Moles still causing problems in area lawns

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 20, 2012

SALISBURY — Moles seem to be everywhere in the county, burrowing through lawns and gardens. Many people have called wanting to eliminate the animals. Controlling moles is not an easy chore; many have accepted the animals as part of the natural environment. They consume soil insects and reduce soil compaction, so their activity is not all bad. However, heaved ridges often damage shallow-rooted lawns or shrubs by drying soil or exposing roots to the elements. Also, raised ridges often present a hazard, especially to the elderly who enjoy walking in lawns and gardens.
There are three species of moles in North Carolina: the eastern mole, the star-nosed mole and the hairy-tailed mole. These are all similar in appearance: small creatures, 5 to 8 inches long, with a long tapered snout, short neck, with muscular front legs for digging. The fur is very short and velvety, with the color ranging from dark gray to black.
Moles tirelessly tunnel in lawns, gardens and plant beds in search of grubs and other soil insects. The mole’s entire diet includes earthworms, ants and beetles. Moles do not feed on plant material such as roots, stems or bulbs; however, damage often occurs when moles search for food. Field mice and voles often use this ready made highway as a way to their food source of plant roots and bulbs.
Application of insecticides is considered one way to solve the problem, but it takes an inordinate amount of time for the moles to move to another location. The soil insecticides eliminate the food source, driving the moles to another location. Grubs can be controlled with an application of granular insecticides. Irrigation of the lawn area brings the grubs closer to the soil surface. Applying the insecticide, followed by a second irrigation, kills the grubs. Elimination of grubs with insecticides may take two to three months for adequate control. The entire lawn or garden area must be treated.
Spear type traps kill the moles as they move about in the tunnels.
Locate a frequently used tunnel by caving a short section and observing daily to determine which run is being used. These tunnels are usually straighter than most. Repeat this process for two or three days; then place the traps on the major runways. The mole is speared by a spring-loaded mechanism on the trap. One or two traps should be enough for the average sized lawn.
Ironically, one of the best methods of control is a hungry cat. Cats and often dogs can spot a mole. However, if you have an aggressive dog, your lawn will pay the price when they dig up the pest.

Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Call 704-216-8970