Elana Safronsky, Managing Editor
Thursday, August 11, 2011 10:18 AM EDT
People, the grubs are upon us. Well, our lawns, anyway. Is your lawn being dug up? If so, read on. I recently posted about making over of my yard in which I mentioned the pain of waking up, day after day, to find the fresh sod my husband and I rolled out thrown back in meter-long strips in what looked like exuberant abandon: raccoons and skunks.
I should have asked someone about it (I have so many experts at hand) but at the time we were wild-eyed with rage, and knew only war. We chose to trap and relocate the critters (humanely, honest) because I held the ignorant view that raccoons were like a street gang, and worked a neigbourhood. If we could set the gang on another 'hood, it would at least give us time to regroup before the next fell upon us. After trapping seven -- seven! -- raccoons (don't judge me, if you knew the pain of having your hard work ruined mercilessly, you would understand), the heavy rock of futility sunk my stomach. Either there were three cousins for every raccoon that sailed, or our neighbourhood park is a raccoon farm. The assembly line of diggers trudged on, and our lawn took root within an inch of its life, looking like it had indeed been through a world war.
Following the trauma, I made a mental note to get some real answers. Fiona Wilson, a garden expert at the Home Depot, Vancouver, helps us understand this very common and nagging problem...
WHY? WHY? WHY?
Despite how it may feel -- it's not personal. Fiona confirms that raccoons and skunks are digging for dinner, and the sought-after delicacy is grubs. Really most grubs, but the grubs in increasingly good supply are of the European Chafer beetle. Though Fiona is in Vancouver and I in Toronto, our two locales share a disconcerting infestation of the European Chafer. Traditionally an East Coast issue, it's believed B.C. was infested 10 years ago via a large shipment of East Coast plants, and the problem has spread like wildfire all over the Western province.
The Grub or the Critter?
The grub, actually. Get rid of the grubs, and the critters will stop digging. Controlling the raccoon population can land you in jail, and take it from me, the earth can be blown to smithereens and they'll be clinging to a piece of cosmic debris, digging it for grubs like nothing ever happened. You won't win.
If your lawn is being dug up you need a diagnosis. To check if your lawn is infested with the delectable Chafer, Fiona suggest this: peel back a one foot by one foot square of sod and dig down two inches. If you find more than 10 cream-coloured, coiled grubs, you have a problem. To fix the problem you need a natural parasite that kills these grubs, called Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, or Nematodes, as they're known on the street. Nematodes are nature's grub busters -- a tiny worm that penetrates the grub and takes it out. Ask your local garden centre associate for application details or check out this video by Vancouver's CityFarmer.info explaining how to apply nematodes to your lawn.
Why My Lawn and Not Theirs?
To add insult to injury, Fiona tells me that the European Chafer likes itself a sad, weak lawn. They love to lay eggs in sparse lawns with weak root systems, so if you do have an infestation, poor lawn maintenance may be to blame. In fact, freshly laid sod, especially in June, the peak of beetle mating season, is like a beckoning incubator. Sod, before it takes root, offers an effortless bed for beetles laying eggs as they don't have to dig -- the stronger your lawn and root system the less attractive it is to egg-laying beetles. And prepare for the worst if you're laying sod in June -- it's best to wait for cooler months.
How to Save Your Fresh Sod?
First off, Fiona advises you don't re-sod in the months of June through to August. Avoiding beetle season altogether helps immensely! But if you must, you should expect that whether you have grubs or not, your resident raccoons and skunks will be by to check. They can't resist the scent of churned earth. But you can prepare. Here are the top three most effective ways to save your sod:
Coyote urine: available in crystal form at most hardware stores, it is in fact, the urine of coyotes, and scares the fur of those fearless b*stards.
Critter Ridder: a natural concoction of all things critters hate to smell that you can sprinkle on your lawn, available at most hardware stores.
Chicken wire/ garden mesh/ bird netting: I have read repeatedly that for many, the insanity stopped only with a physical barrier. Different things worked for different people but the one thing that seemed to have been the successful last resort is tacking down a form of durable outdoor mesh (check your local hardware store) over the entire area. That's right. It's cumbersome to do it every night, and not much better if you leave it on for the month or so it takes for sod to take root, because you can't use your lawn. But hey, the nerves it saves may well be worth a moth of no lawn. The key is in how securely you tack down your netting of choice -- if those things can chew through standard-issue garbage bins...well, you understand you'll have to be inventive.
Have you had this problem? What has worked for you?