Amy-Lynn Albertson: Mountains out of mole hills

Published 3:50 pm Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thanks to our unusually warm winter weather (minus a handful of bitter cold days), many homeowners have been calling with complaints about moles in their yard.

Moles can be distinguished from voles and shrews by some of their characteristics. Moles have a hairless, pointed snout in front of the mouth.

They have small eyes that are hidden by fur. Moles do not have external ears. They have large, broad forefeet with webbed toes. Moles swim through soil near the ground surface in search of worms, insects and other foods. Moles are solitary, and make their burrows in high dry spots, but they prefer to hunt in soil that is shaded, cool, moist and populated by worms and grubs.

On large properties, mole activity may move from one part of the lawn to another. This movement is affected by climate and ground moisture. Moles will respond to changes in food supply as different insects become available in different places and at different times throughout the year.

If disturbed, moles may temporarily leave an area but will usually return when you least expect it. Even without disturbance, mole activity may last only a week or two in a particular area.

Over-watering your lawn can bring grubs, worms and moles closer to the surface. Reducing the amount or frequency of watering may help temporarily. Reducing the amount of turfgrass on your property will also reduce the visible signs of damage.

Convert to a garden

In the long run, converting lawn to gardens, paths, hedgerows or other more natural habitats can save you time and money as well as provide habitat for beneficial birds and butterflies.

There are many home remedies for getting rid of moles; unfortunately all are mainly ineffective. Remedies such as pickle juice, broken glass, red pepper, razor blades, bleach, moth balls, rose branches, human hair balls, vibrators, ultrasonic devices, castor bean derivatives (castor oil), and explosives may relieve frustrations, but they have little value in controlling moles and may harm you or the environment. Furthermore, certain chemicals or explosives are illegal to use.

As of July 2014, moles are no longer protected by the NC Wildlife Resource Commission. This means you now can use pesticides registered to control the eastern mole and the hairy-tailed mole in turf in the following areas: residential, commercial, government property, excluding federal and state parks, golf courses, driving ranges and golf instructional facilities, sod farms, athletic fields and/or visitor centers and cemeteries.

Mole pesticides cannot be used in pastures and should not be applied within 100 feet of natural or man-made bodies of water, including but not limited to, streams, rivers, ponds, swamps, lakes and wetlands or at elevations of 4,000 feet or greater.

Some of the products you can use include Sweeny’s Poison Peanuts. This product comes in a cone shaped package that allows you to drop the peanut in the mole run every few feet.

Because moles are solitary creatures, you probably only have one or two. One way to help control moles is to take the non-lethal approach. This means that their food source must be reduced.

Grub control is best

Grubs can easily be controlled in the lawn through chemical application. The timing of the insecticide application is critical if control is to be effective. There are two approaches, preventative and curative.

Some of the newer products (Merit and Mach 2) are preventative, and are most effective when applied prior to when the eggs are laid in late June or early July. This approach should only be used in areas that have a history of grub infestations.

The curative approach is used when an existing infestation is detected. The best time to apply curative insecticides is when the grubs are actively feeding near the soil surface. Pesticides applied any other time will be ineffective.

Feeding occurs from August through October, and again in April through early May. Curative treatments with active ingredients like carbaryl and Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), applied in late summer or fall, are usually more effective than spring applications because the grubs are small.

When using any chemical be sure to follow the label instructions for proper application. For more information on mole and grub control contact the Rowan Extension Center at 704-216-8970 or on the web at http://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu

The use of brand names in this publication does not imply endorsement of the products or services named or criticism of similar ones not mentioned.

Amy-Lynn Albertson is director of Rowan Cooperative Extension.

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