Raccoons and the Water Garden

Raccoons at the Water Garden

If you have ever kept a water garden or pond, you’ve probably had problems with predators. Most pond keepers have heard harrowing tales told by fellow pond owners. The dread of every water gardener are tales of giant herons swooping in to snatch $300 Koi, snapping turtles fishing for goldfish, dogs and cats tearing liner edges, and raccoons doing everything but flying dive bombers.

Raccoons are probable predators of aquatic gardens, because they are natural opportunists. Raccoons are five times more likely to reside in urban areas than rural areas because of the abundance of organic garbage and defenseless Koi ponds. Comfortable with humans, these pesky omnivorous mammals are nocturnal, and love water. Most pond owners don’t realize their dexterity. They have the hand-eye coordination of monkeys and can readily lift garbage lids, undo rope knots, and simply constructed barriers. Plus, they have opposable thumbs! Rule of thumb: creatures with opposable thumbs are not easily fooled. Also, raccoons are highly intelligent, learn quickly, and will continually bypass obstacles once a solution is found.

As creatures of opportunity, raccoons are irresistibly attracted to the bounty of food in the water garden. The thick, starchy rhizomes (the potato-shaped bulbs of water lily’s root structure) are an excellent source of food for raccoons but the fish are usually the main target. Raccoons tirelessly bat at fish to snag and toss them out of the water where they are easier to eat. Costly damage to rock ledges, badly mangled potted plants, and torn liners are all incidental.

Most tricks or obstacles work for only a short amount of time. Raccoons are smart and will breach or avoid most devices once they understand how to get past them. Ammonia, chili pepper, decoy scarers, animal repellent, and predatory animal scent sprays will all eventually fail. Even electric fences seem to be ineffective against raccoons. When I was a child, I remember my grandfather setting up an electric fence around his vegetable garden.

He solved his rabbit, deer, and opossum problem, but the raccoons always ate very well.

What to do?! Raccoons will do nearly anything to get to their prey. They are rarely discouraged or frustrated. What they won’t do is swim out into sections of the pond where they can’t reach the bottom while standing. Raccoons prefer to perch on the rock ledges of ponds and quickly snatch pond fish while they swim by in shallow water. Three things can be done to solve this problem. First, fix steep ledges with a noticeable distance from the ledge to the water surface. This will keep raccoons from scraping the edges of your liner with their claws while they wade and snatch fish. If you don’t have a rock ledge, save yourself some money in liner repair and invest in some type of covering for your pond edges.

Second, make sure your potted plants are at least two to three feet away from the edge of the pond. Raccoons love to wade over to potted plants, dig up their root systems, and use the pots as perches to catch fish. It’s easy for us to understand that fish like the covering provided by these potted plants and will frequently congregate near them. Raccoons understand this too.

Three, increase the size and depth of your pond. Raccoons will never swim and dive into the deeper areas of a pond. They’re not otters and will never reach fish hiding far from the shallow edges and perches of the pond. Putting a few surface-covering lilies and lotus in this deeper area will encourage your fish to stay there during the night hours.

Following these steps will eliminate your raccoon problem. Making sure you and your neighbor’s garbage are properly secured will also prevent these unwelcome guests. Once the raccoons have realized their food supply is cut off, they will move to more profitable water gardens. Take the proper precautions or your pond might be their next stop.

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