A rock flower bed can really enhance the look of your yard but does it attract snakes? This was an answer I needed and it wasn’t very easy to find. I did quite a bit of research on the subject. Here’s what I learned:
Smaller, tight-fitting rocks in a flower bed will not attract snakes. Larger rocks and shrubbery, however, will provide cover for snakes as well as the pests that they feed off of. So, it is not the rocks in the flower bed that attract snakes, it is the complete environment.
Let’s break this down so that we can really understand what aspects of a bed attracts snakes and what we might be able to do to prevent them from wanting to make a new home in our flower bed.
My Search For The Perfect Flower Bed Covering
After having a bad experience with mulch floating out of beds, and researching but deciding that pine straw as mulch was not a good idea, my wife and I settled on river rock for our lastest flower bed project.
There are a lot of advantages to rock as a flower bed cover vs. mulch. It doesn’t wash away, deteriorate over time, or fade like bark mulch. If you put in the effort to hold back the weeds with newspaper, cardboard, or a really good weed guard product, rock can be an almost permanent solution.
Time will tell whether river rock was the right choice overall but I have no concerns as to whether or not it attracts snakes.
The Three Elements Of Survival: Food, Shelter, And Water
Snakes, like just about all living creatures, rely on a food source, access to water, and the ability to hide from predators. These are the key elements that will attract a snake to your flower bed, garden, or any other area. Let’s examine each of these and what you can do to prevent making your flower bed a welcoming haven for snakes.
Eliminate Food Sources
Most of the lessons I’ve learned in life I have learned the hard way. This was no exception.
My wife wanted to attract birds. And so, she bought a bird feeder. But there is a consequence for every action. Birdfeed falls to the ground and attracts rats. Rats attract snakes. And so, for us, no birdfeeder. I’ve documented that whole learning experience and you can read about it here.
The point is, if we want to keep snakes out of our flower bed, we need to focus first on eliminating welcoming habitats for mice and other food sources that snakes prey on.
If you have potential food sources for mice in your flower bed, you will attract snakes. This may mean reconsidering your plant choices. According to LiveScience, mice primarily eat grains, seeds, and fruits. Depending on the type of plants you have, you may be offering a feast for rodents. If so, you are inviting snakes into your flowerbed.
Snakes Like Hiding Places
The Field Ecology website specifically recommends avoiding large rocks and mulch and instead, use river rock or gravel (source). The logic being that larger rocks provide hiding places.
Snakes don’t like being exposed. Sure, on occasion you will find one coiled up in the open as if it is daring anything to come near it. In most cases, however, snakes prefer to slither along edges and undercover.
Small rock that packs fairly tightly does not offer easy opportunities to burrow and hide like mulch and tall grass. Which by the way is a strong argument for keeping your grass cut!
Now, I DID use large rocks throughout my flower bed as accents but they are not stacked or packed tightly together. They are spread throughout the bed between plants. That’s an important distinction.
Note that by eliminating shelter areas for snakes you are also getting rid of the shelter for rodents.
The real challenge here though is that the plants in your flower bed may be providing ideal cover. Sometimes this comes down to choosing tall-growing plants over low growing and ground cover options.
That may or may not work for your landscaping. It’s a delicate balance. Just know that large rocks and low growing plants provide cover and is something you may want to keep in mind.
Water Conservatively To Prevent Snakes
Utah State University’s Extension website brings up an excellent point on watering.
Watering in excess can attract frogs and other small amphibious life, attracting snakes to the area (source). While moisture levels are important for plants, don’t overwater.
Use a timer to limit the amount of water used (see this article on how I used one of these to set up a simple automatic watering system for my flower bed while I was away on vacation) or, ideally, focus the watering on individual plants instead of the entire flower bed.
However, you choose to approach it, keep in mind that excess water will attract small creatures that may, in turn, bring snakes to your flower bed.
Flowers And Plants That Repel Snakes
There is a lot of hype over plants that are supposedly natural snake repellants. Marigolds and West Indian Lemongrass get a lot of attention as snake deterrent solutions.
The concept is appealing but the truth is there is very little scientifically validated evidence to support the claims. Ultimately, your plant choices should complement your landscape and ideally not be low-growing if you want to reduce sheltering locations for rodents and snakes.
Ironically, lemongrass looks as if it would offer a lot of cover for a snake. Since much more pungent smells have been attempted unsuccessfully to repel snakes (like mothballs) I can’t imagine lemongrass being more effective. If anything I would think it would enhance the appeal of your flower bed for a slithering serpent in search of cover.
Nothing against lemongrass mind you, just an objective observation. If you want lemongrass because it will add to the appeal of your yard then, by all means, plant it. If you are adding it only in hopes that it will repel snakes, however, I’d focus on the food, shelter, and water aspects.
And by the way, that’s not just my opinion. Barbara Medford from Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center points out that they are aware of no plants that repel snakes and that time is better spent reducing elements that will attract snakes such as shelter (source).
Small, tight-fitting rocks are perfectly fine for a flower bed covering and do not attract snakes. Pea-gravel, river rock, or other smaller rocks look great and offer a lot of advantages over pine straw or bark mulch. Just keep in mind that larger rocks can create shelter for snakes when stacked. So can low-growing plants and thick groundcover.
If you are considering alternatives to rock for your flower bed, be sure to read my article on using pine straw as mulch before you go down that road.