Jul 5, 2010

Managing the Snake Menace

I mentioned a few months ago that I've been letting my little feline friend of friends come out in the garden with me, but that I was a little worried it would give him a chance to have a reptilian encounter of the venomous variety. I wrote that post in March and my little snake-in-the-grass meadow region has gone from being a dense green patch, to a globe-gilia-packed thicket, to the cut-back, semi-dormant little plot that it is now. Here's the progression, taken from roughly the same spot, in mid-March, mid-May and this morning:  


As you can see,  there's plenty of visible ground in between the grass bunches now. And yet I'm more nervous than ever about the possibility of witnessing a Cat v. Rattler Smackdown in my back yard, mainly because it is high snake season, so I sent an email to Gary Bogue, the local newspaper's fantastic and heroic animal-advocate columnist.  Here is my letter with Gary's reply, followed by two great reader responses (the responses are a little way into each column):




It looks like the majority opinion is that there isn't a huge risk but there is some, so the best bet is to keep the fuzzy would-be explorer indoors. But people who give that advice haven't heard the howls of a cat that has been given a taste of the outdoors and then had it taken away, so I'm still going out with him daily. He's not exploring the whole world but he's allowed to investigate most of the yard on his leash while I'm nearby. Meanwhile, I'm working with little Miss Skittish Kitty to try to get her to let me put the leash on her so that she can go out and spare me her howls.

Back to the grass patch. This year it was unbelievably dense with Globe Gilia (Gilia capitatum). I haven't quite reached the point that I refer to any native wildflower as a weed, but man that flower does seed itself around! Next year I'm going to try to keep it at bay a bit, and try to mix in more Silene laciniata, Linanthus grandiflorus and Linum lewisii instead.  Here are those flowers, in that order, taken from elsewhere in the yard today:


I think they'd do a good job of dressing up the meadow patch, because they take up very little space, but add sweet little spots of color--red, white and blue, no less. And they flower well into the summer. The Silene seems to flower all summer, and I had a volunteer Linanthus in the ground last year that punched out flowers till August. This is my first year with the native flax (Linum lewisii), but it's still flowering where I have it in pots. (I do have one in the meadow, but it seems to be done blooming, probably because I haven't bothered to splash it with occasional water.)

The two grasses in the meadow are Festuca rubra 'Pt. Molate' and Koelaria macrantha, or June Grass. The latter will stay bunchy, but the fescue will spread, presumably into a lawn alternative if desired. I haven't decided yet whether that is desired. I may pull it up as it spreads, in order to preserve some open space and keep the snake menace in check better. It's also nice to leave some open ground space for the birds to scuffle around on.

If anyone has any experience with meadow gardening in snakeville--and especially if anyone has any knowledge about how cats relate to snakes--I'd love to hear from you! I recognize that one of the goals of native gardening is to help wildlife, and I accept that some of that wildlife happens to have poison in its fangs, it's just that I want the fangs kept well away from my little gardening buddy's paws!


  1. I can understand your concern for the kitties. Even though my local canyon is five house and two streets away, a rattler made it into the back yard a few years ago. I came home to find it and the cat having a faceoff from less than two feet apart. Maybe it was a dumb thing to do, but I jumped in and scooped the cat up as quick as I could. The snake did not move, fortunately, but it kept rattling away for the next hour or so until it was removed. Even though the current cat is lots less brave than that other cat, I can see her involved in another faceoff should another snake find its way to the house. It's a fear I live with, but I'd really hate to deprive her of the outdoors she loves to explore. Would you like to be under house arrest even though the world can be a dangerous place? I think not.

  2. Jess, This is so interesting. We don't have any poisonous snakes here in Maine -- but with global warming, they might start migrating north. I love the way your meadow looked at its height. By the way, have you noticed that no one ever seems to suggest that dog owners should just keep their pets indoors? Hmmm. -Jean

  3. No, it wasn't a dumb thing to do! Much better than scooping up the snake! Yikes, I guess it just depends on the individual cat's personality whether it decides to have a face-off or not. I never thought of it as house arrest--harsh, but I suppose true! So I'll continue to let the cats out on the prison grounds, but only under close guard supervision (me).

  4. Wow...lots of work. Must be time-consuming.