Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Recommending mondo grass for a lawn substitute

Q. I have questions about a lawn substitute so I can play on with my family. I would like to play ball with my kids on it. I hope I don't ever have to cut it. Please respond with recommendations.

Dwarf Mondo Grass Lawn

A. Lawn grass is popular because it tolerates a high degree of foot traffic and can be mowed to a low height for outdoor activities. Furthermore, it covers quickly and relatively inexpensively. But it does require frequent maintenance.

Dwarf mondo grass - Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' - is a fine lawn substitute. It tolerates foot traffic, providing you don't regularly play team sports on it. Walking about is okay. It has a naturally low profile, so doesn't need mowing. It covers densely. It is cold hardy in your area. It is drought tolerant. Color is deep green. It thrives in partial shade to full shade, so that might be a disadvantage to you. Other disadvantages include expense of establishment - i.e. plant cost -, and it is slower to spread than lawn grasses. The plant cost would probably be offset by low maintenance cost over time.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Looks like you've got armadillos.

Q. Something is digging holes in my yard. Here are some pictures of the holes. What do you think is doing it? How can I stop it? BTW, I live in south Georgia.

Armadillo burrow

Armadillo damage

Looks to me like you have armadillos in your yard. The deep hole looks like a burrow. The shallow dig probably resulted from an armadillo scratching around for food.

Credit: Rebecca Wallace, University of Georgia

Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) inhabit all of the Gulf Coast states, parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, south and central Georgia. They migrated from north or south of the border down Mexico way. They eat insects, larvae, earthworms, spiders, small reptiles and eggs. Some folks report armadillos robbing eggs from chicken houses. They damage lawns and gardens rooting for food or digging their burrows.

Armadillos may also be infected with the bacterium - Mycobacterium leprae - that causes Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy. I believe humans and armadillos are the only warm-blooded carriers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that armadillos can communicate leprosy to humans, primarily through physical interaction. But since bacterium can ride on water vapor, it stands to reason that the disease could be communicated without physical contact. Por ejemplo, don't let an armadillo sneeze on you.

I'm guessing you don't want armadillos around your house. There are various methods including repelling, excluding, trapping, shooting, site modifying and eliminating the food source.

Repellents might or might not work. I've heard of scattering mothballs where they root or dig. Even if it worked, it would take a lot of mothballs to keep them out of your yard, and the smell would repel you, too.

If you have a fenced yard, a good dog might keep them away. Several years ago my dog trapped an armadillo in a roll of fencing. It was driving him crazy that he couldn't get at it. His craziness was driving me crazy, so I called off the dog and let the armadillo run.

Some people have tried fencing them out, but armadillos dig. The bottom of the fence would have to be buried sufficiently, which could prove costly.

Various humane traps are available for all sorts of animal pests. I'm not promoting any particular brand, but "have a heart" comes to mind.

So far as I know, armadillos are unprotected in all states, which means it's always armadillo hunting season. You might dispatch them with a decent pellet gun or .22 caliber rifle. But you must check your state and local ordinances before shooting them.

Shooting armadillos is complicated by the fact that they are most active from sunset to sunrise. Even if it's legal to hunt them around your property, rifle fire during the night might raise suspicion and attract a visitor from law enforcement.

Armadillos like to dig burrows under shrubs, as seen in your  photo. You could remove your shrubs, but that doesn't seem attractive.

You could remove their food sources by applying a lawn insecticide, but I don't like the idea. Broad spectrum insecticides eliminate good and bad insects alike.

One might argue that armadillos inhabit a useful niche in our eco-system since they help to keep pests in check. But then we have to balance that reality with holes in the yard and, of course, the unknown potential for leprosy.

UPDATE: Following a comment below, I posted a reply with link to a capture and release ELSEWHERE program. Here's the link to Translocation of nine-banded armadillos.

UPDATE: Here's an important quote from the Translocation of nine-banded armadillos article. "In conclusion, we recommend against translocating nuisance armadillos in most cases. First, translocated animals are unlikely to remain at their release site and will likely transfer the problem elsewhere, increase the risk of the spreading disease, and increase mortality rates because of translocated animals. Second, resident armadillos are highly dispersive and will likely quickly fill vacated territories formerly occupied by translocated animals. In addition, negative ecological impacts of additional armadillos in an area should be considered. Armadillos pose a threat to a number of native fauna, including several rare or endangered reptiles (Layne 1997), soil invertebrates (Carr 1982), marine turtles, gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus; Drennen et al. 1989), and ground-nesting birds, such as northern bobwhite (Staller et al. 2005). If shooting is not a desired or practical management option for removing nuisance armadillos within certain localities, they should be trapped and humanely euthanized. It is important to remember, however, that until there is a more permanent solution to keeping armadillos away from areas where they are unwanted, whatever removal techniques landowners choose to use will likely need to be continuously applied." (Emphases are mine.)

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