Terrible Tunnelers

By Chandra Orr

July 1, 2011 5 min read

There's no shortage of products that aim to keep moles under control, from traditional traps and poison to more eco-friendly repellents -- even systems to blast the tunnel structures by detonating mixtures of propane and oxygen -- but to rid your lawn of these unwanted excavators, remove the temptations.

You may never see the destructive diggers, but they're hard at work hunting for their next meal, which wreaks havoc on your lawn and in your flower beds and garden.

"Moles spend nearly 100 percent of their time underground, feeding on invertebrate animals," explains Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. "They damage lawns as they tunnel underground in search of worms and insects to eat. Their tunnels undermine grass roots, disfigure lawns and destroy flower beds."

Well-aerated, moist soil with an abundant food supply makes for prime mole territory, but it also makes for a healthy lawn.

"Reducing moisture and compacting soil can help reduce the attractiveness of a lawn to moles, but it also may not be healthy for the grass," Henriksen says. "Grubs are one of the favorite foods of moles, so controlling grubs in lawns can reduce the food supply."

Grubs, the white C-shaped larvae of many common beetle species, feed on plant roots just below the surface, and to moles, they read like a neon sign at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

"Moles can do great damage to vegetation. They tear up roots, not intentionally, but because grubs live near roots," says Michael Podlesny, author of "Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person." "Get rid of the grubs and you will get rid of the moles. Once the grubs are gone, the moles will move on to find a food source elsewhere."

Podlesny recommends milky spores to eradicate the larvae, which are vegetation destroyers in their own right. The naturally occurring bacteria, available at hardware and home improvement stores, are not harmful to pets, people or other creatures, and one application can last 10 to 15 years.

A grub-specific insecticide, such as Scotts GrubEx or Bayer Advanced's season-long grub control, is another option. This type of product kills the larvae in the early stages of development, before they damage vegetation. The granules are applied to turf once each season, typically in late spring, and last all summer.

And of course, homeowners besieged by unwanted mounds and tunnels have undoubtedly heard a few clever yarns on do-it-yourself mole removal, from flushing them out with a garden hose to dropping mothballs in the tunnels. These DIY mole management techniques, born of frustration and old-fashioned American ingenuity, may sound more like farmers' folklore than they do proven techniques, yet those who rely on the methods swear by their success.

Homeowner Mike Kiger, for example, tempts the tenacious burrowers with chewing gum. He calls it "the poor man's method" -- a stick of Juicy Fruit gum rolled into a ball and dropped in a mole hole. Apparently, the pesky vermin have a penchant for the one-of-a-kind flavor.

"The moles are attracted to the scent," Kiger explains. "They eat it, and it gums up their insides and kills them. The gum is cheaper than other things -- and no chemicals needed."

Homeowner Denise Martin has a decidedly more laid-back approach.

"I just dig a deeper hole in their tunnel and bury rocks in it," Martin says. "With this method, I can lead them out of the garden and into the natural areas of my property. And instead of moaning about what a burden they are, I rejoice in the beautiful pile of finely tilled soil they leave behind when they dig a hole. I use it for planting."

Ready-made mole repellents, poison and traps are also viable remedies, but in many ways, killing and repelling the pesky insectivores is like treating the symptom and not the disease. Eliminate the moles' food source and they will have no reason to visit.

"Removing the temptation is the only way to permanently solve the problem," says Cameron Riddell of Pest Barrier, the company behind Rat-Out, a nontoxic bio-repellent made from garlic oil and white pepper that deters scent-sensitive rodents and moles. "Most people know that even if toxic or harmful solutions were not strewn with issues, these lethal methods would never be a good long-term choice because they do nothing to deter the critters."

Riddell explains that the only way to have a successful pest control program is to make the pests choose another location, one that's more attractive to them. "So make your lawn a bad choice."

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