How to Identify What's Been Diggin' in the Garden: Bandit or Stinker?

Become a Marin Master Gardener!


The Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael boasts a beneficial garden which has been reaping the benefits of improved soil from Master Gardener efforts with compost, mulch, worm houses, and new irrigation. The soil is teeming with life and the plants are almost singing their gratitude for the fertility. Blooms are abundant, colors are vibrant, and there are little to no signs of disease or insect damage. Garden, gardener, and visitors are basking in sunny ambiance.

However, there is an unexpected side effect of this: for several weeks now there have been signs of digging. The mulch is pulled away and holes smaller than tennis ball size a few inches deep here and there. As each is discovered, they are re-covered and watered in, but they continue. Could it be a visitor’s small dog? Perhaps it was one of the feral cats? Raccoons? How to identify the digger? A bit of close observation and some research reveals some clues. Here is what was discovered:

* Cats usually dig a shallow hole, deposit, and bury leaving traces 6” diameter or more

* Dogs tend to dig deep, broad holes

* Moles leave mounds with a hole in the middle, open or closed, sometimes surface ridges

* Gophers leave mounds, always closed, of excavated soil

* Birds scratch shallowly across a broad area

* Squirrels usually bury nuts and acorns leaving disturbance but no hole

* Raccoons shred a broad area, leaving several areas looking torn up

* Skunks create precise cone-shaped holes

There were no mounds, no acorns, holes were deep, not shallow and in specific spots, not all over. The culprit is probably a single skunk. Luckily, it left no other lingering traces. Had it not disturbed the mulch and exposed plant roots to the air, its help tilling would be welcome. To discourage continuing visits, rubber snakes were placed in the garden. Pepper flakes which contain capsacin were sprinkled over previously disturbed spots since all mammals are affected by it but not birds. Less frequent watering will allow surface soil to dry and result in insect life going deeper and less attractive to digging predators.

We are always available to help you with your garden challenges. Find us on our website, www.marinmg.org, at our Novato Help Desk Monday through Friday from 9am-noon and 1pm-4pm at 1682 Novato Boulevard, Novato, 415-4734204 or at Farmers’ Markets (Old Town Novato, Tuesdays, 4pm-8pm, Corte Madera Town Center the first Wednesday of the month from 12-4pm, San Rafael Civic Center on

- Janet Duncan, Marin Master Gardener


Enjoy Gardening? Become a Marin Master Gardener!

Thinking about joining your Marin Master Gardeners at work? The application to join the class of 2013 is now available on the Marin Master Gardener website (www.marinmg.org). Applications will be accepted until September 14, 2012. Please share this information with friends who might be interested and let them know that we’ll be holding information sessions on the following dates:

Thursday, August 23, 2011

UCCE office, 1682 Novato Blvd, Suite 150, Novato at 2:00pm

Thursday, September 6, 2011- MAGC

30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Ross at 6:00pm

Saturday, July 28 and August 25, 2012

A member of the Training Team will also be available to give information and answer questions at Pt. Reyes Farmers’ Market at Toby’s Feed Barn from 10am-1pm


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Tina McMillan August 01, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Lately we have had frequent visitors to our backyard vegetable and flower garden due to using organic vineyard compost to keep the moisture in around all the plants. From your description it sounds like we have a raccoon with a passion for digging up the same spots. I will try cayenne. The strangest thing I ever found in our garden turned out to be called, Fuligo septica or Dog Vomit Slime Mold. It has nothing to do with dogs. It is incredibly gross and totally harmless.


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