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October 24, 2014

On Gardening: Dig up answers to lawn hole culprits

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Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2014 12:45 am

Hiding Easter eggs may not be so difficult this year. If your lawn is anything like ours, you probably have holes everywhere. The holes are easy to see, but sometimes the hole makers are not. But a little scouting may dig up an answer to your whodunit mystery. Here is a list of suspects of early spring holes.

Birds and worms

Small holes, the size of a pencil or smaller, may be caused by hungry birds eating at your lawn buffet. Holes caused by birds are just small holes with no other evidence. If you notice small piles beside the holes that upon closer inspection are composed of many granular pellets, then you more than likely have earthworms. Earthworm mounds, which are especially common after heavy rains, benefit soils by providing free aeration, which increases water penetration and aids in thatch control, among other benefits. If the mounds are unsightly, use a good rake and a little elbow grease to rake them even with the soil line.

Bees

This time of year it is also common to see our native bees hovering right above the ground. About the size of a honeybee, these mining bees are solitary insects that make their nest in the ground. Mining bee holes are about ¼ inch in diameter and most likely found in bare areas of the lawn. These bees are great pollinators and control is not necessary but you can discourage them by mulching or saturating the ground with water frequently in the early spring when they are making nests.

Other insects

Other insects may be to blame. Cicadas and many types of beetles are just a few of the insects that call the ground home in their immature states. As they become adults and leave their underground dwellings, left behind is a hole about the size of a nickel. In areas that hold water, crayfish are another possibility. Look for a mound of soil balls between 2-4 inches high and a hole about 1 inch in diameter. To catch them you’re better off looking at night.

A little later in the summer, you may encounter the hole of a cicada killer wasp, so named because it hunts cicadas. These solitary wasps have a body about 1 ½ inches long. They make their burrows in well-drained areas with bare soils or very short grass where they bring back cicadas for larvae to feed on. As they excavate the hole, excess soil is thrown out into a u-shaped mound.

Smaller mammals

As holes get larger so does the culprit. Many people blame moles for damage done by voles. Moles eat insects, earthworms and grubs and make the familiar raised tunnel system in lawns. Voles feed on plant material and have underground burrows. If plants are being eaten, the culprit is a vole, not a mole — moles seldom cause extensive plant damage. It is important to distinguish between the two types because control efforts for voles will not stop mole activity and vice versa.

Squirrels can leave holes about 2 inches wide. This will most likely be in the fall when they are burying nuts for later, although you may find the same holes excavated at other times of year when they dig the nuts back up. Holes to chipmunk tunnels are also about 2 inches in diameter. These are often backed up to a stump, building, brush piles or firewood piles.

Larger mammals

Skunk and raccoon holes are cone shaped and about 3-4 inches wide, although the disturbance may be as wide as a foot. These creatures will sometimes peel back newly laid sod in their quest for grubs and worms, and damage occurs at night for the most part.

Perhaps most damaging of all the hole makers is the armadillo. Armadillo holes are only a couple of inches deep and 3-5 inches wide, but the disturbed area may be 3 feet or more. If you find the burrow, the entrance could be 8 inches wide and up to 15 feet long. And again, the damage will be done after the sun goes down.

Visit the Alabama Cooperative Extension website at www.aces.edu for further information. Or speak with a master gardener by calling 1-877-252-GROW.

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