Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Skunk Season

skunk on the porch

skunk on the porch

Our skunk season started last week. At least one of them has been digging in the garden every night, and then one came up onto our porch during a rainstorm this weekend. This seems to happens each spring, coinciding, I think, with the time when their young are born. Judging from past years, we’ll see a lot of digging for the next few weeks, tapering a bit through the summer, then a lot more digging around late summer or early fall when the young skunks discover the garden. Project Wildlife has an info page with tips on living with skunks, but it doesn’t really mention gardens. From what I can tell, we do nothing to discourage or encourage the skunks, which pretty much sums up our attitude. They dig holes in the garden, but they’re cute, so it balances. It’s hard to dislike an animal that waddles when it walks.

Project Wildlife claims that “an estimated 70 percent of a skunk’s diet consists of insects considered harmful to humans,” so some of the digging is for a good cause. Things they eat include insects, earthworms, and slugs in our garden, plus lizards, rodents, birdseed, kitchen waste, and petfood elsewhere if they can find it. Established plants are not hurt by the digging and the parts of the garden that don’t get watered are almost completely ignored. The skunks seem to particularly like soft, recently dug, recently watered soil, which basically describes whatever spot I have just planted something, so I lose some transplants when I add them into the vegi garden; though if I check every morning, I can often replant the dug up plants without them being noticeably affected. So far this year, I haven’t lost anything, knock on wood.

Does anyone else get skunk damage? The skunks don’t directly target plants, so I’d never really thought of them as a possible garden pest. It took us a little while to figure out who was doing all the digging.

Below, I put a skunk portrait from around dusk yesterday and another photo of a hole dug through the woolly thyme planted in our patio. The skunks casually waddle away when we approach to photograph them, so we mostly get photos of the bushy tail and striped back. I’d like a photo of one threatening me with its tail raised, but so far I haven’t mustered the nerve and poor judgement to initiate that encounter. I actually like the smell when they spray next door, but I have a feeling I’ll feel differently if it pulls the trigger in our yard.

— Note — In case that was said with excessive bravado, let me say I don’t recommend anyone causing a skunk to raise it’s tail at you. I’ve had it happen twice in my life, though not here in our yard, most memorably when a motion sensor light clicked on to reveal a skunk about three feet in front of me and just about to move past the bluff stage. That moment got my heart racing as much as the time I accidentally touched a death adder. 

Though after three years of living with skunks in our yard fifty to a hundred nights a year, I can say that they have no intention of spraying and very little fear of me. That’s partly based on their absolute confidence in the effectiveness of the raised tail, that anything that can dissuade a hungry mountain lion should be sufficient to dissuade me. Like most animals, they prefer to bluff rather than fight, so leave them alone, and they will leave you alone, too. The one candidate likely to get sprayed is your dog, so if you have a dog, don’t have a dog door. You don’t want the dog able to come inside immediately afterward. At least one neighbor has learned that lesson the hard way.

— Note #2 — Just after posting the previous note, while I was potting up veggie starts, the skunk came into the yard and scratched around in the bamboo twenty feet away from me for about ten minutes and then wandered off. This was at around six o’clock, the third time this week that we’ve seen it in the daylight, and it’s definitely not rabid, just active and not particularly shy. I’m not sure what it was eating.

— Note #3 — The skunks have been particularly bad this year. We’ve realized that family with 7 young skunks is living under the neighbor’s porch. We’ve put rags soaked in ammonia around the garden to dissuade them digging. It has been somewhat effective. I did get a photo of one of the young with a tail raised, threatening me, though the photo is a bit blurry, no doubt from my shaking hands and submissive attitude towards the skunk.

Are you talking to me?

Are you talking to me?

striped skunk

striped skunk

skunk-dug hole in the woolly thyme

skunk damage in the woolly thyme


12 Responses to “Skunk Season”

  1. May 6th, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    keewee says:

    We don’t have skunks on the island.

  2. May 7th, 2009 at 7:19 am

    Daffodil Planter says:

    I too like the waddle and the “my shoes are too tight” gait. Thank you for new information about our striped friends.

    Just so you know, if they are out and about in daytime they are likely rabid.

  3. May 7th, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Town Mouse says:

    I really admire your welcoming attitude. We don’t have skunks but I’ve had a racoon dig up the water barrel water garden almost daily for the last month or so. No water lilies this year so far. I was ready to call a trapper until I stopped to think what they probably mean by “humane”. Now I put a piece of plywood on top of the barrel, held town by shock cords. Seems to do the trick as long as I don’t forget.

  4. May 7th, 2009 at 8:48 am

    ryan says:

    That’s a good point, rabies would be a concern. I once had to get the vaccine and it was by far the worst vaccine I’ve ever had. We see the skunks in the daytime pretty regularly, though, this time of year. Interweb sources say seeing them in the daytime means they are possibly but usually not rabid. It depends if they are not acting sick, if they act healthy they probably are.

    ‘My shoes are too tight’ is exactly how they walk, I hadn’t heard it described that way.

    I am much less welcoming towards raccoons. They’re straight-up troublemakers.

  5. May 7th, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Pomona Belvedere says:

    I didn’t know skunks dug in gardens, or that their diet consists of so many garden pests. I like them, though, and these descriptions of the way they walk. About the tail-raised photo: one thing I like about skunks is how they’re willing to go about their business if you go about yours. I personally wouldn’t provoke a skunk attack; friends who have experienced it report a nauseating cloud for at least a week. I suppose if you were really precise you could get them at the foot-stomping stage. I’d rather not.

  6. May 7th, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    ryan says:

    Skunks are very good about leaving you alone if you leave them alone too. I think that’s one of the reasons why they’ve adapted well to urban and suburban living. If I didn’t make it clear, it would be poor judgement to do anything that would cause a skunk to raise it’s tail. If they did decide to go nuclear, I would very much regret it. So far they haven’t seen fit to threaten either of us, even though we are regularly within the ten foot range of them throughout the summer and fall.

  7. May 8th, 2009 at 3:18 am

    emma says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog, yours is very interesting as we live in such different parts of the world. Never seen a skunk in my life… we have badgers but they don’t come in my garden, the most exotic creature in our garden is a snail.. boring!!

  8. May 8th, 2009 at 3:48 am

    tina says:

    Good morning Ryan, Wonderful blog you have here. I found the Mallorcan wall and the mummy aphids quite interesting. And what a good picture of the aphids!

    We have a saying here in Tennessee, “It’s the annual running of the skunks” in February when they begin getting active. It is not a good thing. The skunks ‘run’ the road and wind up under tires. We all surely smell the smell. We’ve had some in the garden. Dogs chase them and you know what happens. Smelly! Enough to scare even a cougar-that’s pretty strong. I hope that snake did not bite you-scary!

  9. May 8th, 2009 at 6:00 am

    wiseacre says:

    I kind of miss our resident skunk. It used to eat with the cats in our breezeway at the old house. They are unafraid but I never took that as being friendly. The only time I got a good scare was the night I went to let the cat scratching at the door in. OOPS, in walked the skunk.

  10. May 8th, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    barbara says:

    My dog, Milo, was sprayed about 3 weeks ago. It is the second time in his life (the last time was much, much worse – about 8 years ago). This time he was barely sprayed, just a bit near his neck. I washed him immediately with the suggested solution of peroxide, baking soda and dish soap. It seemed to work. Now, 3 wks later, he still has a residual smell – even after 2 additional washings.

    The first time it happened was in the winter and he was heavily dosed. In the chaos of the moment one of my kids opened the door and the dog ran in. Let me tell you, you do not want this to happen! You may have some good feelings about skunk smell from afar, but it is really, really, really bad up close, and especially bad in your house. The house stunk for weeks.

    If anyone has any ideas on how to get the lingering odor out of poor Milo, it would be appreciated. And by the way, tomato juice may temporarily mask the smell, but it is basically ineffective.

    Still, I like skunks but wish they would get used to Milo – who, after all, does have to use the facilities before going to bed.

  11. May 8th, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    ryan says:

    You have my sympathy. The dogs in my neighborhood are always getting sprayed. Project Wildlife has a recipe with peroxide, soap, and baking soda. No idea if it works. They also mention vinegar, which a friend of mine tried once. Again, can’t say if it works, but it might be worth a try.

  12. May 9th, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    lostlandscape(James) says:

    I’m actually a little bummed that it’s been a few years since we had skunks. We lived with a family, including one year when the mother had what must have been eight or more little skunks.

    Yes, the cat got sprayed a couple times over several years, and I got it once when I tossed something in the general direction of the skunk when it was facing off with the cat. But overall I’d rather have skunks than death adders in the garden! There were no snails or slugs in the garden as long as the skunks were around.

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