What Keeps Peeling Back My New Lawn?
On the way out to get the morning paper, you stop dead in your tracks and stare open-mouthed at the disturbing sight of your new lawn. What happened? Did vandals roll back and rearrange the sod that was perfect yesterday? Not quite! Instead, it was the handiwork of nocturnal hunters with ringed tails and bandit's masks: mischievous raccoons. They favor the fat, white beetle larvae under our lawns: the common grub.
Raccoons are no strangers to the gardens and attics of North America.
The raccoon gets its name from Native American culture. The Proto-Alonquian root ahrah-koon-em means one who rubs, scrubs, & washes with its hands.
These nocturnal hunters are fearless and often move around in loose groups, each foraging independently. This lack of shyness furthers their aggressive 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.
Habits of Raccoons
The raccoon's peak breeding season is March-April. After a 2 month gestation, the female usually has 2-3 kits which join in the food foraging by 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: fruits, insects, nuts, slugs, grubs, fish, and pet food. Foraging raccoons often travel in groups of 3 and are very territorial. To prevent them from claiming your yard, be on the lookout for coarse textured feces which they often deposit in numerous areas. Vigilant removal will dissuade them from staying long.
Raccoons are extremely sensitive to touch, smell and sound. 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 remember cognitive challenges and problem solving for as long as three years. No wonder they are hard to deter!
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 cornered. Shouting, stomping one's feet, and waving one's arms is the best way to scare one off. A good blast of water will do the trick too.
There may be exceptions, but all raccoons are known to carry dangerous parasites in their feces which can infect other animals and humans through either inhalation or direct contact. Wear gloves and filtration masks when cleaning nesting sites in attics, etc. Parasites can continue to live in the soil for several months. In spite of their mischief, raccoons still serve as good scavengers for slugs and snails. They are very efficient at garden pest control and should not be a problem with occasional visits. Watch them from your windows, but don't feed them treats. They are not shy about coming close and don't fear cameras. It's wise to keep the kids and pets back.
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.
- Consider built-in rock shelters in fish ponds for goldfish and koi.
Metal Flashing Prevents Climbing
In addition to tree trimming, the attachment of metal flashing to wood siding and around trees will prevent the raccoons from climbing to reach rooftops, eaves, attics, and other attractive nesting sites. The clever use of cleaning brushes keeps them from climbing downspouts and walking along rain gutters.
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 quest 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 larvae will eliminate the grub population, so raccoons will move on. These products contain imidicloprid or cyfluthrin and do not harm earthworms. Both ,however, are thought to negatively affect honey bee populations. Follow application directions carefully and don't apply more often than suggested.
A completely 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 on-line or ordered through retailers and shipped directly to you.
Easy to apply organic solution to lawn grubs:
Raccoons are part of our native fauna, and they are very helpful in keeping other garden pests in check. Respect them from a distance, discourage both nesting and feeding in urban settings by following these tips, and use safe forms of control when they get out of hand on their nocturnal forages in your garden.
© 2012 Catherine Tally