Underground Menaces

By Christopher Crown

August 1, 2017 5 min read

One day, while perusing your newly manicured backyard and admiring your blooms, your foot sinks into a distinctly spongy piece of grass. Looking down, you see small, scattered mounds of dirt across the lawn. The likely culprits? Moles and gophers. These garden pests can cause ample destruction in your landscape. Unfortunately, many gardeners turn too quickly to poisons and chemicals that are not only inhumane but also dangerous to pets and humans and potentially harmful to your ecosystem.

First, how do you know whether you have moles or gophers? According to one HGTV online article titled "Hot to Get Rid of Gophers, Moles and Armadillos," moles primarily eat insects and earthworms, not plants. They leave tunnels or mounds of dirt above ground with holes in the center. Gophers eat plants, and their tunnels are hardly ever visible. Master gardener Paul James, featured in the article, acknowledges that though the tunnels moles make are a nuisance, they can actually help aerate the soil. Gophers, on the other hand, can wreak havoc on garden plants and cost hundreds of dollars' worth of damage.

Although the current market is trending toward natural and homemade repellents, many chemical options are available to consumers. According to the Pesticide Research Institute, there are first-generation, second-generation and third-generation anticoagulant rodenticides. Anticoagulant rodenticides are poisoned bait that when consumed interfere with the clotting process, causing rodents to die from internal bleeding. There are many potential unwanted consequences of rodenticides. The toxins can harm children if eaten, and they can even kill pets that consume the bait. Predatory birds may die from eating poisoned rodents. And bait can contaminate groundwater that washes into lakes, streams and the ocean. All of these factors make chemical pesticides an even worse choice for anyone spending time in their garden, anyone with children playing in their lawn or gardeners who consume their own crops. With mountains of evidence against traditional pesticides and poisons, alternative remedies are ideal.

The EarthEasy website offers sustainable solutions for modern gardeners, including several options for controlling underground excavators. Place cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil in active mole and gopher tunnels. They will avoid these areas because they are allergic to peppermint. To determine which tunnels are active, tamp down mole ridges and then observe where ridges are rebuilt or new tunnels branch off. James uses castor oil granules to ward off gophers and moles. Once they get wet (either from rain or watering), they will slowly begin to dissolve and release a scent that repels them without harming them. Plus, they are actually healthy for your lawn. You can even place them strategically to dictate the direction the pests will exit. The HGTV article says: "To force the pests in a specific direction, apply the granules to one-third the area to be treated, beginning with the area farthest from the ultimate exit point. And within hours, especially if you water the area well, the gophers will begin moving in that direction. A day or two later, apply more granules to the next section, and a day or two after that, apply additional granules to the final section."

Certain household ingredients can be used to control moles. The Old Farmer's Almanac suggests sprinkling ground red pepper at tunnel entrances, and tobacco or coffee grounds on the soil to evict them.

If you prefer, seek out some high-tech options. Home improvement stores such as Home Depot and online retailers such as Amazon carry devices that emit electronic pulses and drive moles and gophers away. The Sweeney's Solar Mole and Gopher Repellant Spike, for example, is a stake that emits sonic pulses up to 7,500 square feet. And it's solar-powered, so it's an environmentally conscious option that will save you money.

Whether you prefer to sprinkle, watch and wait or plug it in and leave it, rest easy knowing there many cost-effective, safe and humane solutions to rid your garden of these industrious underground workers.

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