Small moles can create big lawn problems

By: Sandy Feather 2009
Penn State Extension

Q. Since last fall, moles have been destroying our lawn. Are there any products that work? My back lawn looks like a mini-explosion occurred!

A. Controlling moles can be a real challenge, so it is helpful to understand a little about their biology. For starters, they are insectivores; their diet is almost completely composed of soil-dwelling insects such as earthworms, grubs, centipedes and spiders. It is often said that mole activity in turfgrass indicates a problem with white grubs, but that is not necessarily true. They favor white grubs when they can find them, but earthworms make up roughly 75 percent of a mole's diet.

Earthworms are Beneficial

Of course, earthworm activity aerifies soil, brings nutrients up to plants' roots where they can easily be absorbed and are good indicators of soil health. You do not want to get rid of your earthworms, despite the fact that moles are attracted to them.

Japanese Beetle white grub is "C" shaped

You would have noticed patches of lawn dying late last summer if a damaging population of grubs were present. White grubs feed on turfgrass roots, so affected areas of turf can be lifted easily and rolled back like a throw rug. In the summertime, you can lift the turf and plainly see the C-shaped white grubs. You will not see them right now, though, because they migrate deep into the soil for the winter. They will migrate back up to the surface as the soil temperature warms in the spring.

Use insecticides only if really needed

If you do not have grubs in your lawn, insecticide applications are a waste of time and money and needlessly place pesticides into the environment without stopping the mole damage.


Favorable Conditions

Moles prefer moist, friable soil with a large insect population. Mulched landscape beds create the perfect habitat for mole activity, and our earlier snow cover was also ideal for their activity. They are solitary creatures, and it is not unusual for one mole to damage several lawns in its search for food. Moles expend a lot of energy digging and must eat 70 percent to 100 percent of their body weight daily to survive.

Ending Mole Damage

Stopping mole damage is easier said than done. Poison baits used to control mice and rats are not very effective against moles because they are usually grain-based. Moles are not very attracted to them.

Harpoon traps are the most effective means of control, but trapping requires a commitment of time and patience. Harpoon traps are available at garden centers or agricultural suppliers. Before placing one, determine which runways are being actively used. Use a stick or a blunt tool handle to punch holes in the various runways in your yard. Come back in a few hours and see which holes have been repaired. Those are the tunnels where you set your traps. Be sure to follow the directions on placement and setting the trigger for maximum efficacy.

Mole Baits

There are some new baits on the market that seem to be effective when placed properly in active runways. Lesco's Kaput Mole Control and Bonide's Moletox Baited Gel are water-based gels containing warfarin, flavored to taste like earthworms (don't ask!). They come in syringe-type applicators that make it easy to inject the gel into active runways.

The newest bait from Bell Laboratories, Talpirid, contains bromethalin as the active ingredient. The product is formulated into earthworm-shaped doses that supposedly look, feel and taste like the real thing. Again, the poison "earthworms" are placed in active runways. I am not certain that any of these baits are available locally, but they are easy to find online.


Home Remedies for Moles

There are many home remedies alleged to control moles. Growing the mole plant (Euphorbia latharis) or the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) in your garden supposedly repels moles, but neither has proven effective in laboratory tests. The same goes for electromagnetic or sound wave devices. Razor blades, ground glass and toxic household substances poured down a mole run are more likely to injure a child or a pet than the offending mole. And chewing gum does absolutely nothing since moles are not attracted to eating it -- unless you can find a pack of earthworm-flavored gum!

Mole Repellents

There is a repellent called Mole-Med that has shown to be somewhat effective in tests at Michigan State University. It is sprayed directly on those areas where you want to reduce mole activity. Water the area thoroughly, apply the product, then thoroughly water again to take the product deeper into the soil where the moles are active. It is made from castor bean extract. It must be reapplied after heavy rain.


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