, moist hide outs. Here the metal roofing panels on the ground seem a particular favorite. Likely because I can't seem to stop the dogs from killing the odd snake (prob, dozen a year, but we do have 11 dogs and only a half acre).

Oh and we have a small pond - say 4X8, that could be a key thing for both food and water...

Of note, there were several FB posts about locals, inundated with garters, desperate for someone to come catch them as they were terrified of snakes. Perhaps a "snake relocation" could be utilized to boost your population (and save both the snakes and their current landlord from each other?).
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