If, like many people, you spend hours carefully tending, watering, mowing and generally manicuring your lawn, the last thing you want is to wake up one morning to find it full of holes following a nocturnal assault by a local skunk.
It’s a fact of life that we share our neighborhoods with other animals, and unfortunately, skunks and raccoons might not necessarily have the same plans for your lawn as you do. If you find yourself plagued by these nightly invaders, there are a few things you can do – so here, we talk about how to stop skunks from digging up lawn.
Know your enemy – here’s a video explaining a bit about your nighttime adversary.
Skunks or raccoons?
Although we’re talking mainly about skunks here, it may be that the culprits responsible for the after-hours excavations are actually raccoons. So how can you tell which is to blame? Well, unless you see them, sometimes it can be hard.
The tracks can help – both animals have five-toed tracks, but sometimes skunk tracks only have four since the fifth doesn’t always press down. If a skunk sprays, you will certainly know about it – the infamous odor can be smelt up to a mile away.
However, in some ways, the question is not so important since raccoons and skunks are both after the same thing and can be dealt with in mostly the same ways. We’ll continue talking about skunks – but remember, most of what follows applies to raccoons too.
So what are they doing digging up my lawn?
The first part of preventing skunks from digging up your lawn is understanding why they are doing it in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, they are not just doing it to amuse themselves. Skunks are omnivorous opportunistic feeders, and if they are digging up your lawn, it’s because there’s something beneath the surface that will make a tasty skunk meal.
Specifically, they are looking for grubs, and knowing this is the key to dealing with skunk problems.
Bear in mind too that putting pieces of meat, fish or other foods in your compost bin may also attract nighttime critters into your yard.
Deal with the grubs and you deal with the skunks
Skunk activity is at its highest in spring, and this is because that coincides with the period when grubs are at their most plentiful beneath the surface. As the year wears on and summer turns to fall, the grubs migrate down to escape the cold and skunk activity ceases.
This means that to prevent skunk activity in spring, you need to make sure your lawn is free of grubs for them to eat – and the best way to do this is by applying beneficial nematodes.
Nematodes are tiny, almost microscopic creatures that burrow into the ground and feed on the grubs but that are completely harmless to larger animals and humans.
The problem is, you can’t apply nematodes to your lawn in spring as a response to skunk activity, you have to apply them in late summer or early spring. This means you need to plan ahead to prevent skunks attacking your prized lawn rather than react once they arrive.
If you live in an area that is particularly prone to skunk activity, you should consider applying nematodes – they can be sprayed into your lawn with water – each year at the end of the summer.
With nothing to attract them to your lawn, the skunks will hopefully go and dig holes in your neighbor’s grass instead.
The added bonus is that the lack of grubs will allow your grass to grow thicker and stronger, which will in turn make it harder for the skunks to dig holes at all, doubling your defense.
You may find that applying nematodes alone doesn’t completely discourage the skunks. If you want to declare all-out war on your nightly visitors, here are some other humane ideas you can try.
- Lights triggered by motion detectors
Rig up a lighting system that will be triggered when the skunks shuffle onto your lawn. This alone should be enough to scare these nocturnal marauders away.
- Mechanical scarecrow
You can also set up a mechanical scarecrow in your garden. One that is activated to move or make some noise by the motion of the skunks would be highly effective.
- Citrus peel
Many animals, including skunks, hate the smell of citrus. A cheap and effective way of repelling them is to spread citrus peels on your lawn.
The only downside is that you will then have pieces of fruit peel in your grass – although it could be an effective aid during the months of increased activity.
- Castor oil and detergent
Try mixing up a solution of castor oil and washing detergent mixed with water. If you spread this over your garden, it will help deter the skunks from coming in to investigate.
- Strong-smelling soap
In smaller yards, placing a few pieces of strong-smelling soap about the place will also deter nightly critters – they hate the smell.
- Predator urine
Try spreading coyote urine or dog urine in your yard. The skunks will smell it and be scared off. Commercial products can be bought, and you can also buy flakes imbued with predator urine that can be spread over your lawn or around your yard.
- Don’t let them make your home their home
Try not to leave anything that could make a comfortable skunk home. Clear leaves with a leaf vacuum and generally remove anything that would appeal to a skunk as a pleasant place to live.
- Non-lethal traps
As a last resort, you can lay non-lethal traps. However, if you simply remove the skunk and set it free elsewhere, it may just come back, and if you take it too far from its original habitat, it may die.
If you are thinking of setting traps, you may be better off speaking to a professional about the best way to proceed.
What to do if you come face to face with a skunk
If you find yourself face to face with a skunk, don’t panic. You really don’t want to get sprayed – but the skunk doesn’t want to spray you either. Their spray is a last line of defense, and first, they will simply try to amble away.
If you corner a skunk, he will start to beat the ground with his front claws as a warning – and if he still feels threatened or otherwise unable to escape, finally, he will spray. This means if you meet a skunk, simply give him space and back off and his spray will remain unused.
Prevention and discouragement
The best way to stop skunks from digging up your lawn is to make sure there is nothing there for them to dig up. Use nematodes to kill the grubs – and then employ one or more of the other techniques we have suggested to discourage them further. You should find that your skunk – or raccoon – problem soon disappears.
My name is Peter Weeks, Writer of The Daily Gardener. Gardening has always been my passion, nothing gives me quite the satisfaction that feeling the soil sift through my fingers does. Give me a spade, a shovel, and a rake, and I can happily while away the day transforming a patch of land into a beautiful oasis. To me, gardening is life. It’s not a career. It’s not a job. It’s something that I truly love doing. It’s a way of life, a passion that I’ve no intention of ever giving up.