Garden Detective

Garden Detective: What’s digging up all that turf?

Likely, it’s skunks or raccoons doing this damage.
Likely, it’s skunks or raccoons doing this damage.

Q: What do you think is happening here? This (photo) shows damage along the Folsom Parkway; if you know Folsom at all, this is behind Creekside. The residents think it’s raccoons, but what the heck are they after?

Steve Farr, Folsom

A: You may need a little detective work to determine the real culprit, but here are some possibilities. According to UC master gardener Kim Steinmann, the damage in the photo could have many different causes including skunks, raccoons, deer, dogs and humans.

“The last two are the least likely, since a playful dog or a golfer practicing their game would likely be noticed if they were doing that much damage,” Steinmann said. “Unless it is a midnight guerrilla gardener attempting to singlehandedly remove the lawn in the name of saving water, I would suspect it is skunks, raccoons or deer.”

Skunks and raccoons are active at night, making detection a challenge. What are they after?

“Worms, grubs and other tasty soil insects living under lawn will attract these visitors,” she said. “Was the sod newly laid down? If so, it may not have a strong root system and therefore be easy pickings for a skunk’s nose or a raccoon’s paws.”

There are various ways to try to narrow down the culprit:

▪  Use a nighttime video camera.

▪ Disperse flat piles of wetted sandy soil throughout the damage and see if you can find any paw prints. Raccoons have larger paw prints than skunks. Deer will leave hoof prints. A track identification website such as this one from Purdue University can be useful for comparing any tracks: www3.ag.purdue.edu/entm/wildlifehotline/pages/TrackID.aspx

▪  Note if there is any skunk smell in the area.

▪  For the brave of heart, look for other clues, such as fecal matter or shedded fur. Then use the Internet to find a match.

Once you know what is causing the damage, then you can begin pest management, which will likely be some combination of trapping and exclusion. Note that skunks are considered non-game mammals covered by California Fish and Game regulations. For more on skunks, check out the University of California pest notes: ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74118.html

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

  • Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday
  • Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday; email ceamador. ucdavis.edu
  • Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays
  • Colusa: (530) 458-0570; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays; website: cecolusa.ucanr.edu
  • El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday
  • Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message and calls will be returned; website: pcmg.ucanr.org/got_questions
  • Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message
  • Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 225-4605
  • Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned
  • Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays
  • Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned
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