The Raccoons Ate My Lawn!
Updated: Nov 1, 2020
There is nothing worse than waking up in the morning, and seeing your beautiful new sod all rolled up. Except seeing it rolled up again the next day!
When sod is first installed it is watered frequently (3x/day for the first 10 days, 2x/day the next 10 days, etc.). The soil amendments underneath, coupled with high levels of moisture, attract worms and grubs to the top of the surface—right under the sod. These are a delicacy for raccoons and they’re very clever about finding them. Don’t worry, they can’t smell them from down the block or by walking along your fence. However, should they stumble upon your freshly laid sod during a routine traipse across your yard, they have incredibly sensitive fore paws (or hands) and can feel the critters beneath. Raccoons can then roll-up large chunks of sod in order to eat the worms and grubs. What’s more, once they discover a food source, they bring their friends and family to join the feast. Now, in 26 years of business this has only happened to a handful of our clients, but it does happen. Depending on where you live, and if you’re reading this….
Unfortunately, their nimble hands and dexterous capabilities are perfect for rolling up freshly laid sod in search of grubs.
Believe it or not, raccoons are now more common in cities than in forests. They’ve been drawn to populated areas because of the abundant food supply and have adapted to suburban and urban settings alike. And while using our refuse for food and our structures for shelter, they’ve largely lost their fear of people. They’re not easily deterred by our mere presence. Raccoons are agile, strong, intelligent, and have nimble hands (with sharp claws). They’re cute but they should never be approached. In fact, they don’t usually get along with humans. And don’t be fooled by their size either, they can be vicious and dangerous.
Your best bet: if you know you will be installing sod in a few months, then change your habits and try to deter raccoons from walking through your yard!
If you live in an area where raccoons are known, leaving food out for pets or the neighborhood cat is probably a bad idea. In fact, there are very high odds if the food’s left out at night, the cat isn’t the one eating it. Any food left outside can attract raccoons, so stop feeding the neighborhood cat for a while. If you must feed your pets outdoors (or that neighborhood cat), begin feeding them at certain times of the day and remove anything uneaten. If you like to dine outside, take the time to clean up afterward and be thorough. Hose and wipe down your picnic or patio table at the end of a meal. For best results, use a cleaner that contains bleach to eliminate odors. Bleach works so well you might consider pouring some of it over trash bags left in an unsecured outdoor receptacle, using bleached rags to wipe down the trash cans.
Repellents and Possible Solutions
Getting rid of them isn’t easy. Raccoons are among the rare species that have actually benefited from the spread of humans. When it comes to dealing with wild animals, there are seldom any guarantees. But if you're determined to get rid of the raccoons on your property as a prophylactic deterrent, or to remedy their assault on your new sod, there are things you can try. The raccoon problem is complex, but not without solutions. Because raccoons won’t waste a lot of effort for no reward, they can be discouraged.
The raccoon’s olfactory is sensitive to ammonia and pepper. Ammonia works really well. In the Ozarks where people have a long history of living off the land, they use ammonia. Raccoons hate the smell of ammonia. While in the Ozarks where they’ve traditionally mopped the walls and floors of wooden homes exposed to the elements in order to keep them outside, those living in suburban areas can buy bottles of ammonia and mop their fences with it! Or find some way to put it around the perimeter without harming your lawn or plants. Do you know where they enter the yard? You can also try leaving strategically placed bowls of ammonia outside, or ammonia-dipped rag/s around your lawn or near the creatures' entry point. Remember the food you left out for the neighborhood cat? Leave a bowl of ammonia out instead!
They also hate pepper. A liquid pepper repellent might keep raccoons away from your home and garden. Make a raccoon-repellent spray by boiling two quarts of water with 2-3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper, several mashed hot peppers and a cut-up onion for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid and spray it well around your house, yard, plants and trash cans. Repeat. For other ideas on how to make this or other raccoon repellent sprays, click here. For things you're looking to buy (no endorsement), click here.
Raccoons enjoy the dark, so you can leave the porch light on all night while your new sod takes root, or leave your newly installed landscape lighting on until 6AM. Mothballs are mentioned in the occasional article you’ll read if you’re doing research, and they don’t like them (who does?), but they’re not much of a deterrent, so don’t go to the local hardware store and buy mothballs or mothball flakes.
They're also put off by strange noises, though yelling at them has never done me any good (remember they aren’t afraid of humans), but quietly playing a small radio out in the yard may help keep them at bay too. You can always try calling your wildlife removal services, see what suggestions they have. I doubt they’d make a visit for an animal as ubiquitous as a raccoon, but who knows. If you make it tough for them to dig, they’ll go looking elsewhere. Because of this, some people will try to put a netting over the top of their sod—depending on the size of your yard, this may not be feasible.
The good news is, sod can easily be put back down! It has an amazing resiliency (so long as it stays wet you can grow sod on concrete if you want!). DON’T NOT WATER YOUR SOD BECAUSE THE WATER BRINGS WORMS AND GRUBS AND RACCOONS LIKE THEM! Sod can be mended back together by butting the sides of any shaped piece—and while it may look like a misshapen puzzle for a while, where you can see the lines of its edges, it will soon weave and grow together so long as the ground is covered with it and the sod is placed as close as possible (don’t make the gaps too wide). Perhaps the installing contractor (Jefferson Landscape and Design has done this for our clients) will drop off a free roll or two of sod from another order if some of the sod is too destroyed.