“Help, the raccoons & skunks are tearing up my lawn!”

Grass torn up by animals due to grub infestation

Grass torn up by animals due to grub infestation

This is the common call of thousands of frantic homeowners every spring as the soil warms and the turf begins to emerge from slumber.  We hate that we have to say ‘we can’t stop the raccoons’, but it is true. Raccoons are smart, stubborn, and have good memories. They will keep flipping up grass so long as they think there might be food underneath, and it is easy for them to do it.  But don’t fret, if you understand the problem, you’re much closer to the solution!

That’s because even a raccoon won’t waste a lot of effort for no reward, so they can be discouraged. If you make it really hard for them to dig, and keep the amount of food they can find from digging down, they’ll go looking elsewhere.
REMEMBER NEMATODES ONLY WORK on young larvae in late summer/early fall!
Grub control with Nematodes is certainly part of the fix. Getting a preventative treatment every year in late August or September – especially in neighbourhoods known to have grub and ‘coon problems – will not only keep your grass well rooted and hard to flip up, but will prevent a bumper crop of grubs from eating your roots and turning your lawn into a raccoon buffet. Rooting is key because it makes digging difficult. If they do flip up the turf, fold it back ASAP before it dries out, water it and get a root-building fertilizer on it.
But managing the masked diggers goes beyond that. Cayenne pepper, coyote urine (or ‘marking your territory’ yourself!) or commercial repellents are all somewhat effective. If your lawn is small enough, unrolling chicken-wire over the areas where the raccoon’s like to dig can frustrate them. Just remember to move it every few days so it doesn’t grow into the lawn. LawnSavers also offers a motion-activated sprinkler called “the scarecrow” that blasts the furry bandits with cold water when they walk into range, too.
There are no guarantees with Raccoon’s, but a good combination of these tools and techniques should discourage them enough that your lawn isn’t destroyed.  A thick, healthy well-rooted lawn with proactive care is the best answer to avoid the frantic call of “may-day”!
– Prevention is key.
– Understand the problem, the turf is flipping up easy because the grub larvae ate the roots all last fall.
– Animals digging usually means there are grubs underneath BUT not always- confirm visually the presence and number of grubs in a small 1 sq. ft. patch
– Place the turf back as soon as possible to avoid further turfgrass death
– Focus on developing healthy turf with strong roots through proper nutrients, aeration and over-seeding
– Use deterrence tactics to deter animals digging until more abundant food arrives to interest them more later in the Spring
– Apply Nematodes right when the new eggs have hatched into larvae.  Current Nematodes in the market can not kill mature larvae in the Spring (Don’t waste your money)
– Keep the soil wet after the Nematodes are applied.
– Call LawnSavers to help you get your lawn Green & Healthy and fighting off grubs proactively & naturally!

25 Responses to “Help, the raccoons & skunks are tearing up my lawn!”

  1. Glen Wong says:

    Just laid new sod down about 3.5 weeks ago
    looks good but now I have the skunk for sure flipping up
    my sod and every morning I am stomping the sod back down.
    I have tried cayenne pepper and does not work as well s
    stakes on the one’s they are flipping over but go to the next one
    and flip it over.

    Is there any other way other than using harsh
    chemicals which are banned but still available
    thru people like farmers.

    Waiting for reply

    Thx Glen (Aurora)

    • Kyle Tobin says:

      At this time, it is unlikely the raccoon or skunks are looking specifically for grubs, however this illustrates my point, that these animals are creatures of habit and will flip anything up that is loose in an effort to expose cool, moist or dark spots where they are likely to find some sort of insect meal.
      Grubs at this point are mostly pupating to an adult beetle.
      Your sod is new so there is not an established root system.
      In order to lessen the flipping, you need to try to dissuade the animals from coming around.
      Keep the sod well watered; everyday until root growth is established. They may not like the wet grass.
      Try bird netting laid out over the lawn (inexpensive and available at most stores.)- they get their paws stuck in it.
      Try human hair or urine- the smells tend to allow them to think it is some other animals territory.
      Try the scarecrow sprinkler (available at Lowes, Lee Valley or some other stores)- it has a motion sensor that will shoot them with water when they step on the lawn.
      I hope these ideas help.

  2. Ray ( Palos Park, IL ) says:

    I have been fighting raccoons for the last three weeks. I think I have won the war, but I am not running up the victory flag yet!!!
    I first tried two different commercial products to an area 10′ X 12′ that In purchased at Lowe’s. Expensive and was about as effective as using pepper!
    I then tried moth balls. I actually found that the racoons were digging all around the crystals. I brought in two large construction lights. Unfortunately I could not put them on a sensor, so I left them all night long. That just made the raccoons
    able to see better along with me. The best product madeis by Winchester or Remington…not appreciated by the neighbor but works very well!!! At this point I had a family of four racoons left out of seven! I decided to spray a mixture of one part ammonia to 1/2 part water. Appears to be working ,but needs to be reapplied especially after a rain. Ammonia will brown out the grass untill next year. Every morning I have been holding my breath! Good Luck and apply grubex every June. This is the first time I didn’t in 22 years and you see the results.

    • Kyle Tobin says:

      I have to say, your not the first person I’ve heard that wants to dispose of those creatures that way. Unfortunately we do not have Grubex in Canada, however it is important to apply any grub management over more than one season if you have identified a grub infestation. Keeping populations below the damage threshold saves a lot of aggravation. It may not stop them from digging and looking for grubs, but if they don’t find any, they will quickly move on to the next place.
      I do not recommend using ammonia, since it will definitely make it harder to regrow grass from seed in those areas and is not good for the environment. Have you tried the scarecrow sprinkler? It is motion activated and squirts them with water!

  3. Jerry Lacy says:

    The Scarecrow sprinkler did not work after the first two nights. The raccoons quickly learned that the sprinkler activated for only three seconds and then was off for eight seconds, allowing plenty of time to get around to the other side of it. In addition, they are not bothered by the water back around 7 feet or so, only by the force of it up close to the sprinkler. So, yes, it protects a small section right in front of the sprinkler. I would need about 40 of them to guard the perimeter of my yard. The chemicals, fox urine and pepper sprays, are worthless. My garden stinks to high heaven, and still gets dug up on a nightly basis. I think a large dog that sleeps outside is the only answer.

    • Kyle Tobin says:

      I think you are right. You need to use several different tactics to have affect. However THE BEST ONE is a thick and healthy root system. Keep fertilizing and seeding and keep it moist, the animals will eventually be dissuaded!

  4. Garnet B. Ward says:

    John and Kyle thanks for such an informative article.Recently I am also facing similar problem will try your suggestion. Hope it will work out.

  5. scott regan says:

    Help! I live in San Jose, CA and our front yard is getting worked over by animals. Based on your description, I think it is raccoons – flipping over square feet of turf.

    What should we do???



    • Kyle Tobin says:

      Sounds to me like you have grubs eating the roots of your lawn. I recommend calling a licenced professional in your area that will no more about the types of products available in California.

  6. Roy Kenny says:

    The skunks came last fall to part of my half-acre lawn making a mess with their digging. This spring they must have brought family and friends. They could hire out as a rototiller. I tried a cup or two of bleach in a sprinkler and covered the area and the lawn nearby. The skunks did not seem to care, returning to their old area and adding news ones. I am sure lead poisoning works but… Yes, too many buts for that solution.

  7. chris says:

    As a wildlife control professional I love to see good advice on wildlife issues. Great factual information contained in this article.

  8. won kim says:

    Some kind of animal came to my back yard and torn lawns.
    digged and eats grubs continually every night.
    I applied the Scotts Grub EX sprinkled. I saw many Grubs underneath
    my laws and damaged.
    How can I get rid of or expelled raccoons or skunks.
    Please advise me, thank you.

  9. Margaret says:

    We have a crazy hard working skunk on our Lawn every night, messing up huge areas of our Lawn, how can we remove him safely?

  10. ss says:

    It’s difficult to find experienced people for this subject, however,
    you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

    • Kyle Tobin says:

      Thanks! We love turfgrass and the immense benefits that green and healthy lawns brings to the environment!!

  11. Judy says:

    I have tried every one of these solutions, including bird netting and traps, and nothing has stopped the raccoons from tearing up my sod!!! It started 4-5 weeks after the sod was laid and has been going on for over a month. There are no grubs or worms when I peel back the sod. My latest attempt is covering the entire lawn with plastic tarps every night – but I have a feeling they will figure that out soon. I am a 70yo woman and am about to buy a gun.

    • Kyle Tobin says:

      Hold your horses, the trick here is to promote strong roots in your new lawn. Raccoons and skunks will lift up anything to see what’s underneath in the dark moist spots that insects typically favour. Patience will be key here until the roots grow deep. Have you given the lawn a decent root promoting fertilizer 10-20-20 and adding Myccorhizae to stimulate root mass. I also find something like Neem Cake seems to deter animals to some degree.

      • Judy says:

        I actually do have a good fertilizer w/Myccorhizae but had forgotten to use it. And my backyard has been very wet with early rain for several weeks, a veritable breeding ground for insects, worms, grubs, etc.
        Can I add Neem Cake as a topsoil in addition to the 10-20-20 fertilizer?
        The raccoons and skunks haven’t done any damage since using the tarps at night but that’s getting old real quick! Thanks to your advice, I’ll be patient a little bit longer – and pray for roots.

        • Kyle Tobin says:

          Good to hear.
          It may be tool cold to use it now, I would check the label for best application timing. Neem cake is low in fertilizer value so it should not be a problem with other products. It is not a topdress (in terms of something you apply heavily). You can buy straight Mycorrhizae that is not mixed with any nutrients. The moisture will help ensure roots go deep!

  12. Lary says:

    Anyone use a spray or something different, maybe special liquid to get rid of raccoons? I try traps but its not help to m and my garden! Thanks!

    • Kyle Tobin says:

      Best to prevent the type of food sources they are looking for and grow strong roots in your lawn in order to prevent the raccoons from tearing up your lawn successfully!

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