Raccoons -- those cute, masked bandits -- can create real havoc in the vegetable garden. They've been known to strip corn stalks and even gnaw through watermelons. Cucumbers can be an appealing treat for raccoons because they have thin skins and a juicy, slightly sweet flavor. If you suspect raccoon damage, take action immediately to keep your garden and your home safe and secure.
As omnivores, raccoons eat almost anything, including garden produce. They'll eat dog food, fish, insects, fruit, eggs and even chickens. In the vegetable garden, corn (Zea mays) and watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) rank high on their list of favorites. They tend to avoid cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) because the vines are somewhat prickly. Don't assume your cucumbers are safe, though. These hungry marauders will eat almost anything.
Raccoon damage is easy to identify. Raccoons usually create a bigger mess than birds or squirrels. They might rip leaves and vines and leave half-eaten cucumbers in the garden. If the soil is damp, you'll notice their distinctive 5-toed footprints that look almost like hand prints. Raccoons also dig holes in the soil, lawn or compost pile as they search for bugs. Raccoons are usually solitary except when they're mating or caring for young. They don't hibernate and can cause damage to your yard even during the winter months.
Because raccoons are nocturnal and intelligent, they're harder to control than most animals. Start by removing any pet food from the yard and cover trash cans with lids. Spread blood meal on the soil around the cucumbers. Surround the vegetable garden area with a sturdy chicken wire fence. Bury the chicken wire 18 inches beneath the soil surface. You might even run two electrified wires along the top of the fence. Harvest cucumbers as soon as they approach maturity. Raccoons often eat garden vegetables only after they're almost mature so staying on top of harvesting can limit your losses. Pick up produce that has fallen to the ground and discard any overripe produce so it doesn't attract raccoons.
Raccoons seem cute and friendly, but they're wild animals. They will fight back if cornered. Raccoons sometimes carry diseases, including rabies and roundworms, which can be harmful to pets and humans. Do not try to catch a raccoon. Startle techniques, such as dogs and automated sprinkler systems rarely work, but you might try leaving a radio in the garden set to a news show. The sound of human voices sometimes deters raccoons. Check with your fish and wildlife department before trapping or killing raccoons to learn about regulations in your area.