As we head toward spring, dormant plants will come back to life, birds will start to sing, and other wildlife will soon be appearing in the landscape.
Unfortunately, not all wildlife are a welcome sight. Skunks are not normally invited guests but are found regularly by unsuspecting gardeners this time of year.
Here is truth about these furry visitors and what to do when one takes up residency around your home.
Skunks are a member of the weasel family. Because they are nocturnal, they usually conduct most of their business at night. With short, stocky legs and well developed claws on the fore feet, they are good at digging but not at climbing. Skunks eat both plant and animal parts. Preferring insect pests such as grasshoppers, beetles and crickets, skunks also eat mice, rats, rabbits and other small animals when captured.
Adult skunks begin breeding in late February. Females born last year mate in late March. Gestation lasts seven to 10 weeks. Older females give birth in early May, and the younger females give birth in early June. During breeding season, a male skunk may travel up to five miles each night looking for a mate. This is why we see so many lying on the roadside this time of year.
Skunks become a nuisance when their burrowing and feeding habits conflict with our own. They burrow under porches or buildings. They enter foundation openings and rummage through garbage and refuse left outdoors. The best method of control is prevention. To keep skunks from denning under buildings, seal off all foundation openings and cover them with wire mesh screen. If possible, bury the screen at least a foot deep.
If a skunk has taken up residency under your porch, patio or drive, there are several options for removal. The first method is to seal off the opening. Completely cover all openings accept for one, then sprinkle flour a foot or so out in front of the hole. Return later that night and check for foot prints that indicate the skunk has left for the evening. Then completely cover the hole. The next evening open the entrance for one hour just after sundown to allow any remaining skunks to exit. Then permanently seal off the hole.
The second option is to "live trap" the visitor. Place the trap close to the entrance and bait it with fish-flavored cat food or peanut butter. Cover all but the entrance to the trap with a heavy tarp. The dark tarp is used to keep the trapped skunk docile and easy to move. Transport the skunk at least 10 miles away and release it, using a long line tied to the door of the cage.
The final option is to try mothballs or rags dipped in ammonia. Although this is not effective all the time, it may help temporarily drive off the intruder until more permanent measures are enacted.