Eek, a snake! Though this little one is okay. And how to prevent crabgrass.

For The Baltimore Sun

I woke up to this little snake in my mud room. Can you tell me what type of snake it is? I have copperheads in my back woods but they tend, at this age, to have very white tail tips. I have, a few times, found black snake and ring-neck snake babies over the past 30 years in my basement. How do they get in?

It’s a juvenile black rat snake. Black snakes are very common and good to have around, but we get many questions and photos from folks worried about copperheads when they see a young one. Juvenile black rat snakes are light grey with dark brown (almost black) rectangular patches. They are not coppery.

Since black rat snakes are so beneficial, it’s important to be familiar with the differences and preserve them. You can’t identify poisonous snakes simply by a triangular head, as several species of beneficial snakes can actually make their heads more triangular when they are frightened.

Plug small openings where snakes can enter your home, and clear log piles, leaves or other debris up against the foundation where snakes may be drawn to the damp protection. Snakes are not house pests, because they will starve and dry up in a home. Search ‘snakes’ on the Home and Garden Information Center website for tips on how to capture and escort snakes outside humanely.

Is there a more natural way to handle crabgrass? I hate to put down chemical pre-emergents every year forever!

Research shows two good ways:

1) mow high (3 1/2”)

2) fertilize your lawn (primarily in the fall)

When you mow high, the grass shades the soil and prevents germination of all kinds of weed seeds. Also, a greater volume of grass blades equals more photosynthesis, which in turn strengthen roots. Fertilizing in the fall also targets roots, which translates into better root systems and thicker turf. If your lawn has thinned out, overseed in the fall, too.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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