Holes, mounds and trails. When you see any of these critters in your yard or garden, you’ve got uninvited visitors. What — if anything — to do about them depends on where they are and the amount of damage they can do.
Here’s a brief guide to what crawlies and critters could be lurking underfoot and some signs of what to look for as you take a walk around your property.
These little guys can do a lot of damage by sucking the juices from your grass and leaving behind toxic saliva that kills the rest of it. They prefer sunny yards and can do widespread damage. They’re tiny — 1/20th of an inch — with black bodies and whitish wings — but they scurry about in groups making them easier to see if you get down low. The best way to discourage them is to dethatch your lawn and keep it watered. Chinch bugs like to live in the thatch and they like dry soil.
These are the larvae of beetles and they wreck havoc in spring and fall. The beetles lay eggs in the summer and the larvae feast upon the roots of your grass in the fall. In winter, they dig in to stay warm and in spring, they come back up to feed again. Because they eat the roots, your grass can’t get enough water. Look for brown grass; if you can roll it back like a rug, you’ll see the grubs. To get rid of them, introduce some beneficial nematodes to your yard. These worms will get in the grub’s body and kill it. You can buy them from nurseries. The downside is that this method can take a while.
If you’ve got roses you know the damage these bugs can cause. What you may not realize is that they lay their eggs in the soil and the larvae will feed on, you guessed it, your lawn. If you don’t have many Japanese beetles, pick them off your plants by hand and put them in soapy water to kill them.
Green June beetles
Large green June bugs, as they’re known, won’t hurt your lawn, but their grubs are not good for it. They burrow into the soil, which destroys the roots of your grass. Even worse, some critters dig up the yard looking for them. Apparently they’re a tasty snack for skunks, in particular. Beneficial nematodes can be used to kill them and digger wasps will also use the grubs to feed their larvae.
These guys tunnel through the soil and eat other insects, decaying plant matter and grass roots. If you’ve got them, your yard probably has irregularly shaped brown patches. It may also feel spongy. To determine if you have mole crickets, drench a small section of your lawn with soapy water. If you have mole crickets they will come to the surface. To avoid pesticides, use soapy water to get them out of their tunnels. To repel them, try planting marigolds, calendula or mums.
These are easy to spot, just look for the ant hills. Most ants are a nuisance but nothing to worry about — unless they’re fire ants. Large mounds without one central opening are fire ant mounds. The ants travel underground in tunnels and feed on seeds, seedlings, buds and young fruit — all reasons to not want them around. But the main reason to get rid of fire ants is their sting. When their mounds are disturbed, the ants get angry and sting. Native ants are one way to control fire ants as they compete for the same food, so avoid insecticides that kill native ants. Pouring about three gallons of boiling water onto a fire ant mound may have some effect but it’s not guaranteed. That’s because the queen lives far underground and if you don’t kill her, a new colony will form. This is one case where an insecticide may be your best solution. Get one that can be applied to individual mounds as you’ll use less and you will be less likely to kill beneficial insects.
It’s unlikely you will ever see a mole in your yard (unless you have a cat that likes to share its kills) but you may see evidence of them. Moles eat grubs, beetles and the like, which may sound like natural pest control but they’re even worse for your yard than the insects. Moles leave shallow tunnels all through your yard, killing grass and leaving little mounds of soil that leave your yard uneven for walking and mowing.
If you see a vole you may think it’s a mouse; they look quite similar. Like moles, they burrow into your yard — though they may also use mole tunnels. If you see holes about an inch or two in diameter you could be seeing their exit holes. There will typically be more than one. They do more damage in your garden than in your lawn because they’ll eat bulbs and the roots of plants.
A tiny but voracious eater, shrews will use mole and vole tunnels to race around your yard eating insects, slugs and roots.
How could these cute little critters be called pests? Well, consider this: They make deep burrows that can be several feet long with several branches (They like to separate their sleeping areas from their food storage and waste). All that tunneling can cause structural damage to steps, walls, patios and even foundations. They also eat bulbs, seeds, seedlings and grass seed.
Getting rid of moles, voles, shrews and chipmunks can be as simple as cleaning up your landscape. They like to be hidden, so clean up debris, keep your grass cut, till the yard where you see holes and get rid of any grubs that could be attracting them. In other words, make them so unhappy they find another yard.
Since chipmunks like to eat bird seed and pet food, keep the seed up high and don’t leave any pet food out. (The latter will also discourage rats, skunks and raccoons.)
If a thorough clean up doesn’t do the job, you’ve got a few options. You could simply protect your most precious plants with hardware cloth around the roots and extending above ground a few inches or you could turn to trapping or poison. If you’re not sure if you have moles or voles, use traps as moles are not attracted to the bait used in most poisons. Also, remember that poison will be toxic to other wildlife and house pets. Traps can be effective but be sure to follow all instructions.