If you’ve had your garden invaded and plants destroyed by moles like we have, you’re probably ready to declare war on these unwelcome subterranean invaders.
First, are moles good for anything? Well, they do eat fire ants and beetle grubs and aerate the soil, but otherwise they tend to do more damage than good. Let’s dig in a bit more.
What Do Moles Eat?
- Moles are not rodents but insectivores subsisting exclusively on bugs, larvae, worms and other invertebrates. Therefore:
- Moles do not eat plant material. Their dental structure is suited for worms, grubs, and the like. They even eat fire ants.
- Most often, it’s the best kept yards that have the worst mole issues.
This may sound counter intuitive but it’s all related to underground biomass, and well watered, well fertilized landscapes and lawns have a lot of biomass. This would include food gardens. A mole’s territorial range can be as vast as 2.7 acres, so mole extermination can seem daunting, and while it’s not easy, it’s possible with diligence.1)https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-9095.pdf
A Fateful Discovery
So, we came to garden one fine day in April and noticed the soil around our raised bed plantings was fairly riddled with uplifted ridges. Darn! Using a cane pole as a poker, we traced tunnels that seemed to run in all directions, even in places where the soil appeared normal. Sad little seedlings lay wilted up and down the rows. First came anger at the marauding varmint, and then anger at myself for not putting in a hardware cloth barrier as we were building the raised beds. CWS – Coulda, woulda, and (definitely) shoulda.
We’d discovered a matrix of surface tunnels. The mole (we presume just one) was essentially soil surfing looking for invertebrate tasties and quite heedless of the collateral damage. Our enriched garden beds had lots of worms. Good for us and good for Mr. Mole.
Moles dig three kinds of tunnels, though all types may not be present at every site. There’ are the surface tunnels, but think of them as the top layer in a 3D Tic Tac Toe game. Under them lie the main tunnels used to move about and these tend to be permanent. And then there are the nests, larger spaces filled with grass, roots, and leaves for nesting and winter protection.
The Down and Dirty on How to Control Moles
There’s a lot more to understanding moles, their habits, and their subterranean existence. We’ve sourced most of the above information from an article put out by the University of Arkansas. 2)https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-9095.pdf
Natural and Organic Mole Control
Of course, the burning question is the one we asked that day we discovered the mole tunnels: what natural and organic mole control can we deploy to stop moles from destroying our garden plants? Our first resort was an organic type repellent consisting of castor oil and pepper. The product comes in granules that can be spread in a spreader, a shaker container, or by hand. We often use a 32 ounce yogurt container with holes punched in the lid or bottom.
The directions advised watering the treated area immediately for 1/2 hour. Upon repeated treatments, waterings and pre-rain applications, there was little sign of the mole vacating. We even poked holes in the surface tunnels and sifted the pellets into them. No observed effect.
Mole Poisons for Serious Mole Extermination?
We might have escalated to using mole poison such as poison peanuts (hard to understand that theory since they are insectivores), or used BT /Dipel (which will take out grubs but not their favorite earthworms), gassing, impaling, or haphazardly stabbing the tunnels with a spade fork.3)http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/g3200.pdf
Instead, we didn’t do anything further than punch holes up and down the rows wherever we traced tunnels, and added that castor oil and pepper blend of Molmax mole repellent. We also put a good 4 inch layer of compost around the plants. But that’s it!
At first it seemed like it wasn’t working. The moles were winning.
But now, for whatever reason, there is barely any more sign of mole tunneling or plant damage. Put that in the category of “go figure”. Perhaps the repeated treatments with the repellent did finally take effect, after a couple weeks of diligent application. Perhaps, the mole just moved on. We have another plausible notion that’s mentioned further on.
At any rate, from now on we’ll likely shift toward all raised bed gardens with barriers and straw bales. Next time we build a raised bed, here’s what we’ll do.
Small gardens, raised beds and other small, highly valued areas may be protected with a mole barrier. Use 24-inch widths of sheet metal or hardware cloth to create a fence dug 12 inches deep into the soil, with the bottom bent outward at a 90° angle for 6–8 inches. Only a few inches need to remain above the soil surface.Such a barrier will require a significant excavation.4)http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/g3200.pdf
Some Mole-Ridding Methods are a Toss-up
Dogs, Cats and Black Rat Snakes
A category of predators rarely mentioned is snakes.
What Definitely Works
Whether using traps or worm-shaped baits, placement is critical. Choose a run that the mole uses regularly. Usually this is a run that is in a straight line as opposed to squiggly tunnels that are generally used for food foraging only. The best straight runs follow a structural guideline such as a curb or a gutter, because these are used regularly as the moles travel from their nest to the foraging area. To determine if a run is active, stomp it down flat then check the following day to see if it is pushed back up. If the tunnel has been repaired, it is usually an active tunnel and should be considered for trapping or baiting.
In the long haul, moles are here to stay.
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