By: Alice Marty, Mobile County Master Gardener CoastalAlabamaGardening@gmail.com
Q We have a mole (or perhaps several moles by the looks of it) making a home in our yard. They are damaging the grass and flower beds and we are unsure how to ask them to kindly move on. We would appreciate any help you can give us.
A If you have little tunnels of furrowed-up soil in your lawn, you have a mole. There are other mammals that do underground plant damage such as voles, but they don’t make the tell-tale tunnels. Yet unlike voles, moles don’t directly do plant damage. They are seeking out the juicy grubs and worms underground and inadvertently uproot what is in their path. That doesn’t make them any less of a garden pest but gives them a better image.
My first advice when confronted with a gardener wanting to rid their yard of moles is to advise them to wait a while. The moles will run out of grubs in your yard and go to your neighbors. That has always worked for me. But then again, I have never had a very persistent mole that has done a lot of damage.
Plan number two in my book is to get yourself a good barn cat. A good female with kittens can rid your yard of moles in a matter of days. But then you will have a cat and kittens to raise. Perhaps not the tradeoff you were looking for.
On a more serious note, there are no toxicants currently registered in Alabama for moles. Trapping regulations may vary, so check local laws. Repellents and toxicants are generally ineffective for controlling mole damage. Getting the mole to accept the bait is the problem. Uncle Clem may tell you that poison gummy worms work every time, but science disagrees. It’s dark in the tunnels and moles are blind. They are used to eating live food. Do you really think that will fool them?
To achieve nonlethal control, the food source must be eliminated. This involves applying insecticides to control grub populations. White grubs may be controlled naturally by introducing milky spore disease into the soil. Milky spore comes as a powder and may be purchased at stores selling insecticides or online. One application lasts up to ten years.
While this technique may be effective, it is not quick. When using milky spore for lawns, it can take three years to achieve control of the insect in warm climates. It is also most specific for white grubs. The moles’ diet consists mainly of grubs, yet beetles, beetle larva and worms found in the soil are also consumed. For this reason, milky spore is best used in a combined solution.
When the time comes that your lovely lawn looks like the mole is playing multiple games of tic tac toe, you have reached the “Kill it now” stage for mole elimination. Lethal methods now come into play. The faint of heart may not want to read on.
Photos courtesy of Bence Carter, ACES
Lethal traps are usually of three types: harpoon (fig. 2), scissor-jawed (fig. 4) and choker. Any of these works well if set properly, but soil type can impact effectiveness. Harpoon traps are more effective in sandy soils, while scissor-jawed and choker traps are more effective in loamy soils, or soils with a higher clay content.
Before setting your traps, you must determine which mole tunnels, or runs, are being used most frequently. To find out, flatten tunnels either by stepping on them or using a lawn roller. The next day, see which ones have popped back up. Put the traps on these new tunnels.
If using a harpoon trap, allow the trap to spring into the ground several times before making the final set. This ensures that the harpoons can travel through to the tunnel unimpeded.
When setting scissor-jawed or choker traps, dig out a portion of soil around the tunnel and place the trap in the hole (Fig. 3,4,5). Fill the hole back in with the soil making sure no light penetrates the tunnel. (Fig. 6) It is recommended that you wear rubber or latex gloves to prevent your scent from getting on the trap. After setting the trap, be sure not to walk on or disturb other portions of the tunnels.
Traps can sometimes be triggered without catching the mole, so check traps daily and reset if needed. If the mole doesn’t use the tunnel with the trap after a few days, relocate the trap to another tunnel. Once the trap is in place, be sure to remove the safety catch.