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Attracting & Keeping Garter Snakes - Specifics

 
Dave Miller
Posts: 409
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!
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1253
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


 
paul wheaton
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Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 520
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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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: 520
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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PS this is for upstate NY, not my regular location in my profile.
 
Rick English
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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: 520
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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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.
 
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