MY FRIEND TOM emailed the other day to ask about how to fight the moles who are disrupting his lawn and garden. And Garden Guy Kenn, another reader, posted the same plea. From folk remedies like chewing gum or castor oil laced with dish soap, to hiring the nearest licensed nuisance wildlife control service, I have tried it all in years when they have similarly besieged me. I’m down to two methods of attack that I employ consistently:
A cat who goes out each night (like Jack the Demon Cat, top), and a lot of mousetraps.
First order of importance: Make sure you know what you’re fighting, since seeing mounded soil or tunnel-like activity in lawns and beds doesn’t always mean moles. Know thy enemy. An interesting interview with a wildlife expert in the Seattle paper awhile back offered a test to determine whether it’s moles or voles you’ve got.
“Gardens that border wild areas probably have both moles and voles,” the piece reported. “To find out what is bugging you, (hang) a piece of apple from a stick laid across rocks to keep it above the ground. If after 24 hours, you find the apple has been fed on, you’ll know what you’ve got…Rodent teeth leave clear parallel marks. Moles would shred it; their teeth don’t make the same line.”
MOLES ARE A GOOD THING
Moles are actually a welcome part of the community: They’re insectivores, not interested in chewing on your bulbs or plant roots, but tunneling around blindly looking for protein-rich worms and grubs, sometimes disturbing plants in the process. Since they are blind they are neither nocturnal or diurnal, meaning they can be a 24/7 nuisance, with some individual or other always on the job.
Moles are relatively solitary compared to, say, mice, so if you eliminate a few in your garden you will make a dent. A page at the well-named site Center for Human-Wildlife Conflict Resolution from Virginia gives a great lowdown on moles.
INOCULATE WITH NEMATODES?
To combat moles a few years back, when they were on an upswing here, I inoculated my soil with nematodes, infinitesimal creatures that kill the Japanese beetle grubs that are among the mole’s sought-after food sources. I got the stuff by mail, from Gardens Alive, after reading about it. But did it really help? Experts at Purdue and Ohio State say that combating grubs is not the answer, since earthworms are the main food source for moles.
I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that it did, either—but the population of both grubs and moles has reduced significantly. I say I can’t be sure because populations ebb and flow in nature all the time, so it may be a total coincidence. Gardens Alive also sells a mole repellent, which I have not tried.
But the cat did help a bit at that time when there were many in evidence, killing (but not eating) moles as he does mice and voles. A big caveat about employing your cat in garden predation: Cats who go outdoors during daylight hours are a major threat to songbirds. Keep your cat in or supervised by day, especially.
Also very effective are my outdoor mousetraps–which I use to reduce mice entering my old foundation, and voles damaging the bark of woody plants, in particular, in the areas right near the house. I place them in activity areas underneath a basket or box or flower pot, at the end of tunnels.