Grow Your Own – September 2013

Years ago, before I became a Master Gardener, I was frightened by snakes. My lack of knowledge about them made me think the only good snake was a dead one. I thought they actually waited for opportunities to slither into my path and scare me half to death. What misconceptions I had back then!
In reality, snakes avoid humans whenever possible, and normally only become aggressive if they feel threatened or cornered. With the ever-increasing loss of their habitat, the chances of you coming across a snake in your yard, in a park, or on the golf course have increased. Unfortunately, many times people try to kill a snake without even knowing if it is dangerous or not. If this is what you might do, please take a little time to learn more about these interesting, seemingly mysterious, and often beautiful creatures.
In Florida there are 46 species of snakes, but only six of them are venomous. The number of human deaths due to a venomous snake bite is very low, only 5-6 per year in the United States. Your chances of being bitten are much greater if you attempt to capture or kill a snake than if you simply leave it alone.
Snakes serve a useful purpose in the environment, helping to keep nature’s balance by eating rodents, amphibians, slugs and insects. They are also a food source for some birds and other animals, including other snakes.
The University of Florida’s publication, “Dealing with Snakes in Florida’s Residential Areas – Introduction,” can be found at The experts recommend following a three-step process to help you live in harmony with our snake population. This document provides the links to other publications that will help you:
· educate yourself and your family on how to identify the non-venomous and venomous snakes found in our area,
· look for ways to prevent encounters with snakes, and
· know what to do if a member of your family (including your pet) is bitten by a snake.
For an interesting and entertaining guide to help you learn more about Florida’s snakes, check out this website: It offers a great opportunity for you and your family to learn more about many of the reptiles and amphibians found in Florida. The different checklists allow you to click on each species to see several colorful, detailed pictures.
In my yard I have a few snakes that patrol for pests like moles and mice, just like my lizards patrol for insects. A sleek Black Racer lives near my raised vegetable bed. He loves to sun himself on the sidewalk late in the morning. A beautiful, red and gold Corn Snake coils himself in a large potted plant on top of a hose caddy. Sometimes they surprise me, but always I marvel at their beauty and silently thank them for helping me better manage growing my own.

About Aline Clement

Aline Clement is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.