Moles: Their mere mention sends a shiver down any gardener's spine. Their destructive nature and complete disregard for garden boundaries make them an un-welcome sight in any garden. More importantly, mole tunnels make it difficult to walk in or mow over the lawn. And they dig around roots, causing plants to shrivel and die. However, this subterranean insectivore can be a blessing in disguise if you garden in heavy clay soil. Their aggressive tunnelling helps loosen and aerate, creating a healthier root zone. Whether they are friend or foe, now they're on the go, and here are some ways to stop them:
Moles are one of the most destructive yet misunderstood pests in the urban landscape. Often digging with no concern for what they damage, they can appear overnight and cause great harm. Moles are insectivores, meaning they primarily feed on insects such as grubs, earthworms and beetles. Rarely do they feed on herbaceous plants 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 for damaging the plants.
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"-type hook. There he will sleep and retreat when disturbed. The other type of tunnel is a series of feeding runways that randomly appear just below the soil surface. Moles are solitary and will usually defend their runs from invaders such as other moles. A single mole can tunnel up to 500 feet per day in search of a meal. So what appears to be a whole family of moles is usually just one hard at work.
The best method of control is by trapping. Poison peanuts and pellets are of little value because they are not on the mole's diet. Castor bean oil works only to chase them away temporarily. They will return in a few days or weeks. Trapping works because it removes the mole immediately. The trick is, however, to keep the trap moving. Find the feeding tunnel he is using most by tamping down all the runs and looking 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 him - problem solved.
With all of that said, trapping may not be the only means of control in the future. Charlie Lee, wildlife specialist with Kansas State University, is organizing a study to test a new form of mole control. This system uses a lifelike grub that is placed in the tunnel for moles to feed on. Preliminary trials show great promise. If you have moles in the yard and are interested in participating in a more comprehensive study, contact my office for more information.