Raccoons: at my wit's end

Two summers ago, we finally put some time into our back yard, planting some ferns and erigeron, etc. Just as soon as they really started to get established, a family of raccoons started coming nightly, digging them up, pulling them fully out of the ground…and digging up other plantings as well. We tried putting chicken wire around the base of the ferns; didn't work at all. Plants were dug up, yanked out, killed. They are of course back this season, and are wreaking havoc. They know there's a yummy buffet out there. We've been here 20 years, and have always had a garden; but we've never had a problem this extreme before. I have not found anyone at nurseries who have been able to give useful advice on how to deal with them. I’m feeling a bit desperate at this point, and am posting to see if anyone in BPN has any useful advice before we move along to a more extreme measure.

I have tried spraying two brands of smelly sprays; those worked for a few days but that was it. I am now buying bulks spices at Costco (cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon), and spreading them all around the plants' bases, and generally in the entire areas they are digging (about 400 square feet). Since this has to be reapplied every time I water -- and I've found that if the spices are more than 2 days old anyway they blow right through it -- this becomes quite an expense. About $12 each time, so, at 3 times a week...it's crazy expense. 

I know that they’re going after the grubs (and I assume also the worms), and have heard that that needs to be addressed.
But this is where I’m confused: do people really apply MoleMax, or deal with nematodes, for an area that big? (And then there’s the lawn too, and a vegetable garden and side flower area that so far, fingers crossed, they have not gone into much.) It seems a *huge* area to try to deal with in that way. I am ignorant, and nobody I’ve spoken to at nurseries seems to be able to answer. 

I also know about the idea of motion sensor lights…and electric “fences” (wires); and I read that that does not always work, after investing the money. And coyote urine -- that seems iffy too.

I'm at my wit's end, and at this point I see two options: either give up on having plants in my yard (this constancy of effort and expense is disheartening and unsustainable); or, pay a lot of money up front for a pest removal service, and have them removed (and euthanized). Someone at a nursery told about trapping her problem raccoons herself, and relocating them. But I know this is illegal, since it spreads disease. And anyway: I’m not hearty enough to trap and relocate raccoons myself; that sounds pretty scary.

I do NOT want to kill these creatures. I wish I could send a raccoon memo and tell them: ‘If you go away now, you can stay alive. But next week: all bets are off. Come at your own risk.’

Maybe the response is: 'Well, this is just the reality, living a mile from Wildcat Canyon.'
But I don’t know if that also means: ‘You cannot have a garden; and it’s foolish to keep trying. Dig up those ferns and your other plantings, and put them in the green bin, and know it’s a lesson learned.'

Does anyone have any advice for me, before I turn my vegetarian self into an animal killer? I'm on the cusp.

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RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

We live in Marin in a wooded area near a creek and raccoons are also our nemeses. (We also live among deer, possums, squirrels, skunks, moles, rats, voles, foxes, and even weasels, but the raccoons seem to wreck the most havoc.) They dig every night and we've learned to live with that, as they mostly dig in an area where there are many moles, digging into their tunnels, and we just stopped planting anything there. Last summer, things got gnarly as a family of six started using our yard as a latrine, so there were hundreds of smelly poops all summer long and their scat is extremely toxic. We were at wits' end and I called services such as Mr. Raccoon, but they cannot kill the animals in California, and they cannot relocate them either, so they only do "gentle eviction". For this service, they wanted hundreds of dollars. Then, we found out that our neighbor was feeding the raccoons every night! He also feeds peanuts to the squirrels (and rats and all the other critters). I had to confront him and he may or may not have stopped, but the bottom line is they were camped out because there was a very reliable food source. Does anyone near you leave out pet food? And we did find ONE thing that worked to get them to stop pooping and digging. (We tried lights, sprinklers, and sprays to no avail.) What worked is the light bird netting you can drape over plants. We put that loosely on the ground all around the plants where they were pooping and digging and that worked, because it gets tangled on their paws and they hate it. Good luck, I understand your pain as they created a lot of stress for us with their growling, digging, fighting, and pooping, making our yard a toxic wasteland.

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

I don’t know which county you live in, but your county should have its own Vector Control department. Call them and ask for help. I have used the Alameda County Vector Control and they have come out (for free!) to help with bees, rats (ewwww), birds nests, etc. The biologist who came out was extremely knowledgeable, and was so helpful especially when we had rats in our yard. He taught me the most humane way to trap rats and even gave me a bunch of rat traps. I’m sure they can help with raccoons. 

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

Sorry.  They are smart.  I gave up and let them boss my backyard.

If you don't mind partial success, use bird netting or steel wire cage.

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

Please try motion-activated sprinklers. 

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

I too had a racoon family living under my rental cottage where the tenant was an animal hugger. That situation led me on a month's long investigation into urban raccoons. My quest began as a sentimental journey and ended with the conclusion that urban raccoons are dangerous pests. Utube is replete with cut videos of raccoon huggers who end up in the ER. When I had a squirrel in my attic eating the ceiling joists, i had no alternative but to call Animal Damage Control https://www.yelp.com/biz/animal-damage-control-walnut-creek. It cost me $500 back then, but compared to contractor's prices it was a  bargain.  They are strickly regulated and not allowed to euthanize. Good luck. Urban raccoons are NOT cute. They often bite.

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

We had a problem with skunks digging for grubs in our yard. They haven't been around for months, and ultimately I think getting rid of the grubs caused them to lose interest. Of course they kept digging for a little while after the grubs were gone, because I guess it took some time for them to learn.

We also tried an Orbit yard enforcer, which is basically a sprinkler activated by a motion detector. Watching the skunks on the security camera getting sprayed and running off was fun and kind of therapeutic, but it didn't seem to stop them from coming back every night.

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

Ugh what a bummer, I'm sorry. This may not be a popular response, but 30+ years ago (when I was a kid) we had a BB gun and were authorized by our dad (after lots of safe practice) to shoot them right in their big round furry rumps. (BB guns just weren't vilified back then, so I grew up with a pretty mild attitude about them.) The raccoons would jump and scram!! A couple nights of "stake-outs" by you, and they may just start believing that your yard = OUCH. I have no idea what's available now as far as pellet guns, BB guns, etc. but I think it's a viable option because it's specific - it won't kill, hurt, or harm any OTHER creatures in your garden (like poison or electric fences, etc might), and you're in control. Or, if you're anti-gun of any kind, what about a stake-out with a high-pressure water hose? 

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

Consider getting some motion-activated sprinklers.  When an animal comes near them, they send out a powerful blast of water much like the sprinklers used in parks.  This won't injure a raccoon, but it will discourage them.  Based on our experience with raccoons, I'd recommend you get several of these devices, deployed so your yard has full coverage, and move them very day or two so the raccoons don't know where it's coming from next.  You could also add bright motion-activated lights to make your yard even more raccoon-hostile.

An old plant expert I knew once told me his trick was to inject the soil with a tear-gas agent using a syringe, then stomping on the spot to slow down evaporation. Raccoons digging in the area would get a small dose and go elsewhere.

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

it will stink you out for a bit... but ammonia.  soak rags and or stuff them into bottles aka molotov cocktail style and put them everywhere.  do it for a sustained time and they will vamoose and hopefully not come back.  you could even soak bark in it and lay that out.  the point is make your yard nasty for them long enough for them to change habits.  rinse and repeat as necessary.  we use this technique to get critters out of living under our shed every few years.  works like a charm.  good luck with them cute but clever bandits.

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

Try putting tomato cages or wire baskets over the ferns, erigerons, etc until they are well established.  You may also want to try a motion activated sprinkler. This can be purchased at a hardware store. 

RE: Raccoons: at my wit's end ()

We had them. They are not afraid of people, that's for sure.  Here is what worked for us: we soaked a few tee shirts in ammonia and placed them around the yard, under our deck, on top of my kid's playhouse. They took off (scared of the predator scent perhaps).  It lasted for a few years too. They returned, and did the same thing. It worked. Add new ammonia to the tee shirts, especially after a rain.

 I guess they moved on to a neighbor's home, not sure.

Good luck!