Skunks are relatively harmless, but their presence stinks—literally! You don’t have to see these black-and-white critters to know that they’ve taken up residence on your property. As a general rule, skunks will release this odor only when they are frightened (although during mating season, female skunks will spray the mist at male suitors that they don’t find desirable). But whatever the cause, it sure does linger.
In addition to pungent smells, skunks can also carry rabies and wreak havoc on your lawn.
The funk on skunks
While skunks are known for their unique odor, smelling skunks on your property is just one way to identify them. If you see cone-shaped holes in your lawn or claw tracks (skunks have five toes on each foot), those are also clues that a skunk may be inhabiting your yard.
Skunks can carry rabies, so if you do see one, be aware of the warning signs. For example, they’re nocturnal animals, so activity during the day could indicate the animal is infected. Also, skunks rarely approach humans, so if they’re aggressive, beware.
How to keep skunks out of your yard
Fortunately, there are several humane, nonlethal ways to keep skunks off your property.
1. Remove food sources
You may be unwittingly extending a dinner invitation to skunks if your property contains easily accessible food.
“Keep a lid on outdoor trash cans and make sure that any bags inside the can that contain food waste are tied up,” says Chuck Cerbini, executive vice president at New Jersey–based Corbett Exterminating.
“Skunks will forage for human food, but they also like to eat insects and larvae, grubs, small rodents, frogs, snakes, birds, and eggs. So if you have a pest problem in your lawn, this may attract pests further up the food chain,” Cerbini says.
Skunks like grubs in particular. If you eliminate the grubs, you can reduce the chances that skunks will be in your yard, according to Doug Oster of Everybody Gardens. Oster recommends an organic approach.
“For immediate results, use beneficial nematodes that find the grubs and dispatch them—but the nematodes must be applied when soil temperatures are at 50 degrees [Fahrenheit] or warmer,” Oster says.
Since skunks will settle for other types of food, the Montana Department of Agriculture advises against feeding your pets outside. If Fido does take his dinner outside, make sure you provide only enough food and water to be consumed at one time, and remove these items before nightfall.
2. Provide disruptions
You could also use a good old-fashioned scare tactic to keep skunks from coming back.
“Because skunks forage at night, a sudden burst of light or water can be startling enough to dissuade them from entering your property,” Cerbini says. “It’s worth trying to spook them away from your backyard with a motion detector that triggers floodlights or automatic sprinklers.”
3. Eliminate potential habitats
Skunks aren’t just looking for food—they’re also looking for a place to set up shop.
“Skunks don’t like to build their own nests; they prefer to move into abandoned ones that other wildlife have left behind,” says Cerbini. “They also like to burrow and can dig under fences.”
Cerbini recommends looking around your property—including your garage—for signs that other animals, like rabbits, moles, or foxes, have created nests in the past.
Cover any openings in your home’s foundation with wire mesh or sheet metal. However, make sure that these coverings extend a few inches below the soil’s surface or the skunks will just dig under them to get through.
4. Repel them with smells
Skunks may emit a foul odor, but it turns out that they aren’t too keen on strong smells themselves. Three smells that they can’t stand come from citrus fruits (e.g., lemon, orange, or grapefruit peels), predators (e.g., dog or fox urine), and mothballs. These can all be placed around your yard to scare off skunks. If you’re using mothballs, be sure to keep them out of reach of children and pets.