As the saying goes, "It does no good to make a mountain out of a molehill." It doesn't help anything to pretend that the small inconveniences in life are major issues. But what if the minor inconvenience is an actual molehill?
As the weather turns cooler, many neighborhood critters are looking to fatten up before winter. And digging in your yard can unearth some delicious food or advantageous shelter. The best way to beat these pests is to first determine what's destroying your lawn and garden.
Grub is the generic name for the larval form of many lawn beetles. And their presence entices other unwanted critters to visit your garden. According to DIY Network gardening expert Julie Martens, "Which beetle grub your lawn is most likely to be infested with depends on where you live." Grubs are a common issue for gardeners in the Northeast, Midwest and Southwest who irrigate their turf. Grubs like very moist soil and thin grass patches. You can identify a grub problem in your lawn by patches of dead grass about 2 or 3 inches in diameter. Grubs kill grass by eating the roots, and early fall is peak feeding time. Once soil temps drop, these bugs start to fatten up for winter and dig about 6 inches below your turf to settle in until spring. To beat these beetles before they eat up, consider overseeding in the fall or spring to create a thick, lush lawn. Watering your lawn infrequently with deep irrigation systems can also prevent grubs.
Moles are hardworking tunnelers. These carnivores create tunnel systems through lawns to get at grubs, earthworms and other bugs. You can tell moles are busy at work when you see raised ridges of dirt along the surface and mounds of soil where they deposit the earth they've moved from deeper tunnels. Walking along a lawn with mole holes feels like bouncing on a spongy surface. Much like grubs, overwatering your lawn attracts moles. The damp soil is easier for them to move to their liking. Traps are the most effective means of getting rid of moles; however, some gardeners prefer the more humane use of castor oil to deter them.
Voles are often confused with moles; however, these tiny critters are rodents and relatives of mice, whereas moles are in the mammal family. These field mice like to eat plants more than other small animals, burrowing under lawns and gardens to chew on grass throughout the winter. Snow tends to hide the damage voles are doing to your yard, so their trails become visible when the snow melts. To fix this, Martens recommends you "Fill in vole trails with quality potting soil or compost." Your grass should eventually get back to normal. And to help stop voles before the winter, "treat areas prone to vole activity with castor oil to help repel these munchers," says Martens.
More often smelled than seen, skunks can be very destructive to lawns when looking for their next meal. According to Gretchen Voyle of the Michigan State University Extension, "In the fall and all during the growing season, skunks are on the patrol for earthworms, grubs and a variety of soil insects." These nocturnal eaters also enjoy feeding on "crayfish, small animals, birds and their eggs, frogs and turtle eggs -- if they can find them," says Voyle. To get at their food sources, skunks push their noses to the ground and dig holes with their claws. The holes are typically surrounded by a ring of loose soil, so keep an eye out for this telltale sign.
Though these "trash pandas" are better known for their garbage antics, raccoons can also heavily damage lawns and gardens. Their diets "are almost identical to skunks, but raccoons use their front paws like hands," says Voyle. Using their paws, raccoons will rip up and flip over chunks of sod and grass to look for their next meal. They have been known to roll up freshly laid grass on a new lawn. Raccoons are nocturnal feeders as well, so if holes are appearing during the day, it might be the work of a squirrel rather than a skunk or raccoon. To deter these little bandits from your yard, consider spritzing your lawn or garden with a spicy mix of 1 small canister cayenne pepper, 1 bottle of hot sauce and 1 gallon jug of water.
On the one hand, the presence of pests can be a sign that you've created a very hospitable lawn environment. But anytime these pests are at work, you could get stuck with additional yardwork. Head outside to start your critter crowd control for this season.