By Rusty Thompson
From the December 2023 Issue
As landscaping professionals, we know that dealing with wildlife-related yard problems can be a daunting task. Here, we’ll explore insights into identifying various forms of wildlife damage and effective control strategies, for pests that cause damage to lawns, including feral hogs, armadillos, and moles.
Signs of Wild Hog Damage
When it comes to identifying wild hog damage in a lawn, there are a few key indicators to watch out for. Wild hogs use their powerful snouts to root for food, which can result in significant damage to turfgrass, far more extensive than what you’d typically see from moles or armadillos.
- Disturbed Soil. You may notice sections of soil that have been uprooted, leading to large bare patches in a lawn. This is a tell-tale sign of wild hog activity.
- Tracks & Droppings. Look for distinctive round or oval-shaped hog tracks imprinted with their cloven hooves. Their droppings are also quite large and cylindrical in shape.
- Plant Damage. Wild hogs have a varied diet and will feed on a wide range of vegetation. Keep an eye out for bite marks on leaves, and evidence of chewed stems and roots. This type of damage can resemble that caused by deer, although hogs are more likely to tear up the lawn.
Dealing with wild hogs in a yard requires swift action. There are a few options available, but only two are truly effective:
- Install A Fence. Recommend to clients that they erect a fence to keep wild hogs out of their yard. In regions like North Central Florida, where natural preserves are abundant, hogs may venture into residential lawns in search of food. While fencing may not be the perfect solution, it can redirect them elsewhere.
- Consider Trapping. If fencing isn’t a practical choice, trapping wild hogs is another effective approach. However, it’s important to note that homeowners’ associations (HOAs) may have specific rules and regulations regarding trapping. To avoid any unexpected violations, it’s advisable to consult any HOA board for guidance on how to address the issue.
While every state is different, most states require a wildlife or animal control license for management. Some have laws about hunting them or releasing them in nearby preservation areas.
As to landscape work, hog damage is one of the most labor-intensive repairs. It typically involves restoration with machinery and sod or seed, depending upon your area.
Identifying Armadillo Activity
When it comes to detecting armadillos, there are several signs to be aware of:
- Ground Holes & Burrows. Look for openings in the ground, typically 3″ to 5″ wide and shallow, often accompanied by mounds of dirt nearby and disturbed grass in the vicinity.
- Lawn & Garden Damage. Armadillos are known for their appetite for insects and grubs, so you might observe disrupted soil patches or areas where a lawn has been dug up. Additionally, the presence of small, dark, cylindrical droppings near burrows is a clear indication of armadillo activity.
To prevent armadillos from causing damage to a landscape, consider these proactive measures:
- Locate Their Burrow. Armadillos often create burrows near the base of a home, HVAC unit, or shrubs, leaving a distinctive mound of dirt nearby. Once you’ve identified their burrow, the most effective approach is trapping. Many pest control companies offer humane wildlife trapping services.It should be noted that trapping armadillos is also governed by local authorities. In our market, it requires a license. We have partnered with a local animal control service, which we refer to our clients as a solution. If there are enough armadillo issues in your client base, however, it could be worth obtaining a license and creating an additional revenue stream.
- Find Their Entry Points. If you can’t locate their burrow but the client has a fenced yard, inspect for areas where they may have dug beneath the fence. In such cases, consider using chicken wire or other fencing to prevent their return.
- Control Their Food Supply. Armadillos feed on grubs and insects, so addressing this food source can help deter them. We utilize our lawn grub control program. Although this does not work in all cases, it has helped give our clients an option that doesn’t involve trapping the animals. If you offer a grub control program, it may be an easy, quick upsell to your client, as long as you explain it’s not guaranteed to work.
- DIY Deterrents. If you want to give your clients some DIY advice, you can advise they try using castor oil or ammonia- soaked rags to discourage armadillos from specific areas in your yard. While also not guaranteed, it’s worked for some of our clients to deter armadillos.
Keep in mind that for the most reliable results, it’s best to rely on exclusion methods and trapping, which have proven to be effective solutions.
IDing & Eliminating Gopher Moles
To identify and address gopher mole issues effectively in a lawn, here are some key signs to watch for:
- Raised Ridges & Molehills. Keep an eye out for raised ridges or molehills on a lawn’s surface. These are typically formed as moles tunnel just beneath the soil.
- Shallow Tunnels & Ruts. Gopher moles often create shallow tunnels and ruts while searching for food (insects). These tunnels can be problematic when it comes to mowing a client’s property.
- Visible Tracks. Gopher mole tracks may be more noticeable in areas with sparse grass or along frequently traveled paths, such as driveways or sidewalks, where their tunnels often run parallel.
While gopher moles may not be the sole cause of a lawn’s issues, they can contribute to turfgrass decline by creating air pockets around the roots of the turfgrass. This then leads to root drying.
To prevent gopher moles from causing further damage to a landscape, discuss these proactive measures with the property owner:
- Using Mole Baits. Talpirid mole baits and similar brands can be effective, but they require patience and consistency. Place them in the mole’s most frequently used tunnels, often located near concrete surfaces, where they tunnel parallel. Remember to wear gloves to prevent your scent from transferring to the baits for better results. Ensure that baits are not accessible to children or pets.
- Grub and Lawn Pest Control. Similar to addressing armadillo issues, offering a grub control application along with your lawn program, can help reduce grub infestations and reduce the mole’s food source. This will also help improve the health of the turf to help cover the visibility of the mole tunnels to some degree.
- Additional Resources. You can also refer to a helpful YouTube video created
by Allyn Hane, the Lawn Care Nut (LCN), titled “Get Rid of Moles In The Lawn” which provides insights into various mole trap options that can be effective in dealing with these pests.
IDing Differences Between Hog, Armadillo, & Gopher Mole Damage
Sometimes it’s obvious a property has wild animal damage, but determining which animal is more problematic. In these cases, it’s worth noting some of the differences between hog, armadillo, and mole damage so appropriate measures can be taken.
Tunneling Patterns. Armadillos create shallow, winding holes and burrows in their search for insects and grubs. Gopher moles dig deeper, more distinct tunnels near the surface of the soil, resulting in raised ridges or molehills. Hogs create large, extensive damage by uprooting soil and vegetation, leaving behind bare patches.
Soil Disturbance. Armadillos create small areas of disrupted soil, often leaving patches of torn-up grass. As mentioned above, gopher moles create raised ridges or “molehills” on the lawn’s surface. Hog dam- age consists of substantial soil disturbance with large areas of uprooted soil.
Plant Damage. Since armadillos mainly focus on insects and grubs, they cause minimal damage to plants. Gopher moles, which feed primarily on earthworms and insects, also leave plant roots largely untouched. Hogs, on the other hand, live up to their name, consuming a wide range of vegetation. Their presence leads to visible plant damage, including chewed leaves and uprooted vegetation.
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Tracks & Droppings. Armadillos leave small, cylindrical droppings near their burrows. Hogs also leave cylindrical droppings, but they are bigger and accompanied by distinctive tracks with cloven hoof imprints. Gopher moles leave no distinct tracks, but may leave soil mounds.
Lawn Impact. Armadillos cause minimal damage to lawns compared to moles and hogs, while the ridges or “molehills” of gopher moles can affect lawn aesthetics and make mowing challenging. Hogs cause significant damage to lawns, leading to extensive bare patches.
When dealing with wildlife damaging a landscape, it’s important to follow local and state laws and regulations. There are many effective methods available that are both safe and humane.
Taking the initiative to identify the specific wildlife affecting a client’s yard, employing appropriate control methods, and repairing the landscape damage helps earn a satisfied and loyal client.
Thompson, the founder of The Master’s Lawn Care, is on a mission to exceed client expectations by growing professional team members. He believes the success of any service business hinges on its team’s impact for their clients and community. His journey in the Green Industry started at the age of 16. In 2004, he opened The Master’s Lawn Care, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this Spring. Today, the business serves thousands of clients, employs over one hundred team members, and operates in two thriving locations in North Florida – Gainesville and St. Augustine.
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