Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mountains Of Molehills: Not All Bad

MolehillsUKPaulGlazzardOne thing about snow is that it hides a multitude of sins, making one property look as immaculate as the next. In the years when winter lingers into spring, some of us start to think pristine is overrated, and we are prepared to settle for muck and grime if only Mother Nature would peel back her wintry shroud.

But as backyard glaciers recede, some homeowners are dismayed to find that an army of moles has apparently spent the winter detonating explosives. The star-nosed mole and the hairy-tail mole are the two species that live in my area of Northern New York, and as their soil mounds indicate, they are active all winter. If they have turned your once-flat lawn into a relief map of the Adirondacks, don’t panic; it’s not as bad as it seems.

It may not change your opinion about them, but moles consume lawn-decimating grubs. In addition to the Japanese beetle, we have four other beetle species whose larval, or grub, stages eat grass roots. Grubs weaken grass and create dead patches, and the moles are, well, grubbing them out for you. A five-ounce mole can eat about 50 pounds of grubs and worms a year.

Moles also contribute to healthier soils. Their activities help blend material throughout the soil profile, which improves aeration and drainage.

Mole Control Measures

If mole damage becomes severe you may have to implement control measures. Fortunately, moles have a relatively low reproductive rate. While the extent of damage may suggest your yard is teeming with moles, it is likely there are just two or three. This means you only have to eliminate a few animals to vastly reduce or stop the carnage.

Moles have two kinds of tunnels, permanent ones 6-24 inches deep and temporary ones just below the surface. They are able to dig new surface tunnels at nearly 20 feet per hour, and can scuttle through their deep runs at about 80 feet a minute. In spring and fall they feed closer to the surface in their shallow runs, and this is the best time to control them.

Mole repellants sometimes work in the short term. Cat feces, coyote or fox urine, and castor oil mixed with dish soap may help drive them off your property for a while. Studies have shown that ultrasonic and vibratory devices meant to repel moles or mice do not work. Remedies such as placing broken glass or mothballs in their tunnels are also useless.

Toxic baits are of limited value, because unless they are pretty confident it is a live insect, moles will rarely eat the bait.

The only effective way to remove moles from your yard is by trapping. It’s fairly simple, although it requires a time investment.

Scissor or harpoon-type traps work, but must be set in active surface tunnels. Jab a stick into surface runs every few yards. If the holes are repaired the following day, the tunnel is active and you can set a trap there. Mole traps can be found at most hardware stores or purchased online.

Surface Repair: Grab a Rake

Regardless of how you deal with moles, it is easy to get rid of their soil piles. Once the ground dries out enough, rake the molehills into the surrounding grass. After a few warm days and a spring shower or two, the lawn will take off and you’d never know the place had suffered an outbreak of tiny volcanoes.

But a strategy of tolerance is cheaper and leaves you more free time if you can live with a little seasonal mess. After all, we are talking about molehills, not mountains.

Photo courtesy of Paul Glazzard/Creative Commons.

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Paul Hetzler has been an ISA Certified Arborist since 1996. His work has appeared in the medical journal The Lancet, as well as Highlights for Children Magazine.You can read more of his work at PaulHetzlerNature.org or by picking up a copy of his book Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World

3 Responses

  1. John Jongen says:

    Love your use of that metaphor Paul; we are indeed making mountains out of molehills. Have a heart leave these cute little guys alone.

  2. Big Burly says:

    Great read. Thanks

  3. Jim S. says:

    I tried to eliminate moles in my yard with a hose and made fountains out of molehills.

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