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What Is Digging in My Lawn?

Catherine is a proponent for responsible stewardship of our natural resources and covers topics of plant life and sustainable living.

Raccoon damage on turf grass.

Raccoon damage on turf grass.

No one wants to discover their lawn torn up or their new sod peeled back. How does this happen? Is it vandals out for a prank? Not quite.

It is the work of a nocturnal hunter with a ringed tail and a bandit's mask, the common raccoon. These animals, which are no strangers to suburbia, favor the fat white beetle larvae under our lawns know as the grub worm and come out after dark to forage in our gardens. Helpful pest control is nice, but is the collateral damage worth it? We can peacefully coexist with the right strategy.

The Common Raccoon and Its Habits

Raccoons frequent the gardens and attics of North America. There are seven species of raccoons and 25 sub-species here.

The raccoon, Procyon lotor, gets its common name from Native American culture. In the Proto-Alonquian language ahrah-koon-em means one who rubs, scrubs, & washes with its hands. This comes from the perceived habit of it washing its food. Sometimes this is seen in captivity, but it is now believed to be an innate motor function from fishing in streams and rivers.

Raccoons average around 20 lbs. but can get as large as 35 lbs. The tail is always ringed with a black tip. They have extremely keen senses and little fear of humans. This makes them adept hunters. A raccoon can both hear and smell earthworms as well as feel their vibrations underground. They are also very intelligent, able to open doors and get into trash cans. They remember these cognitive challenges and are excellent problem solvers. No wonder they are hard to deter!

The raccoon's breeding season is January to June, peaking in April and May. A female raccoon will reach sexual maturity at one year when she will leave her mother and forage with her own kits.

After a two month gestation, the female will birth between 2 and 5 kits which will be ready to join her in nocturnal hunting at 8-12 weeks. In the wild, the average life span is 2-3 years.

Raccoons find shelter during the day in wood piles, under houses, in attics and under-hangs, sheds, and storm drains. They come out at night in search of food, usually entering yards by climbing trees or fences. They are omnivores and favorite foods include fruits, insects, nuts, slugs, grubs, fish, and pet food. They are fearless and often move around in loose groups, each foraging independently. This lack of shyness further emboldens their behavior.

Equipped with strong razor-sharp claws, they can get around most deterrents to enter home attics by tearing off roof shingles and fascia boards as well as prying metal covers off vents like soda can pop-tops. These claws also facilitate digging, shredding fish, and peeling back sod in search of grubs and worms.

Raccoons Are Cute but Dangerous

Raccoons may look cute and cuddly, but they are not. Their aggressiveness and sharp claws speak for themselves, and they are especially dangerous when threatened or cornered. Shouting, stomping feet, and waving arms can be effective in scaring one off, but it's no guarantee. Pets should always be kept away from wild animals since behavior is unpredictable, and intervention often results in serious injury.

Raccoons are not necessarily territorial, preferring to move around to where there is ample water, trees, and food; however, they will continue to hunt in places where these needs are met and no one deters them. They may mark their favorite foraging spots by spraying urine or leaving feces behind. In some cases they create latrines that they use repeatedly. These are very alarming since raccoons carry dangerous roundworms in their feces which can infect other animals and humans through either inhalation or direct contact. Parasites can continue to live in the soil for several months.

How to Clean Raccoon Latrines and Abandoned Nests

Once a group of raccoons has claimed your yard as its territory, it will mark it with coarse-textured scat and urine. Raccoon urine will damage lawns much like that of dogs, but they will continue to use the same spot as a latrine often soaking the area. Raccoon latrines can be found anywhere, but common areas are in chimneys, under decks, in attics, or at the bases of wood piles or mature trees. Feces and urine contain toxins and must be carefully cleared away. Here are some practical tips.

  • Wear gloves, shoe covers, and an N95 mask.
  • Mist dry feces with a spray bottle to prevent infectious airborne dust.
  • Pick up feces with a shovel or inverted bag.
  • All feces should be put into a plastic waste bag, sealed, and put in the trash bin. It can also be burned.
  • Wipe infected areas with a damp sponge using hot water and soap or treat outside areas with boiling water.
  • Flush dirty water in toilet and follow with bleach.
  • Scrub shoe bottoms and dispose of gloves and sponges in a trash bag.
  • Launder clothing in hot water when finished.
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Practical Controls for Raccoons

  • Bring pet food in at night.
  • Place rocks on top of outdoor trash cans or use tightly sealed containers.
  • Use metal flashing to prevent climbing on siding and trees.
  • Cover overhang entry points and nesting areas with hardware cloth.
  • Make sure chimneys have spark arrestors to deter entry into home.
  • Construct built-in rock shelters in fish ponds.

Metal Flashing Prevents Climbing

Besides trimming trees away from the roof, attaching metal flashing to wood siding and around trees will help prevent the raccoons from climbing to reach eaves, attics, and other attractive nesting sites. The clever use of wire or bristle cleaning brushes makes climbing downspouts and walking along rain gutters inconvenient.


Bird Netting and Lawn Staples

Smelly things like cayenne, blood meal, coyote urine, and mothballs may bother them but not enough to call an end to the nightly quests for food. However, raccoons are afraid of walking on unstable areas or getting their paws entangled. The most effective deterrent in my experience is plastic bird-netting secured with lawn staples.

  • It is easy to cut with scissors.
  • It is not necessary to cover the entire lawn area, just the point of entry or lawn perimeter.
  • It is easy to find at most garden centers.
  • The netting comes prepackaged in 14'x14' or 7'x21' sizes. It is also available in bulk rolls for very large problem areas. The netting is best secured every 12"-18" with a 6" garden staple. These come in packs of 10 or in bulk boxes of 100.

Combining Methods for Optimum Control

The use of netting with a cayenne based product like Critter Ridder or a turf pest insecticide is an effective one-two punch for deterring foraging raccoons. A granular insecticide which targets these beetle grubs will eliminate the food source, so raccoons will move on.

An organic option for grub eradication is the use of a bio-control. Either beneficial nematodes or milky spore can be easily applied through a hose-end sprayer. These items can be purchased online or ordered through garden supply retailers.

An Organic Solution for Lawn Grubs

Respectful Management

Raccoons are part of our native fauna, and they are very helpful in keeping grubs, slugs, and snails in check. Occasional visits shouldn't be a problem. Watch them from your windows, but don't feed them. They are not shy about coming close and don't fear cameras. Keep the kids and domestic animals away. It is a misdemeanor in California to keep a raccoon as a pet.

Respect them from a distance, discourage nesting and feeding around your home by following these tips, and use safe forms of control when they get out of hand on their nocturnal forages in your garden.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Catherine Tally


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on June 04, 2013:

Hello FlourishAnyway,

I 've got to admit that I have a soft spot for injured animals! In your situation, I'd discourage the foraging in my ornamentals and lawn but cut a little slack in garden beds and allow your disabled visitor to hunt for slugs and other nuisance pests. I really believe in compromise when living close to wildlife without giving in to feeding treats, etc. Thank you for dropping by to read and comment. I really appreciate it!

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 04, 2013:

Good hub that we will be putting to practical use. We have a disabled raccoon (three good legs, one healed back leg and a partial tail) that has been visiting our deck scrounging for food. He looks at me each night through the window.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 23, 2013:

Wombats are so chubby and cute! (The only marsupials we have are possums.) I 've read that wombats like to dig and burrow while looking for roots, etc. I imagine that could get very frustrating to a gardener! Similar nuisances here would be gophers and moles.

Thank you for your interesting comments. Glad you stopped by!


LongTimeMother from Australia on January 23, 2013:

I occasionally have a similar problem with wombats digging up my garden. Fortunately there's no danger of them ever reaching the attic ... but they have been known to excavate new basements under people's houses. lol.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on October 04, 2012:

Hi D.A.L. Thank you for the interesting comments! Raccoons have become a real nuisance due to urban sprawl and the plentiful pickings of petfood and garbage. Badgers are probably more selective which I would think makes them helpful for rodent control but a nightmare for poultry farms:) I'm glad you stopped by!

Dave from Lancashire north west England on October 04, 2012:

Hi, as a fellow naturalist I found this hub fascinating and very informative. Obviously we do not have Raccoons in the UK , I suppose the European badger would be the animal that would inflict that type of damage over here. Thank you for sharing.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 16, 2012:

Thank you for sharing this. A gang of 4 raccoons have taken over my block on Monday nights. We are trying to encourage people not to take there garbage cans out until Tuesday morning.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 16, 2012:

Hello kashmir :) Thank you so much ! I really appreciate your checking out my newest hubs and giving me such positive feedback. My best to you.

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on September 16, 2012:

This is a great and very informative hub on raccoons, and i agree with you raccoons are cute but dangerous . Well done !

Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 16, 2012:

Hi thooghun,

Yeah, I 'd say that raccoons wouldn't want to work that hard ! Glad you dropped by- thank you for your positive comment. :)

James Nelmondo from Genova, Italy on September 16, 2012:

I live in the center of a densely populated city -- on the third floor of an apartment complex. After having read this article I know feel surprisingly safe :D Great hub!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 15, 2012:

Hi moonlake,

Raccoons go after newly planted sod for the most part but can still peel it back for several months. As annoying as they can be, I find comfort in visits from them. They keep the snails away and at least they don't stink like skunks-lol. Thank you for dropping by to read and comment. :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 15, 2012:

Hi DzyMsLizzy :) Thank you! I always enjoy your comments and appreciate your dropping by. My garden is teeming w/ lizards right now, and the tiniest ones scurry every which way when I water. Thankfully, I never see snakes in my yard! I always stomp to anounce my presence and give them time to shoo. All the best to you.

moonlake from America on September 15, 2012:

We have had raccoons but I never knew they tore up the lawn this way. We had raccoons trying to get into the trash last night. Their always around here no way to get rid of them. They are cute but I wouldn't get near one. Voted uP!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 15, 2012:

Agreed! Raccoons can be dangerous, despite their appealing appearance. However, I love your nature-friendly control suggestions--discourage without harm. All animals have their place in nature, including the ones we don't care for.

For me, that includes reptiles of all kinds--but just because I don't like them, doesn't mean I don't understand their place in the greater scheme of things. I simply leave them alone and avoid places where I might come across any.

Voted up, useful, interesting, awesome and shared.

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