It seems lately that the normal in nature has become the rare, and that the unusual has become the common. Being the first of January, we are usually locked in the grip of 'Ol Man Winter anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring.
Instead, the kids are playing ball in short-sleeved shirts, and moles are beginning there spring excavation. Moles are rarely welcome in the home landscape. Their tunneling activity and destructive nature make them a foe in any part of the lawn or garden. However, this subterranean dweller can be a blessing in disguise if you garden in heavy clay soil.
Here is what you need to know about "the mole."
Moles are one of the most destructive yet misunderstood pests in the urban landscape. Often digging with no regards to what they damage, they can seemingly appear overnight and cause great harm. Moles are insectivores, feeding on insects such as grubs, earthworms and beetles. Rarely do they feed on herbaceous plant parts.
Other mammals such as meadow mice and house mice live in and move through mole runways helping themselves to grains, seeds, and tubers. The mole, however, often gets blamed.
Moles create two types of tunnels -- one type is for living in and the other is for feeding. The home burrow is usually a single tunnel that goes straight down several feet and ends with a J-shaped hook. There he will sleep and retreat to when disturbed. This tunneling helps to loosen soil and allows nearby plant roots grow deep. The other type of tunnel is a series of feeding runways that randomly appear just below the soil surface. This tunneling helps to loosen compacted surface soil and allows water and oxygen to filter down to plant roots. A single mole can tunnel up to 500 feet per day in search of a meal. They are solitary and will usually defend their runs from invaders such as other moles.
Gardeners have tried various methods to eradicate bothersome moles. However, few work successfully. Poison peanuts and pellets are of little value as they are not part of the mole diet. Caster Bean oil will chase them away temporarily. But, the moles return in a few days or weeks once the oil is gone. Frightening devices such as noise makers and kids windmills do little more than clutter the yard. Fumigants work, but they are only available to trained professionals with licences.
Without question, the best method of control by homeowners is trapping. Trapping works because it mechanically removes the mole immediately. The trick is, however, to keep the trap moving. Find the feeding tunnel by tamping down all the runs and look for the one that is repaired first. Then, set the trap according to the directions. If you have not caught the mole by the next day, move the trap to a new location. Eventually, you will catch them.
-- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.