Snakes are common garden inhabitants, especially if you have cool, dark areas with yard litter. While some snakes will burrow holes through loose leaves and dirt, most snakes are not able to dig through packed dirt. Instead, they use the holes produced by other animals, such as mice or moles. Because of this, snake holes can be difficult to identify. If you are concerned about snakes in your yard, your best option is to use preventative methods rather than trying to identify the hole.

Blacktail rattlesnake coiled in front of it's den.
credit: Keith Hughes/iStock/Getty Images
A rattlesnake is coiled in front of its den.

The Hole and the Surrounding Area

The size of the hole will often determine whether it is suitable for a snake or not. If the hole is very narrow, it is unlikely that it is a snake. Similarly, snakes do not burrow, and when they take over an old hole made by a burrowing creature, the disturbed dirt around the hole has usually been worn or smoothed away. As snakes are carnivorous, there will also be no signs of freshly chewed, shredded or damaged grass or plants near the hole.

Water and Debris

Snakes live in areas that have damp, cool patches and provide protection. They also like the shelter provided by debris and wood. To minimize the chances of snakes in your yard, keep your yard clean of debris, such as leaf litter, and keep wood piles stacked neatly and away from your house. The cavelike environments of garages and the space beneath porches are also ideal for snakes, so screen or close off easy access to these areas. Because snakes are attracted to water, regular irrigation can mean cool, damp environments, which increase your chances of finding snakes in your yard. Because snakes eat rodents and smaller reptiles, as well as birds, keep birdhouses and feeders away from your house, and keep the presence of rodents to a minimum.

Benefits of Snakes

Many garden snakes are not dangerous, and in fact they provide benefits to your garden's ecosystem. Garter sneaks, nonvenomous snakes found throughout the United States, eat slugs, which can damage vegetable and flower foliage. Other snakes also eat beetles, mice and voles, going so far as to hunt these creatures in their tunneled homes. Some snakes are even able to swallow gophers, which produce large tunnels that can affect the stability and structure of your soil.

Encountering Snakes

When working in areas of your yard that are optimal snake habitats, such as in your leaf or wood pile, pay careful attention to possibly disturbing a snake in its home. Because snakes sense by vibration, make plenty of noise if you are working in these areas. Snakes are not generally aggressive and will often slither away rather than attack. When you encounter a snake, it is best to slowly move away rather than try to confront it. While many snakes are harmless, a bite from a snake can be an upsetting experience. For safety, practice snake preventive care to reduce snake populations in your yard, rather than trying to catch and remove them individually.