Michael is an author with a passion for the environment. He is trying to save the planet, one reader at a time!
Signs of Raccoon Activity in Your Garden
Raccoons can be frustrating, but we should keep in mind if we leave food readily available, we can't blame them for taking advantage. But how do you know if it is indeed a raccoon digging up your plants? You can tell if a raccoon has been in your garden by:
- paw tracks—they have very distinct five-toed paws
- fecal droppings—commonly left behind while feeding
- scratches on your fencing and trees
- evidence of trash cans being looted.
Raccoons aren't finicky when it comes to food, which makes them opportunistic omnivores. They are easily identified by those black mask-like bands on their faces (like bandits, which is perfect considering their penchant for stealing food). They're regarded as highly crafty and resourceful animals that will rarely give up on a mission, especially if it involves food. They have little hand-like paws that are surprisingly agile and dexterous. They excel at running, jumping, swimming, and climbing with great precision and speed.
What Plants Do Raccoons Eat?
Raccoons are omnivores that will eat almost any fruit or vegetable you plant, although they do have preferences. They love corn, berries, grapes, tree fruits, nuts, beans and peas, melons, squash, and potatoes. Pretty much anything you want to eat, they'll want to eat, too. . . although they tend to steer clear of spicy stuff like garlic, onions, and chili peppers.
What about meat? They also love grubs, insects, eggs, snails, and water animals like fish and frogs. They're not great hunters but do occasionally catch a mouse or other small rodent and sometimes even scavenge dead animals.
How to Make Raccoons Leave
Dealing with mischievous raccoons in your yard and garden can be a maddening situation, but with a bit of knowledge and patience, you can get rid of them and keep them away. Being nocturnal, they are obviously most active while you're in bed sleeping. It's difficult to safeguard your fruits and vegetables when this furry little pirate strikes at 3 a.m.
It is a misconception that raccoons hibernate during the winter, but they will hide in makeshift dens during bad weather conditions. They usually prefer a heavily wooded area with a reliable source of water, but more and more are venturing into human- populated areas with gardens for an easy buffet. Here are some tips on how to keep raccoons out of your home, yard, and garden by. . .
- removing and securing food and water sources to make your yard less appealing,
- using raccoon-repelling ingredients and devices (see list below), and/or
- using a live trap to relocate the raccoon.
Removing and Securing Food Sources
As aforementioned, these small invaders will pretty much scarf down anything they can get their little paws on. Aside from the food growing in your garden, it is best to remove all other sources of food and water near and around your home.
- Secure the garbage cans. Raccoons have a nasty reputation for rummaging through garbage cans for food. Make sure your outside trash cans are secure with tight-fitting, locked lids. If you have a trash can that doesn't have a locking mechanism, you can rig it with bungee cords to strap down the lid.
- Remove access to water. Raccoons love water, for drinking and for keeping themselves clean. Remove their access to all ponds, pools, and other water features and they'll have fewer reasons to come around.
- Remove food odors. Clean your external garbage cans regularly with bleach and water. This will keep the aroma of food to a minimum and will attract less unwanted attention from these nightly scavengers.
- Employ barrier methods in the garden. Use fences, nets, baffles, and other barrier methods to prevent raccoon from getting into your garden or climbing fruit trees. (See the list below for other tricks, ingredients, and devices to make your garden less appealing.)
- Bring in pets' dishes. If you have dogs or cats and leave pet food outside, make sure it gets taken in before sunset. It is well documented that raccoons enjoy eating cat and dog food.
- Secure the bird feeders. If you have a bird feeder, be sure to hang it someplace inaccessible to raccoons and other pests that might consume the birdseed. They might even try to shelter in the birdhouse itself, so better safe than sorry.
One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. Unless you’re a raccoon. Then it’s basically all one category.
— Frankerson Peterson
Make Your Yard and Garden Unappealing
Like fluffy little vampires, raccoons do not like to conduct their business in the light of day. They also can't help themselves when we leave food out in the open and leave our yard and garden unprotected. Here are a few things you can do to repel raccoons from your home, yard, and garden.
- Bright Lights and Motion Detectors. Since they have a natural aversion to light, try installing motion-sensor floodlights to disrupt their nighttime raiding. Make sure to place the lights tactically so the light shines over your yard and garden.
- Ammonia. They really dislike the stench of ammonia. Try soaking rags in ammonia and placing them around, especially in areas where you suspect raccoon activity. Also, you can soak a rope in ammonia and arrange it around your entire garden for 360 degrees of protection. (Be cautious with this method if you have pets!)
- Loud Noises. Raccoons do not like loud noises, so leave a small radio on in your backyard or garden. Make sure not to have the radio on too loud, though: An annoyed neighbor is just as bad as a pillaging raccoon.
- Supersonic Sound. I've used a compact, solar-powered raccoon repelling device that has motion detectors that activate a supersonic sound wave to humanely keep them at a distance.
- Pepper Spray. Make your own pepper spray to keep them at bay! You can boil water mixed with hot sauce or any fresh hot peppers. Let the mixture cool, fill up some spray bottles, and spray the concoction near trees and around the perimeter of your yard.
- Dogs. A raccoon would rather not fight for its food, so if you have a big dog (or three), raccoons might be deterred from entering your yard. On the other hand a raccoon can be extremely vicious, so you might not want to risk harming your pet. Especially if the dog is too small to defend itself.
For a longer list of natural ingredients that might repel raccoons, read How to Get Rid of Raccoons for Good.
Use a Live Trap With Bait
Sometimes you will encounter an aggressive raccoon that is stubborn and will not go away by conventional means. If all else fails, your last resort would be capturing the raccoon in a live trap and removing it from your property. I do not support or approve of killing any creature, unless there's an imminent threat involved.
Make sure you obtain a double-door design when looking for traps. Raccoons are renowned for their ability to outsmart and overcome most traditional traps. Set the trap/traps in a shady area where raccoons feel more at ease. Plus, if and when you do trap one, it'll be in a more comfortable spot out of direct sunlight.
Here is an effective list of raccoon bait to use:
- Sweet corn
- Almost anything coated in honey
- Cat food/dog food
- Meats with a good ratio of fat
- Mushed-up marshmallows
You might have noticed from this list that they tend to have a sweet tooth. Try mixing a few different baits together to make it irresistible to them!
Remember to check on the traps frequently, because you don't want them imprisoned for longer than they need to be.
When you do catch one, be sure to approach slowly and speak in a gentle tone.
Also, it is best to drape a sheet over the trap before relocating them. This will aid in keeping them calm while you move the trap.
If possible, have an extra pair of hands assist with the relocation. Take the raccoon at least five miles away from your home to ensure it won't find its way back.
Is It Illegal to Kill a Raccoon?
Unfortunately, in most states, it is perfectly legal to kill them because they are considered an aggressive nuisance. But I hope readers instead opt to relocate them swiftly to a remote area. If you choose to put one down, at least do it in the most humane way possible. A gun is considered to be the most merciful way, aside from moving them elsewhere.
If you know more ways of dealing with raccoons in the garden, please feel free to leave them in the comment section along with any other comments and opinions. Thank you!
Nocturnal habits keep the raccoon mostly out of sight. Conflicts with raccoons come in many shapes and sizes, but all can be resolved humanely.
— The Humane Society
Who Likes Raccoons?
- Nationwide Animal Removal "How To Get Rid of Raccoons" 2015
- Living With Wildlife "Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest" 2016
- The Humane Society "Raccoons Raiding Your Garden or Garbage?" 2016
- Project Wildlife "Project Wildlife Animals: Raccoons" 2017
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Michael Kismet
Doug on September 01, 2020:
Will Racoons destroy or eat Gunnera plants, mine was destroyed last night!
Alberta on August 20, 2019:
How do you get rid of raccoons if you've already been cooking and feeding them pork chops every night? Asking for a friend.
Coll on May 07, 2018:
Raccoons have angled mouths which makes it difficult for them to eat low level amounts of food in containers, particularly cat or dog food from a bowl if you are feeding strays or ferals. I only full the bowl up a 1/4 of the way and they become frustrated and move on. Also they can't bend down into a horizontal, covered container like a Rubbermade container for more than a couple of seconds. That frustrates them and they move on. If you trap a raccoon put a blanket over the trap and transport quickly to the new location. Place food down at the new location for them so they stay there. Hope this helps.
Michael Kismet (author) from Northern California on August 28, 2017:
Those raccoons, God bless them!
I'm humbled to be of assistance, thanks for reading, Marlene!
Marlene Bertrand from USA on August 28, 2017:
I am camping for the summer and I overheard some fellow campers talking about their encounter with raccoons. It seems they had several coolers filled with food. Although the campers covered the coolers, they did not seal the coolers and in the morning all of the coolers had been opened and the contents consumed. They knew it was raccoons because of the paw prints and, like you mentioned, the droppings left behind. These are some fabulous tips that I will pass along to my camping neighbors.