Usual suspects for yard and garden damage — critters

For many yards and gardens in Michigan, there is a gardener staring in disbelief: “Something has eaten or damaged my plants or lawn.”

It is important to know the names of the regular plant damagers and what their damage looks like. Then, a gardener can attempt to plan a logical defense. There is some perverse comfort in just knowing which furry or feathered creature inflicted damage. Let’s take a look at the usual suspects bringing springtime misery to some lawns or gardens.

Small round holes about the size of a quarter are found in the lawn about 1 inch or so deep. There is loose soil encircling the hole. The holes appeared overnight. This is usually the work of skunks. After a winter of scarce food and cold temperatures, skunks are hungry. The warming soil has allowed earthworms, soil insects and grubs to become active again. The skunk pushes it’s cute, little pink nose into the lawn over the intended protein snack. The skunk pivots around its nose, digging with its long front nails. But being an irresponsible skunk, it does not replace its divots. This is often early springtime and fall behavior. There may be so many holes that it looks like it has been rooted up.

There are portions of the lawn where chunks or pieces of sod have been flipped upside down. Small rocks or mulch are upended and moved. Raccoons use their “hands” to tear into sod and look for the same treats that the skunks are seeking. Raccoons are one of the outdoor critters that are quite pushy and aggressive. When that horrible acrid stench of skunk spray floats through the windows at midnight, it is often the bully raccoon trying to run off the gentle skunk. But you can only push Mr. Skunky so far. Skunk or raccoon damage is not always an indication of grub problems. Earthworms are often the target.

There are dozens of hundreds of new, tender spruce shoots and branch ends lying all over the ground under the trees. The portion on the ground has been removed by ragged tear. This is the work of the notorious red squirrel. They race around large spruces clipping twigs and new growth. They are feeding on the new, succulent vegetative buds at the ends of the branches. When examining the ends on the ground, the bud at the end has been plucked out.

In the vegetable garden, the row of seeds that you planted does not come up. It is important to dig and see if the seeds are still there. If the seeds are missing in action, your seed thief could be one of several critters. Chipmunks, squirrels or birds often work their way down the row, eating as they go. The cure is to use a roll of aluminum gutter screening. Gently bend the screening into a tunnel. Replant your seeds. Cover your row with the tunnel and pin down with small sticks or wire pins. Block both ends so nothing furry walks in. After the seeds are growing, the screening can be removed. By creating the tunnel shape, no young plants get trapped in the wire. Flatten your screening out and save for another time.

Please visit your local MSU-Extension in Lake County 915 Michigan Ave. Baldwin MI 49304 (231) 745-2732) This article was written by Gretchen Voyle, Michigan State University Extension.