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Waking Up to a Lawn Full of Holes | Small Holes in Lawn Overnight

Keith Hardy - Bio Photo
Keith Hardy
Senior Editor

Keith has been involved in the gardening and landscaping industry for the past 21 years. From a jobbing gardener to running his own landscaping services....

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Have you just woken up and noticed the appearance of small holes in your lawn overnight? Animals, kids, or the unexplained, the sudden appearance of these holes in your lawn during the night is more common than you think.

There are few things more demoralizing than discovering inexplicable holes appearing in your freshly tended and manicured lawn after putting in hours of work. With the right information, it’s simple to identify the perpetrator.

What to Look Out For to Determine the Cause of Small Holes in Lawn

What to Look out For to Determine the Cause of Small Holes in Lawn
Determining the cause of small holes in your lawn overnight

It is extremely helpful to have a quick reference to narrow down who is the likely culprit to you waking up to small holes in your lawn. Hole shape and size together with the time of the year can narrow down and pinpoint what is causing the damage.

Below are three tables that should help you. The first table compares different animal holes by size, shape, appearance, and other characteristics. The second table shows the times of the year each animal is most active, while the third table provides information about prevention and eradication.

Animal Holes by Size, Shape, Appearance, and Other Characteristics

AnimalHole SizeShapeAppearanceOther Characteristics
Moles2″ diameterCircularSurrounded by dirt moundsRaised tunnels visible
Voles3⁄4”-2” diameterCircularNo mounding, near concreteDamaged vegetation
Gophers2-3″ diameterCircularMounds near holesHorseshoe-shaped fanning
Chipmunks2-3” diameterCircularNo moundingConnected to burrows
Squirrels4-5” diameterCircularMoundedBurrows under structures
Rats2-3” diameterCircularNear foundationsStrong odor
Skunks3-4” diameterCone-shapedRing of loose soilUnder structures
Raccoons3-4” diameterCone-shaped, shallowSod flipped overNear gardens and trash
Groundhogs10-12” diameterCircularCrescent-shaped moundsCan cause soil shifting
SnakesVariableCircularOccupy old burrowsShed skin visible
EarthwormsPencil-sizedCircularGranular moundsBeneficial to soil
Cicada wasps0.5-1.5″ diameterCircularU-shaped entryPrefer bare ground

When Animals Are Most Active and Likely to Cause Lawn Damage by Digging Holes

AnimalPeak Activity & Damage Period
MolesSpring, Summer, Fall
VolesWinter, Spring
GophersSpring, Fall
ChipmunksSpring, Summer
Ground SquirrelsSpring, late Summer
RatsSpring, Summer
SkunksEarly Spring, Fall
RaccoonsSpring, Fall
GroundhogsEarly Spring, Summer
SnakesSpring through Fall
Cicada WaspsMid to late Summer
Japanese BeetlesSummer
Mole CricketsSpring, Summer, Fall
EarthwormsSpring, Summer

The peak activity and damage periods are when each animal is most likely to be digging holes in lawns while foraging, nesting, breeding, etc. Pay special attention during these times to watch for signs of activity. Let me know if you would like me to add any other details to this comparative timeline.

Prevention and Eradication

AnimalPrevention & Eradication Measures
MolesTrapping, repellents, eliminate food sources, barriers
VolesHabitat modification, repellents, trapping, predators
GophersTrapping, baiting, fumigation, barriers, habitat modification
ChipmunksHabitat modification, repellents, trapping, pesticide baits
Ground SquirrelsFencing, remove food sources, repellents, trapping, fumigation
RatsTrapping, rodenticides, habitat modification, professional pest control
SkunksLight repellents, odor repellents, remove attractants, professional removal
RaccoonsRemove attractants, repellents, professional removal
GroundhogsProfessional removal, habitat modification, repellents, exclusion fencing
SnakesRemove rodent food sources, block access to holes
Cicada WaspsInsecticide dusts, avoid nests, habitat modification
Japanese BeetlesBeneficial nematodes, milky spore, neem oil, insecticides, trapping
Mole CricketsHabitat modification, beneficial nematodes, insecticide baits, predators
EarthwormsAdjust watering, dethatching, remove by hand

We will split the rest of the article into four sections. The first three sections separate the most common causes into three segments for animal types rodents, reptiles, and insects. Each animal will then be looked at in detail with specific measures for dealing with them.

SECTION ONE: RODENTS

Moles

Small Holes in Lawn - Moles
Small Holes in Lawn – Moles

Moles are highly destructive and are often the culprits of holes in grass. These burrowing pests as easily recognized by the dirt mounds and ridges they leave behind while tunneling deep underground. Despite their small size, moles can rapidly devastate lawns and gardens if their populations are not promptly controlled.

Signs of moles tunneling in your yard include:

  • Circular holes around 2 inches across
  • Signature conical mounds of loosened soil
  • Visible raised tunnels snaking across the surface
  • Damaged plants with chewed roots and bulbs

Moles create these elaborate tunnels in constant search of earthworms, grubs, and other invertebrates that make up their diets. They dig surface ridges while excavating deeper main tunnels.

If moles are confirmed to be damaging your lawn, act quickly to limit further destruction:

Use Traps

Trapping is an effective mole control method. Use scissor or harpoon-style mole traps positioned deep in main tunnels. Traps that allow moles to pass through and get caught from either direction work best. Check and reset traps daily until tunnel activity ceases.

Apply Mole Repellents

Certain smells deter moles from treated areas. Sprinkle castor oil granules or capsaicin or use poison around tunnels. Plant castor bean plants as natural repellents. Reapply liquid repellents after rainfall. Avoid mothballs as these are not proven deterrents.

Eliminate Food Sources

Remove the grubs and earthworms moles rely on:

  • Milky spore treats lawns to kill grubs naturally
  • Beneficial nematodes kill grubs without harming grass
  • Improve drainage to reduce earthworms

Starving moles of food forces them to relocate elsewhere to find prey.

Install Barriers

Burying hardware cloth or wire mesh fences with a portion above ground can block moles from re-entering areas. Make sure barriers extend at least 2 feet underground to prevent burrowing underneath.

Stay vigilant, as moles are notoriously difficult to eradicate fully once populations are established. However, using integrated mole control tactics can significantly reduce lawn damage and tunneling activity from these destructive subsurface pests.

Voles

Voles are small, mouse-like rodents that bore dense networks of surface tunnels while feeding on grass roots, bulbs, and tubers. Underground vole activity surfacing through small 1-2 inch holes can quickly ravage lawns and gardens.

Watch for these signs of voles tunneling in your landscape:

  • Hole openings approximately 3⁄4 to 2 inches
  • Holes are often located near foundations and walkways
  • Connected surface runways visible through the grass
  • Damaged vegetation with gnawed stems and roots

In winter, voles dig tunnels beneath insulating snow cover to access food sources while protected from predators. Their populations peak in spring, with tunneling damage most visible once the snow melts.

By using the following integrated tactics you should be able to protect your lawn and garden from voles:

Modify Habitat

Keep grass trimmed short and remove excess ground cover like mulch that allows voles to move unseen. This reduces habitat appeal.

Protect Plants

Wrap the bottom 12 inches of tree trunks with 1⁄4 inch wire mesh cylinders to prevent voles from chewing the bark. Bury fencing several inches underground.

Apply Repellents

Voles dislike the strong smells of castor oil and predator urine. Refresh repellents after heavy rain.

Use Traps

Snap traps or live traps baited with peanut butter or apple slices effectively capture voles. Trap until vole activity ceases. Release live-trapped voles well away from the property.

Employ Natural Predators

Voles face heavy predation from foxes, coyotes, snakes, owls, and hawks. Avoid killing snakes found around your property.

diligence is key, as quick-breeding vole populations can rapidly rebound unless continually suppressed through multiple control methods used in combination. But consistent vole management protects your lawn and landscaping.

Gophers

Gophers are burrowing rodents that can cause extensive damage to lawns and gardens. Like moles, they can be recognized by the dirt mounds and holes they leave behind, gophers excavate vast underground tunnel systems in search of food.

When trying to determine if gophers are the culprits behind holes in your lawn, look for these signs:

  • Circular holes approximately 2-3 inches in diameter
  • Fan-shaped dirt mounds around the holes
  • Visible underground tunnels raising up the turf
  • Plants with roots that appear chewed or damaged

Gophers create these tunnel systems for mating, storing food, and protection. They are active year-round, so damage can occur at any time. But peak gopher activity happens in spring and fall when breeding.

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If you have confirmed gophers are invading your lawn, act quickly to limit further destruction. Here are some common gopher removal tactics:

Trapping

Trapping is one of the most effective ways to get rid of gophers. Specialized gopher traps like the GopherHawk or Macabee use a pincher system triggered when gophers enter the tunnel. For best results:

  • Locate the main tunnel by probing with a metal rod near fresh mounds
  • Create a small breach in the tunnel and place 2-3 traps nearby
  • Check traps daily and reset as needed until gopher activity ceases

Trapping takes persistence but can significantly reduce gopher problems.

Baiting

Using toxic bait is another common gopher control method. Baits containing strychnine or zinc phosphide target gophers when they ingest the poison directly. For baiting:

  • Find the main tunnel with a metal probe
  • Drop bait pellets or treated grain down the holes
  • Reapply bait until gopher activity stops

Always use gopher baits safely by following label directions. Baiting is less labor-intensive than trapping but may kill other wildlife if used improperly.

Fumigants

Specialized fumigant cartridges release toxic gas into gopher tunnels to eliminate entire colonies. They are most effective if used in early spring when tunnel systems are smaller. For fumigating gophers:

  • Locate the main tunnel near fresh mounds
  • Place 2-3 cartridges into holes, seal openings with dirt
  • The gas will permeate interconnected tunnels

Fumigants produce quick results when gopher infestations are significant. However, they are dangerous if misused and should only be applied by certified pest control technicians.

Habitat Modification

Making your landscape less attractive to gophers can also deter damage long-term:

  • Remove overgrown vegetation providing food and cover
  • Eliminate wood piles, trash heaps, or other clutter
  • Install underground fencing to block tunneling pathways
  • Keep garden beds and lawns free of weeds

Habitat modification is most useful alongside other removal tactics like trapping or baiting for more comprehensive gopher control.

With their extensive burrowing, gophers can certainly wreak havoc on your lawn and garden. But staying vigilant and utilizing proven removal methods like trapping and baiting will help you protect your landscape.

Chipmunks

Small Holes in Lawn – Damage to Your Lawn By Squirrels and Chipmunks

Chipmunks are small striped rodents that often dig holes in yards and shallow divots in lawns while searching for food. Their burrowing habits can leave yards riddled with unsightly damage.

When trying to identify if chipmunks are responsible for holes in your lawn, look for these signs:

  • Small divot-like holes, approximately golf ball-sized
  • Holes are not mounded around the opening
  • Shallow burrows connected to the holes
  • Nutshells or uneaten food scattered nearby

Chipmunks construct these intricate burrows with multiple chambers to hoard food, sleep, breed, and take shelter. They are active year-round, but most lawn damage occurs in spring and summer during mating season.

If chipmunks are confirmed as the culprits behind holes in your lawn, here are some effective prevention methods:

Habitat Modification

Making your yard less hospitable will discourage chipmunk burrowing:

  • Eliminate woodpiles, brush piles, and other clutter they use for shelter
  • Remove any pet food, bird seed, or other outdoor food sources
  • Cut back overgrown vegetation that provides cover
  • Install tunnels or fencing around flower beds and gardens to block access

Without protective cover and easy food access, chipmunks are less likely to view your yard as an attractive habitat.

Repellents

Certain smells deter chipmunks from digging in treated areas:

  • Castor oil or predator urine granules around holes
  • Cayenne pepper or chili powder scattered near gardens
  • Ammonia-soaked rags placed in active burrows

Use repellents liberally during spring and fall when chipmunks are most active. Reapply them frequently for best results.

Pesticide Baits

Baits containing rodenticides like chlorophacinone can be placed in burrow openings to poison chipmunks. However, baits also pose risks to children and pets, so use extreme caution.

For maximum effectiveness, apply chipmunk baits in late spring after the mating season when their food drive is reduced. This avoids accidental poisoning of young chipmunks still in the burrows.

Trapping

Live trapping using box-style traps baited with peanut butter, sunflower seeds, or walnuts can provide chipmunk control. Check traps frequently, and dispose of captured chipmunks humanely away from your property.

With persistence and preventative tactics, chipmunks can be safely deterred from damaging your lawn. Ensure you take action before their burrowing gets out of hand.

Ground Squirrels

Ground squirrels are invasive rodents that create extensive burrow systems leading to damaged plants, uneven turf, and dangerous soil erosion. If you discover mounded holes near patios, sheds, or house foundations, ground squirrels are likely the culprits.

To identify ground squirrel burrowing, look for these signs:

  • Hole openings approximately 4-5 inches wide
  • Dirt mounds surrounding the holes
  • Deep burrows extending under walkways, fences, and structures
  • Chewed-up vegetation near hole openings

Ground squirrels dig these burrows for sleeping, hiding from predators, and raising young. They aggressively defend territory, so holes clustered together likely indicate a colony. Ground squirrel activity peaks in early spring after hibernation and again in late summer when the next generation emerges.

If ground squirrels have invaded your property, act swiftly to avoid structural damage. Here are some top exclusion tactics:

Fencing

Installing exclusion fencing deters ground squirrels by blocking burrow access points. Use 1⁄4 inch hardware cloth or wire mesh fencing with a buried portion to prevent digging underneath:

  • Surround garden beds, flower patches, and high-traffic areas
  • Wrap tree trunks, poles, and fence posts with wire to prevent climbing
  • Bury fencing edges 6-12 inches deep

Fences should be at least 2 feet high. Be sure to seal off any gaps in the barrier.

Remove Food Sources

Eliminate outdoor food sources that attract ground squirrels:

  • Take down bird feeders
  • Clear fallen fruit from around trees
  • Keep compost bins sealed tightly
  • Remove piles of pet food or seed

Starving ground squirrels of food makes your landscape far less appealing.

Repellents

Use scent or taste repellents to make plants less palatable:

  • Apply hot pepper wax or capsaicin sprays on vegetation
  • Squirrel repellent sprays with castor oil or essential oils
  • Predator urine granules around gardens

Reapply repellents often, as they lose effectiveness after rainfall.

Excluding ground squirrels requires diligence, but taking proactive measures provides long-term protection against their destructive burrowing habits in your lawn and garden areas.

Rats

Rats are tenacious burrowing rodents that can cause substantial damage when they invade yards and gardens. If you notice holes near foundations, garages, or sheds, rats may have taken up residence on your property.

Look for these signs to identify rat burrowing:

  • Hole openings approximately 2-3 inches wide
  • Holes often found in clusters
  • No mounding around holes
  • Strong odor coming from active burrows

Rats dig burrows to create nesting and feeding sites protected from predators and the elements. They flourish anywhere ample food and shelter is available. Rat burrowing peaks in spring and summer during the breeding season.

If rats have tunneled into your yard, use these methods to eliminate them before populations explode:

Trapping

Trapping is the quickest way to remove invading rats. Bait traps with peanut butter, bacon, or dried fruit and place them along movement paths and burrow openings. Check and reset traps daily until no more rats are captured.

For best success, use snap traps or multiple-catch rat traps like the Tomcat Repeater or Raticator. Dispose of dead rats properly by double bagging and discarding them in outdoor trash bins.

Rodenticides

Apply toxic bait blocks in areas with high rat activity, replacing bait as it is consumed. Look for baits containing potent anticoagulants like bromadiolone or brodifacoum. Follow all label directions carefully to avoid harming children and pets.

Use bait blocks instead of loose pellets to minimize accidental poisoning of other wildlife. Pair baiting with trapping for the most effective rat removal.

Habitat Modification

Modifying your habitat makes conditions less favorable for rats:

  • Clear piles of debris, wood, or trash near buildings
  • Prune back overgrown vegetation that offers cover
  • Seal cracks in foundations, sheds, and garages
  • Store food waste securely in lidded bins away from structures

Without shelter and food access, rats are forced to seek areas more suitable for burrowing.

Professional Pest Control

For serious rat infestations, professional exterminators employ the most effective combination of trapping, baiting, and proofing to eliminate large populations. They have specialized tools and years of experience.

Rats can multiply exponentially if left unchecked. So act quickly using traps, baits, and exclusion tactics before populations spiral out of control. Protect your home landscape from rat-burrowing damage.

Skunks

Nothing ruins an otherwise pristine lawn quite like finding cone-shaped holes ringed by loose dirt – telltale signs of nocturnal skunk activity. These resilient mammals dig holes while foraging for food at night.

Watch for these signs that skunks are tunneling in your yard:

  • Conical holes approximately 3-4 inches across
  • Ring of displaced soil around holes
  • Holes near compost piles or under decks and sheds
  • Nocturnal activity with fresh digging is noticeable each morning

Skunks dig holes when searching for tasty grubs, worms, and other soil-dwelling invertebrates. Their damage peaks in early spring and fall when food is scarce.

Here are some techniques to humanely stop skunks from digging up your lawn:

Light Repellents

Skunks are sensitive to light, so motion-activated lighting can deter them from digging in illuminated areas at night. Position bright spotlights or floodlights to cover damaged zones.

Odor Repellents

Strong, offensive smells make skunks avoid treated areas:

  • Sprinkle mothballs, ammonia-soaked rags, or vinegar around holes
  • Citrus peels contain oils skunks dislike
  • Peppermint oil and cayenne pepper also deter skunks

Reapply smelly repellents frequently, especially after rainfall.

Remove Attractants

Eliminate elements that draw skunks to tunnel in your lawn:

  • Install underground fencing around compost bins
  • Store trash securely in sealed bins far from your house
  • Use insecticides to reduce grubs and other skunk food sources

Professional Removal

For persistent skunks, contact professional wildlife removal services to humanely trap and relocate the animals away from dwellings. Avoid using harmful or illegal removal methods.

With patience and prevention, skunks can be safely deterred from digging holes in your yard without resorting to risky home remedies. Protect your lawn and garden from their destructive digging habits.

Raccoons

Raccoons employ their dexterous front paws to rip apart lawns in search of tasty grubs and other soil-dwelling insects. Telltale signs of raccoon activity include overturned chunks of sod and cone-shaped holes scattered about your yard.

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Watch for these clues to identify raccoon digging:

  • Conical holes roughly 3-4 inches across
  • Displaced sod, sometimes completely removed
  • Nocturnal activity with fresh damage visible in the mornings
  • Holes often near gardens, compost bins, or fruit trees

Raccoons dig holes while foraging at night for beetle larvae, worms, or other prey lurking right beneath your lawn’s surface. Their damage is most prevalent in spring and fall when natural food is scarce.

Use these tactics to stop raccoons from tearing up your yard:

Remove Attractants

Eliminate elements that entice raccoons to dig for food:

  • Apply beneficial nematodes or milky spores to safely kill grubs
  • Securely contain or remove outdoor pet food at night
  • Install fencing around gardens and compost bins
  • Pick up fallen fruit around trees so it doesn’t rot

With fewer food sources available, raccoons are less likely to view your lawn as prime foraging territory.

Use Repellents

Deter raccoons from digging in treated areas:

  • Apply hot pepper wax or capsaicin sprays on damaged turf
  • Place predator urine granules around the perimeter of your yard
  • Motion-activated sprinklers startle and scare away nocturnal digging

Reapply liquid repellents frequently, especially after rain or watering.

Professional Removal

For severe raccoon destruction, contact professional wildlife removal services to humanely trap and relocate nuisance animals away from your property. Avoid using unsafe DIY removal techniques.

Raccoons can certainly do a number on your lawn in their pursuit of food. But take back control with preventative measures to stop them from treating your yard like an all-night buffet.

Groundhogs

Groundhog holes in lawn
Original image: Flickr – R James

Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are burly digging rodents that leave behind sizable holes bordered by crescent-shaped mounds of dirt. If you notice holes larger than 10 inches with associated soil heaps, groundhogs have likely invaded your yard.

Look for these signs of groundhog burrowing:

  • Holes approximately 10-12 inches wide
  • Crescent-shaped mounds near holes
  • Holes often lead to underground dens
  • Excessive damage to garden vegetables and ornamental plants

Groundhogs dig these burrows to create living spaces protected from predators and harsh weather. They are most active in early spring and summer during the breeding season.

If groundhogs are tunneling through your lawn and garden areas, take action before their digging causes structural damage:

Professional Removal

Given groundhogs’ large size and defensive nature, removal is best left to professional wildlife control experts trained in humane trapping techniques. They will humanely trap and relocate nuisance groundhogs away from dwellings. Never attempt to poison, gas, or kill trapped groundhogs yourself.

Habitat Modification

Alter your landscape to become less appealing for groundhogs:

  • Eliminate brush and rock piles used as den sites
  • Install wire mesh fencing around vegetable gardens
  • Trim back vegetation providing cover around holes
  • Remove fallen fruit or piles of mulch/debris

Without suitable shelter and food, groundhogs are more likely to move elsewhere.

Use Repellents

Certain smells deter groundhogs from digging in treated areas:

  • Apply predator urine granules around holes
  • Place bags of human hair collected from barber shops near dens
  • Use hot pepper wax sprays on plants to make them unpalatable

Reapply repellents frequently, especially after heavy rainfall. Combine with habitat modification for best results.

Exclusion Fencing

Install below-ground fencing to block existing burrows and prevent new ones:

  • Use 1⁄4 inch galvanized hardware cloth or wire mesh
  • Bury fencing at least 12 inches deep around dens or gardens
  • Leave 6-12 inches above ground to deter climbing

Any gaps or openings provide access for persistent groundhogs.

Groundhogs are notoriously difficult lawn invaders to eradicate, given their size and defensive nature. For long-term protection against their destructive burrowing habits, leave removal to professional wildlife experts practiced in humane exclusion methods.

SECTION TWO: REPTILES

Snakes

While the sight of any holes in your yard may spark immediate snake concerns, the reality is snakes do not dig burrows themselves. More often, snakes simply occupy abandoned holes and tunnels built by rodents and other burrowing creatures.

Watch for these signs that snakes may be inhabiting holes in your yard:

  • Holes with smooth, well-worn entryways
  • Smaller holes near foundations, sheds, and wood piles
  • Visible snake shedding skin or coiled shapes
  • Rodent tunnels with minimal recent activity

Snakes seek out empty burrows and cavities to shelter from extreme weather and predators. They are most active during warmer months from spring through fall when hunting prey.

Though disconcerting, snakes pose minimal risk to tidy yards and can help control pest populations. Here are tips to discourage snake occupation of holes in your landscape:

Remove Rodent Food Sources

Eliminating rodents reduces available snake habitat:

  • Clear piles of debris and rubbish
  • Remove pet food, fallen fruit, and seed spills
  • Use rodenticides or traps to reduce rodent burrows
  • Install snake-proof perimeter fencing if necessary

With fewer rodents around, snakes lose access to abandoned tunnels.

Block Access to Holes

Prevent snake entry using barriers:

  • Fill smaller holes with dirt, gravel, or rocks
  • Cover larger holes with wood, wire mesh, or weighted tarps
  • Trim vegetation around holes to eliminate cover
  • Place mothballs or ammonia-soaked rags in openings

Check for new holes regularly and continue blocking access.

Remove Hiding Spots

Reduce potential hiding places attractive to snakes:

  • Keep grass mowed around holes
  • Remove wood piles, brush piles, and rock piles
  • Relocate wood stacks and debris far from your home
  • Modify landscaping to minimize small, confined spaces

With fewer secluded areas available, snakes are less likely to loiter.

Remember, snakes play an important role in ecosystems by controlling rodents and pests. Focus prevention efforts on modifying habitats and blocking holes rather than attempting risky DIY removal methods. Coexistence with snakes is possible with proper Yard management and awareness.

SECTION THREE: INSECTS

Earthworms

Miniature holes bordered by small pellets of soil indicate the presence of earthworms tunneling beneath your lawn’s surface. Though unsightly, earthworm activity poses no real harm and should be left undisturbed.

Look for these signs of beneficial earthworms:

  • Tiny pencil-sized holes
  • Granular soil pellets near holes
  • Increased holes during damp, mild temperatures
  • No associated plant damage

Earthworms burrow through soil searching for organic matter to ingest, while simultaneously enriching and aerating the ground. Their tunneling peaks in spring and summer when moisture levels rise.

Resist any urge to eliminate earthworms. Their soil-improving effects are crucial for plant and lawn health:

Promote Aeration

Earthworm tunnels naturally aerate soil, allowing air and water to infiltrate deeply around grass roots. Their activity brings subsurface nutrients closer to the surface as well.

Mix Nutrients

As earthworms digest organic matter, they redistribute vital nitrogen and minerals evenly through the soil via castings. This improves fertility for plants.

Improve Drainage

The maze of earthworm burrows provides channels that prevent waterlogging and wash away salts in clay soils. Their tunnels also reduce erosion and runoff.

Add Beneficial Bacteria

Earthworm castings contain bacteria, enzymes, and fungi that facilitate the breakdown of organic materials into plant-usable compounds.

Any steps to remove earthworms from lawns will likely cause more harm than good. Protect them by avoiding pesticides and excessive chemical fertilizers. Let them improve your soil naturally through their endless, beneficial burrowing.

Cicada Killer Wasps

drag line to the small hole in the lawn the cicada killer wasp has excavated

Cicada killer wasps (genus Sphecius) earn their name by preying on large cicadas to provision their ground-nesting colonies. In pursuit of cicadas, these sizable digger wasps excavate deep holes scattered across lawns. If you notice half-inch wide holes surrounded by loose soil, cicada killers may have moved in.

Watch for these signs of cicada killer activity:

  • Holes approximately 0.5-1 inches in diameter
  • U-shaped mound of dirt around hole entrance
  • Located in open, sunny areas of the lawn
  • Live cicada victims are paralyzed and carried to holes

Female cicada killers construct the holes to contain cells where they deposit cicada prey alongside new eggs. The hatching wasp larvae feed on the cicadas. Their digging damage is most common in mid to late summer during prime breeding season.

Though intimidating in size, cicada killer wasps are generally docile and rarely sting unless handled. Use these smart tactics to curb their lawn burrowing:

Insecticide Dusts

Apply insecticide dust like Sevin or Delta Dust directly into active cicada killer holes. The dust coats wasps and larvae as they enter, eventually killing them. Re-apply dust after heavy rains.

Avoid Disturbing Nests

Exercise caution when mowing or doing yardwork around areas containing cicada killer holes. Disturbing nests risks agitating wasps and potential stings.

Remove Bare Areas

Re-seed bare, sandy sections of the lawn where female wasps prefer to dig nests. Lush grass makes it harder for them to excavate in those areas.

Water Infrequently

Cicada killers favor dry, hard-packed soil for ease of digging. Letting grass grow taller and limiting lawn watering makes conditions less ideal for their burrowing needs.

Use Insect Growth Regulator

Apply a product containing pyriproxyfen, an insect growth regulator that prevents wasp larvae from maturing. This gradually reduces nest occupants over time.

Seek Professional Treatment

For severe infestations, contact pest control pros to treat nesting areas with powered residual insecticides for lasting control. Avoid attempting this yourself.

With smart prevention and properly timed pesticide applications, cicada killer invasions can be managed without harming beneficial pollinators in your landscape.

Beetles/Grubs

Skunks and raccoons digging up lawns at night are likely seeking crunchy white curl grubs, the larval form of invasive beetles like Japanese beetles. To protect your lawn, you must eliminate the root cause – the grubs attracting wildlife to feed.

Watch for these signs of a grub infestation:

  • Small brown patches of dying grass
  • Wildlife digging concentrated in certain areas
  • Adult beetles like Japanese beetles present
  • Grubs found when peeling back sod

During spring, adult beetles emerge from pupae in the soil and lay eggs. The hatching grubs feed on grass roots through summer before overwintering deeper underground. Raccoons and skunks smell and dig for grubs in damaged areas.

Knock out grubs using these organic and conventional approaches:

Apply Beneficial Nematodes

Nematodes are microscopic worms that parasitize and kill grubs when watered into lawns. Apply them during peak grub season for biological control.

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Use Milky Spore Products

Milky spore bacterium also naturally infects and kills grubs when applied to turf. It persists for many years, providing ongoing control.

Employ Insecticides

Insecticides like imidacloprid target grubs without harming grass roots. Apply as either granules or liquid drenches during active grub season.

Kill Adult Beetles

Spraying bifenthrin liquid insecticides kills adult beetles like Japanese beetles to prevent future eggs and grubs.

Encourage Predators

Attract natural predators like birds, raccoons, and wasps that feed on grubs. Avoid killing these grub consumers.

Maintain Healthy Turf

Correct soil pH, fertilize appropriately, and reduce thatch buildup to grow vigorous grass that better withstands grub damage.

By eliminating grubs through a combination of organic and conventional pesticides, the digging wildlife attracted to feed on them will naturally stay away. A flawless lawn starts below the surface with healthy roots and balanced soil.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are a highly destructive invasive pest easily identified by their metallic green bodies and coppery brown wing covers. The larvae (grubs) feed extensively on grass roots, leading to dead brown patches that attract wildlife diggers seeking grubs as food. Getting rid of Japanese beetles is key to protecting your lawn.

Signs of a Japanese beetle infestation include:

  • Small brown patches of dying grass
  • Animals like skunks dig in damaged areas
  • Visible adult beetles on plants
  • Plump white grubs in the soil

In spring, adult beetles emerge and mate, laying eggs that become voracious turf-damaging grubs. Peak grub damage occurs in late summer before they pupate into adults again. The beetles also chew leaves and flowers.

Control Japanese beetles using these organic and conventional methods:

Apply Milky Spore

Milky spore bacteria applied to soil infects and kills Japanese beetle grubs upon contact. A single application protects your lawn for many years, making it ideal for long-term grub control.

Use Natural Predators

Attract animals like birds, raccoons, and beneficial wasps that prey on adult beetles and grubs. Avoid killing them.

Employ Neem Oil

Neem oil is an organic pesticide that repels adult Japanese beetles on contact without harming pollinators and other beneficial insects. It can be sprayed directly on infested plants.

Apply Grub Control Pesticides

Insecticides containing chlorantraniliprole or halofenozide target Japanese beetle grubs in the soil while safeguarding plant roots. Follow label timing and rates.

Trap Adult Beetles

Place Japanese beetle traps like those containing pheromone attractants around your landscape to capture and reduce adult populations. Dispose of trapping bags regularly.

With persistence, Japanese beetles can be controlled safely using both natural and chemical treatment methods that protect your lawn, plants, and beneficial insect populations. Healthy turf starts below the surface by eliminating grubs.

Mole Crickets

Small Holes in Lawn - Mole Crickets
Small Holes in Lawn – Mole Crickets

Mole crickets earn their name due to the extensive tunneling damage they inflict on lawns while feeding below ground on roots and tender plant tissues. If you notice dying brown patches encircled by small mounded tunnels, mole crickets may be thriving unseen beneath your turf.

Signs of a mole cricket infestation include:

  • Brown spots of grass forming crescent-shaped patterns
  • Surface tunneling with raised ridges
  • Tunneling is worse in low, wet areas
  • Visible light brown mole crickets with large front claws if you dig

Mole crickets thrive in areas with thick ground cover and thatch buildup that retains moisture or areas that are over-fertilized. They actively tunnel to lay eggs and forage during spring, summer, and fall.

Reduce mole cricket damage using these proactive treatments:

Modify Habitat

Improve drainage, reduce irrigation, and dethatch, and avoid excessive fertilization to create poorer mole cricket living conditions. Keep grass 3+ inches tall.

Apply Beneficial Nematodes

Nematodes seek out and kill mole crickets living underground when watered into turfgrass. Apply from spring through fall for maximum control.

Use Insecticide Baits

Spread bait granules containing the insecticide orthoboric acid over infested areas. Mole crickets ingest the systemic toxin as they tunnel.

Encourage Predators

Promote birds, small mammals, ants, and wasps that all prey naturally on mole crickets. Avoid killing these beneficial species.

Use Early Spring Treatment

Insecticidal soaps sprayed on early spring egg hatch sites can decimate young nymphs before populations explode.

Pay attention to the first subtle signs of mole cricket damage, and act decisively to knock back infestations before extensive tunneling ensues. Healthy soil and vigorous grass is the best long-term deterrent against mole cricket invasion.

SECTION FOUR: DAMAGE, REPAIR AND PREVENTION

Potential Damage Animal Holes Can Cause a Lawn – Like Uneven Ground, Dead Grass, Etc.

At first glance, small holes dotted across your lawn may seem harmless. But given time, burrowing animals can inflict serious property damage if left unchecked. Here are some of the most common issues that arise from unchecked invasions of digging pests:

Uneven Ground

Extensive underground tunneling by moles, voles, gophers, and other excavating rodents inevitably leads to depressions, mounds, and sunken ground throughout your yard.

Excessive uneven terrain creates safety issues:

  • Tripping hazards
  • Difficulty operating mowers and machinery
  • Reduced mobility for elderly individuals
  • Root exposure can cause falling trees

Leveling severely uneven areas requires extensive filling, reseeding, aeration, and regrading to restore smooth contours.

Erosion Problems

Subsurface burrowing causes soil instability and erosion:

  • Rain washes loose soil from tunnels into storm drains
  • Needs for constant reseeding and mulching to cover bare areas
  • Loss of topsoil nutrients due to runoff
  • Tunnel collapses undermine structures over time

Sloped areas and loose, sandy soils see the worst erosion effects from burrowing animals.

Dead Grass and Plants

Certain pests directly harm lawns and gardens during digging:

  • Gophers and moles feast on grass roots and blades
  • Voles and squirrels gnaw through vegetation
  • Skunks and raccoons uproot grasses and plants while foraging
  • Dying roots lead to dead brown patches

Damaged areas must be reseeded or resodded. Underground pest populations should be controlled before restoring grass.

Unsightly Holes and Dirt Mounds

Churned-up soil, clumps of displaced sod, and visible holes create unpleasant eyesores:

  • Holes detract from a well-kept appearance
  • Dirt mounds must be flattened and reseeded
  • Damage is often most severe in highly visible areas
  • More weeds emerge around repeatedly dug areas

Achieving a flawless, smooth lawn requires addressing the source of holes and repairing damage.

Structural Damage

Burrows around foundations, patios, and sheds undermine structural integrity:

  • Patio edges can subside or sink over tunnels
  • Foundations can crack or shift as soil erodes
  • Fence posts become loose and unstable
  • Underground utilities may rupture from shifting soil

The damage worsens gradually over time but becomes expensive to repair if left unchecked.

Spread of Disease

Some burrowing pests are notorious carriers of infectious diseases:

  • Rat and mole droppings can contain hantavirus
  • Gophers may carry bubonic plague
  • Diseases are spread to pets and humans via contact with urine or feces
  • Pest entry into structures heightens disease risks

Viral, bacterial, and parasitic illnesses are a potential consequence of increased burrowing animal populations around homes.

While the sight of a few scattered holes may not seem dire, extensive long-term digging can gradually lead to severe lawn damage, costly repairs, safety issues, and health risks if pest problems are ignored. Stay vigilant, and promptly address signs of invasions by burrowing animals before lasting harm arises. A flawless lawn requires decisive action at the first signs of destruction.

How to Repair and Fill Holes Once the Culprit Is Identified

Discovering a fresh scatter of small holes and tunnels marring your lawn can certainly be frustrating. But with the right materials and proper technique, you can fill and repair these holes to restore your lawn’s smooth, flawless appearance.

Here are some common methods and tips for effectively filling holes and damage caused by burrowing pests:

Fill With Topsoil

To repair small holes, fill them with fresh topsoil that matches the existing ground level:

  • Break up and loosen compacted soil at the bottom of holes first
  • Slowly add topsoil in layers to fill holes up to the brim
  • Tamp down each layer of soil gently with your hands or a tamping tool

When filled properly, holes should be level with the surrounding lawn.

Use Soil and Grass Plugs

For larger holes or tunnels, cutaway sod using a flat shovel to create grass plugs that neatly fit the holes:

  • Cut plugs slightly wider than holes
  • Press plugs into holes, ensuring contact with underground soil
  • Water thoroughly for 1-2 weeks while the grass establishes

Plugging perfectly camouflages damage and accelerates repair.

Add Grass Seed or Sod

Once holes are filled, add grass seed or sod:

  • Sprinkle grass seed generously over repaired areas
  • Gently water the seed 2-3 times daily until it sprouts
  • Or install rolls of sod cut to fit for immediate results

Seeding prevents erosion and helps blend repaired spots.

Level Sunken Areas

Use added soil to level subsidence or depressions:

  • Loosen compacted soil before backfilling
  • Build up thin layers of topsoil gradually
  • Slope and blend edges into the surrounding lawn
  • Avoid excessive compaction and air pockets while filling

Leveling creates an even surface and enhances drainage.

Break Up Mounds

Flatten unsightly mounds for a cohesive look:

  • Carefully tamp down mounds with a landscaping rake
  • Distribute excess soil thinly over the surrounding grass
  • Scatter additional grass seed to accelerate regrowth
  • Water gently to settle displaced soil

Subtle, even contours are restored.

With attentive hole-filling practices, the destructive digging of burrowing pests can be efficiently remedied, improving aesthetic appeal and restoring your lawn to its former glory.

Prevention of Future Animal Digging – Removing Food Sources, Applying Repellents, Barriers, Traps, Etc.

Repairing holes after the fact provides only temporary relief from the digging destruction of burrowing pests. Lasting protection requires proactive prevention measures tailored to exclude specific animals. Here are some tips to deter future digging:

Remove Food Sources

Eliminate attractive food sources like grubs, worms, trash, or pet food that draw wildlife to tunnel while foraging. Applying beneficial nematodes or milky spores controls grubs naturally. Manage food waste properly in secure containers away from structures.

Install Physical Barriers

Use fencing, wire mesh, or other physical barriers to block pests:

  • Bury fences 1-2 feet underground around gardens or structures
  • Wrap tree trunks and poles with aluminum flashing
  • Place large gravel, bricks, or pavers over frequently damaged areas

Barriers remove access or make digging considerably more difficult.

Apply Repellents

Scent and taste repellents make areas unappealing:

  • Predator urine granules deter skunks, moles, chipmunks
  • Hot pepper wax on plants deters browsing animals
  • Mothballs or ammonia near holes repel smaller pests

Reapply repellents frequently, especially after rain or lawn watering.

Use Pesticides Judiciously

Baits or toxic dust inserted into tunnels or burrows can eliminate occupants. Use pesticides sparingly and only when necessary due to environmental impacts.

Manage Weeds and Vegetation

Trim overgrown areas providing food and cover. Remove weeds around gardens and structures to reduce habitat appeal. Keep grass lush and healthy to endure some pest damage.

Employ Scare Tactics

Use tactile scare devices like sharp gravel, chicken wire, or prickly rose bush trimmings to make areas uncomfortable for tender-pawed creatures to dig.

Install Nighttime Lighting

Motion-triggered lighting startles and deters nocturnal diggers like skunks temporarily. Position lights to cover frequently damaged zones.

With an integrated pest prevention plan including barriers, pesticides, and habitat modifications, proactive homeowners can stay one step ahead of destructive burrowing pests seeking to tunnel through their flawless lawns and landscapes. Address problems before holes appear.

Final Thoughts: Small Holes in Lawn Overnight

As you will have realized by now there are many possible causes for the appearance of small holes in the lawn overnight. To deal with the issue you have to be a little bit like a detective and find the clues and look where they take you.

Keith Hardy - Bio Photo
Keith HardySenior Editor

Keith has been involved in the gardening and landscaping industry for the past 21 years. From a jobbing gardener to running his own landscaping services. He is now dedicated to bringing you the latest in gardening news. Read more

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