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Raccoons, skunks can dig up yard looking for grubs

What is digging holes in my lawn? The holes aren't deep but it's making a muddy mess.

Skunks and raccoons will dig for grubs this time of year. Usually holes are so widely scattered and shallow that they aren't noticed. Occasionally, it looks like a roto tiller went through. Overall, the numbers of Japanese beetles are down this year, but irrigated lawns do attract them when they need to lay their eggs and this can result in high grub populations.

You can try laying chicken-wire or bird or deer netting over the most damaged areas. Repellents such as predator urines or ammonia-soaked rags laid on the ground might work temporarily, as might dangling bright objects such as computer discs or loud noise such as a radio.

Anecdotal reports suggest that spreading Milorganite — a composted sewer sludge product, safe to use on lawns — discourages skunk and raccoon digging with its odor. Trapping requires a permit. See our online publication, Dealing with Nuisance Wildlife: http://www.hgic.umd.edu/content/documents/DealingwithNuisanceWildlifeHG90_000.pdf.

Fall is the best time to reseed that damaged lawn, but get moving because mid-October is the cut-off.

Unless this is a problem every year, we would not recommend a grub control product (which should be applied in early summer). Grub control products are somewhat toxic to the beneficial soil organisms your turf needs, and grub levels rarely warrant it.

I am a member of a community vegetable garden which tills in the spring. I suggested fall tilling to reduce pest insects. We currently have large populations of squash bugs, cucumber beetles, Mexican bean beetles, etc. Garden clean-up does not occur, so sanitation is lax. What do you suggest?

Fall tilling is recommended for incorporating organic matter (compost, dead plants, leaves, etc.) which will improve the overall health of your soil, and disrupting and killing pest insects attempting to overwinter in your garden.

After tilling, cover and protect your soil with 1-2 inches of mulched leaves.

Intensify your campaign to encourage better sanitation practices. Pesky insects overwinter in garden debris, and a thorough cleaning is extremely beneficial. They also overwinter in weeds adjacent to the garden.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question from the website at hgic.umd.edu.

Plant of the week

Garlic

Allium sativum

Like garlic? Garlic you grow yourself seems to taste better, and you still have time to plant. Purchase disease free cloves from garlic seed producers; don't use ones from the grocery store. Both hardneck and softneck varieties can be grown in Maryland.

Plant cloves pointy end up six inches apart, two inches deep, in well-drained soil that has been amended with organic material. Cover with three inches of dead leaves. Fertilize in spring and weed carefully. The curling flower stalks of hardneck cloves, known as scapes, are delicious. The youngest are most tender.

Harvest garlic bulbs in July when their leaves turn brown. Let dry in a warm dry place for three weeks. Keep the biggest cloves for planting the following year.

—Ginny Williams, University of Maryland Extension

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