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How to control 'rascally' moles
Ask a master gardener
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“That rascally rabbit” was a staple Saturday morning quote while growing up. Elmer Fudd, a character on the Bugs Bunny show consistently failed in controlling Buggs; thank goodness since that would have been the end of a great Saturday morning cartoon.
Do you recall any of the scenes where Buggs would tunnel through the ground? There were numerous occasions when that happened on the show, but I have never seen a rabbit do that, have you?  Moles on the other hand fit that description. They tunnel through the soil, create unsightly mounds and visual mess of raised tunnels in a manicured landscape. But imagine a cartoon about a blind furry creature, with menacing looking claws and pointed nose and a short tail; that’s nightmare material. Well at least it was then, 30 years ago. Today, it’s common core cartoon. After all, there has been a cartoon about a tickman, a purple dinosaur, and a lot of other unworthy characters, but that’s another subject. Today’s topic is that rascally mole!
If you are like most homeowners, you are probably confused by all of the conflicting “advice” on mole control. You may believe that every rumor, home remedy, or control method is worth trying. A common example is when homeowners try to control lawn grubs and insects to reduce mole activity. But this is often unsuccessful because the mole’s primary food source is earthworms. In fact, many chemicals and home remedies (including castor oil derivatives and grub controls) are not only ineffective when dealing with moles, but they allow the animals time to establish and become real problems. Moles can quickly colonize and spread through adjacent residential properties if not handled properly. Because they need a well-established tunnel network to survive, control will be more difficult the longer they are allowed to tunnel and become habituated.
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. This here-today, gone-tomorrow behavior is probably the root of most of the misconceptions that make some home remedies and pesticides appear credible. Numerous home remedies have been used, but results are inconsistent and generally 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.
Trapping is the most effective and practical method of mole control. In general, trapping success is greatest in the spring and fall, especially after rain. In the summer and winter, moles are active in deep soil and more difficult to locate. Three types of mole traps are especially effective: harpoon, scissor-jaw, and choker loop. To ensure safe and humane deployment, be sure to follow printed instructions. Note: The instructions included with harpoon style traps will not provide for consistent results! The run must be collapsed and the trigger pan securely pressed into the run creating a blockage allowing the mole to trigger the trap when attempting to reopen the tunnel. Traps should be set in active surface burrows. Active runs can be located by stepping down the run, marking the location, and checking to see if the tunnel is reopened within 24 to 48 hours. Permanent or deeper tunnels will be the most productive trap locations since these tunnels may be used several times daily. To identify main runways in a yard or area, look for constantly reopened tunnels that follow a generally straight line or that appear to connect two mounds or two feeding areas (branching tunnels). Main runways often will follow fencerows, walkways, foundations, or other manmade borders. Occasionally, main runways will occur along woody perimeters of a field or lawn. Meandering tunnels in the lawn are “probes” that are quickly constructed by moles and may not be reused. Locating traps in these probes may not be productive.
Mole control is not easy, and a lot of patience is required. One mole per week in areas with a lot of mole activity is an accomplishment. If you are lucky enough to dig one out while working in your yard, don’t pick it up with your hand because they look like a ball of fur. They have sharp teeth and claws and you could be in line for a big surprise. If you need to verify your success when using a spear trap, dig on both sides of the spears to see if there is a deceased mole beneath the spikes. Many homeowners have trapped a mole and not realized it. For more information contact your local County Extension Office.
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