Gardening With Wildlife: Encountering Snakes In The Garden

By Susan Albert | September 4, 2020
Image by Susan Albert
by Susan Albert
September 4, 2020

One thing I’ve learned as a gardener is to expect the unexpected. When I became obsessed with adding plant after plant into the backyard, I inadvertently created my own mini ecosystem inhabited by insects, wildlife and their predators. While I welcomed the birds, butterflies, frogs, dragonflies, rabbits and turtles, I was not prepared for the arrival of snakes in the garden.

When Wildlife Move In”¦Snakes Too

Gardening with wildlife can be a wonderful thing and a great way to watch them up close. Just keep in mind that there will always be “unexpected” visitors that pop in from time to time, or some that may even take up residence – including snakes.

One summer I saw several different snakes but only once and never again. Apparently, they were just passing through. Upon seeing a snake, I usually screamed, but then I’d try to remember identifying marks so I could run into the house and get my field guide and look it up. Among those were a glossy, yellow-and-black ribbon snake slithering under a shrub, a green snake hanging out in a vine, a brown snake wound through the trellis, a rat snake looking for bird eggs, and one that I couldn’t identify, but may have been a water snake.

Fortunately, I’ve never seen a venomous snake, and the ones I have seen were as frightened of me as I was of them. One spring day while cleaning out a garden still rife with crispy leaves, a 3-foot snake suddenly shot away from me as I undoubtedly disturbed its hiding place. I let out a blood-curdling scream that stopped the snake in its tracks. Its head turned back to look at me and for a chilling moment our eyes met. It then turned back around and was gone in an instant. I ran indoors to look it up and the closest I could find was the water snake.

I discovered the black rat snake trying to climb a front porch column to reach bird eggs in a hanging basket. No way was that snake going to eat baby birds, so I grabbed a broom and swept it off the porch. It disappeared into the shrubs and I could hear a distinct rattling sound. Fearing it was a venomous rattlesnake, I looked it up and found that rat snakes can rattle their tails when frightened. Then I felt bad for scaring the poor snake.

Another dramatic event occurred as I was sitting on the back patio talking on the cell phone. Suddenly, I heard a thrashing sound in the perennials next to me and something jumped out, sailed over my head and landed in a pot. At the same time a snake swished out onto the patio but quickly retreated after seeing me. I jumped up to look inside the container, and a frog flew out, leaping back into the perennials. I don’t know if the snake caught the frog or not, they both disappeared.

A few years ago, a garter snake moved into my yard, lush with vegetation and wildlife. I saw her regularly while doing yardwork and didn’t mind if I knew where she was basking; I didn’t like to be startled. I say “her” because I found out that males are smaller and she was joined by a smaller snake for a while, and I even saw them “embracing” under a bush one time. The protective male thought it could scare me by darting toward me and circling around, but it just amused me. It soon left, but the female stayed for two summers.

I hardly ever see snakes in the garden anymore, not sure why. But I do see a lot more frogs and toads.

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  • Leigh Blake
    Comment added September 8, 2020Reply

    Love your article...and find your snake conversations very amusing....We live in rural Oregon and also have many reptiles, frogs and small mammals that visit. You are apparently in a more eastern area...We love all our lizards (Fence Swifts, Alligator lizards and Blue-tailed Skinks)...but we also enjoy our snakes too. We have a small North Western rattle snake that visits occasionally...I do move these little rattlers...take them five miles up the roads into the woods and turn them loose...I have photos..Thank you for wonderful article!!!

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