What Keeps Peeling Back My New Lawn ?
The mischievous raccoon:
Raccoons forage in groups of 3-4.
When kits are 8 weeks, they will join in night-time foraging with their mother. At 12 weeks, they begin to hunt food without her.
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 the heck? Did aliens roll back and rearrange the sod that was perfect when you went to bed? Not quite! Instead, it was the handiwork of nocturnal hunters with ringed tails and bandit's masks: mischievous raccoons. These culprits may seem alien to us, but they 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.
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 underhangs, sheds, and storm drains. They come out at night in search of food: fruits, insects, nuts, slugs, grubs, fish, and pet food.
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 prized koi fish, and peeling back sod in search of grubs and worms.
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!
Metal flashing will prevent climbing:
In addition to tree trimming, nailing metal flashing to wood siding and wrapping it 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.
Controls for Raccoons: Bring pet food in at night and keep bird seed picked up after dusk. The best defense is to keep attractants away and to seal nesting spaces and entryways. Place rocks on top of outdoor trash cans or use tightly sealed containers. Metal flashing helps to prevent climbing on siding and trees. It is important to be vigilant and repair damage as soon as possible, so females don't set up nests in unwanted places.Strong gridded wire or hardware cloth can be used to seal overhang entry points and to cover vents. Make sure chimneys have spark arrestors to deter entry also. Fish ponds should have built-in rock shelters for goldfish and koi. Raccoons are not dissuaded by bright lights or loud noises, including dogs. Skip the floodlights and radios. Neighbors will thank you!
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. They are, however, afraid of walking on unstable areas. Crumpled paper bothers them, but my favorite deterrent is plastic bird netting.
Bird netting and lawn staples:
My number one defense against these critters when they persist in tearing up sod areas is bird netting secured with lawn staples. Simply determine the point of entry. Is it by land, tree, or close shelter? It is not necessary to cover the entire lawn area, just the entry or perimeter. Raccoons do not like to travel across surfaces that feel odd and entangle their feet.
The garden netting and lawn staples can be purchased at most nurseries and garden center departments. The netting comes prepackaged in 14'x14' or 7'x21' sizes and can be easily cut with scissors. It is also available in bulk rolls for very large problem areas. The netting is best secured every 12"-18" with a garden staple. These come in packs of 10 or in bulk boxes of 100.
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 persuade them to move on.
How to deliver an effective one-two punch:
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 beetle larvae and other harmful lawn and soil dwellers will eliminate the grub population, so raccoons will move on to to new food sources. These products contain imidicloprid or cyfluthrin and do not harm earthworms. Both ,however, are suspect in reducing honey bee populations through Colony Collapse Disorder. Follow application directions carefully and don't apply more often than suggested. A more sensible approach is the completely organic option of either beneficial nematodes or milky spore which 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.
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.
Raccoons are part of our native fauna, and they do keep other populations of pests in check, so we don't have to. Respect them from a distance, discourage both nesting and feeding in urban settings, and use friendly forms of control when they get out of hand on their noctural forages in your gardens.
Beneficial nematodes are completely safe and can be shipped directly to your home.
Easy to apply organic solution to lawn grubs:
© 2012 Catherine Tally