Upcoming Events

The “Ins and Outs” of Mole Control

Scalopus Aquaticus - CC Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University

Moles are a common occurrence in Alabama lawns and gardens. While not a pest in the traditional sense of the word, moles are more of a nuisance. With long galleries through which they travel, moles can cause more aesthetic damage rather than physical damage to turfgrass, ornamentals, and vegetables.

Moles, Scalopus aquaticus, are a common animal in most areas around our state. Most people associate moles with rodents, likening them to rats, gophers and voles. In actuality, moles are a closer cousin to the carnivorous shrew than the omnivorous rodent. It is quite common for the vole and the mole to be confused, one being a tunnel digger that eats only insects and the other being a path clearer that primarily eats roots and stems of unsuspecting plants. An easy way to differentiate between the two is to remember this- Moles are meat eaters (both start with the letter m) and voles are vegetarians (both start with the letter V). When compared side by side, the two animals are not easily confused. The vole looks like a small mouse with tiny ears and stubbed tail while the mole has a long snout and large webbed feet.

The “damage” from moles is actually nothing more than tunnels being dug in your lawn or garden. Most often, moles prefer moist cool soils to dig in, primarily due to this is also the habitat that grubs and other insects dwell. Those tunnels can become a problem if they wash out when it rains or if you turn your ankle in them while walking the dog at night (I speak from experience on that one…). While some complain that these small animals are destroying their lawns, I encourage the homeowner to step back and think of the big picture. These meat eating animals are voracious predators, often eating 100% of their body weight each day! That is 3-4 ounces of root eating grubs and insects every day, taking away some of the major pests that affect lawn health. So while you deal with the tunnels and mole hills in the lawn, these critters are hard at work protecting your plants from harmful pests. If you are like most of my clients and tend not to look at the world as “glass half full”, then there are certainly a few techniques that you can consider.

A common question from clients when they call about mole control is “What can I spray to kill them?” There really is no chemical that you can apply to your lawn that will eliminate the mole situation, but there are chemicals that can be applied to your lawn that will take away their food source, thus sending them to a nearby pasture (or neighbor’s yard) to look for something to eat. Any insecticide, granular or liquid, that is labeled for use on lawns to control grubs and other insects can be used. Many of these insecticides require adequate water to activate the ingredients, so read the directions carefully before applying. While there are no chemicals that you can spray for the moles, there are a select few toxicants or baits that can be utilized to control these animals. Effectiveness is difficult to judge and getting a mole to accept the bait can be a problem.

The more effective, though time consuming, technique is using lethal control methods (traps). There are three primary trapping systems for eliminating moles; harpoon style, scissor-jawed, or choker designs. All are common, effective and deliver a quick and out of sight dispatching of the animal. The methods of preparing the site for use of these traps are generally the same. Stomp down all tunnels that are present in the lawn. Watch throughout the day or the next morning for those paths that have been re-excavated, showing you the active travel tunnels. Set the trap over the active tunnels and ensure that the device can function properly. Once set, the only thing to do is wait. Once the mole travels down the path and trips the trap, remove the trap and stomp the tunnel down. Watch for more tunnels to appear to know if you have had success or if there is more than one mole present. Generally, with the exception females and young sharing tunnels, moles are considered solitary animals. So, if you have success and dispatch one of the animals, there is a good chance that you can move on to other areas of the lawn.

While there are several techniques that are available for controlling moles, using a combination of techniques may provide more results. Some methods may prove to be more successful that others depending on the environment that the moles live in.

For more information on controlling moles in the lawn and garden, please contact the St. Clair County Extension Office at 205-338-9416.

Hunter McBrayer
Urban Regional Extension Agent

Seed Catalogs Simplified

Q: This time of year I start getting gardening catalogs galore in my mailbox. I enjoy reading through them, looking and drooling over pictures of beautiful vegetables and reading descriptions of them. Can you give any suggestions regarding which catalogs are the best and what I should order? And, where can I find help on when to plant “things” once I’ve decided to buy them?

A: Yes, catalogs come along when we’re dealing with “cabin fever.” We know it’s too early to start a garden in this area, but those pictures are so tempting! Over a period of 3 weeks, my mailbox coughed up nearly a dozen of the colorful things, from all over the country, listing every kind of ornamental, fruit or vegetable known to man, or at least most of them.

How to determine which catalogs offer varieties adapted to the southeastern United States and which ones have efficient and timely delivery systems is based primarily on research, with a little trial and error thrown in. If you’ve lived around here for a few years and know some gardeners, chances are those folks will be happy to offer their stories about which companies seem to know their business and which ones don’t. So, ask your gardening friends, garden club members, etc.

If you’re new to the area, check out books at your local library as they contain a plethora of information on appropriate plant materials for our locale. The public library at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is one of the best around for plant material. Also, your county Extension office offers publications that help with the “when” part of your question. You may also check the Extension website, www.aces.edu, for two popular planting guides: ANR-0047 Alabama Gardener’s Calendar and ANR-0063 Planting Guide for Home Gardening in Alabama.

Do be careful about a couple of issues. Some seed companies offer plant material that is better adapted to other regions of North America. Some catalogs even offer not-so-subtle warnings with phrases such as “not for southeast U.S.” Take those comments to heart and order only if you’re prepared to experiment. There are companies whose catalogs offer seeds of plants, both ornamental and edible, that are grown on other continents and that are very exotic. While these plants may be beautiful and no one else in the neighborhood has one, they could also be invasive or exhibit less charming characteristics not mentioned in the seed book (catalog). However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try seeds or a plant you’ve not grown before. In fact, to many gardeners, that’s one of the “fun” things about gardening— trying something new every year. Just be a bit cautious about the origins of the plant; we really don’t need another Kudzu vine in Alabama!

While it won’t guarantee success, before ordering from any catalog, know the winter hardiness zone where you live and stick to plants suited for it. This area usually falls in zone 7b or zone 8a. Make sure the plants won’t ship until time to plant in your hardiness zone – most reputable catalog companies will ship close to the time you should plant, but be sure before ordering.

The best catalogs include details such as the correct botanical name of the plant, whether it needs sun or shade, how much water will be required to keep it happy, how short or tall it grows, what wildlife it attracts such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc. These catalogs often include comments regarding the plant’s drought tolerance, and if vegetables, will tout the pest resistance of some varieties. Information often includes when to plant the bulbs, seeds or transplants, as some are fall blooming but should be planted in spring.

And above all, especially if you’re new to garden catalogs, remember the lovely pictures in the catalog are of mature plants at their best. Yours won’t look that way for a year or two so don’t panic or pull yours out of the ground. Keep trying—that’s what gardeners do, and gardening catalogs are there to support our efforts and lure us into experimenting!

For more information, please contact Regional Extension Agent, Bethany O’Rear at the St. Clair County Extension office at (205) 338-9416 or email her at bethany@auburn.edu.

Learning to Prevent Aquatic Weeds and Filamentous Algae


Pond Workshop Feb 28 2013 006

By far, the most common call Extension receives related to ponds is how to control pondweeds.  However, prevention is one of the most effective methods to reduce and ultimately control problem aquatic weeds and filamentous algae.

To address these issues, Norm Haley, Regional Extension Agent, conducted a hands-on pond management workshop, with over 20 people in attendance at the Village at Cook Springs. Spencer Bradley, also a regional agent, provided assistance.

Aquatic plants take hold due to shallow and clear water, excess nutrients, and intentional and accidental introductions. Participants learned that limiting these characteristics with a combination of proper pond construction along with regular care and maintenance is the key to reducing weed problems.


St. Clair County Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD)


Through a partnership with the St. Clair County Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), the annual St. Clair County Health Fair was expanded. In addition to health-related vendors, first responders set-up disaster relief vehicles and command posts on site to offer tours, educational materials and instruction on how to plan for an emergency. The goal of the Health Fair was to promote health awareness and to encourage individuals to assume responsibility for their own health while informing them about what to do in the face of disaster so that they can meet a crisis prepared.  Over 600 individuals attended and $1,600 in sponsorship was secured.

Using Organic Materials in Your Garden

Question: Is it safe to use manure from a horse or cattle farm on my vegetable garden?

Answer: This question brings up an important issue that relates not only to livestock and horse manure but potentially to the use of hay or grass clippings in the garden. Inadvertent herbicide damage to garden plants can occur from the use of certain organic materials.

The symptoms exhibited on the crops are usually twisted, cupped, and elongated leaves; misshapen fruit; reduced yield; death of young plants; and possibly poor seed germination.

Some herbicides that are used to control broadleaf weeds can be persistent and may remain active in the hay, grass clippings, and manure even after they are composted. Some of these herbicides have a half life of 300 days or more and at least one product is known to remain active in compost for several years.

A problem sometimes arises when these materials, particularly manure and compost, are applied to fields and gardens to raise vegetables and flowers. The herbicides of greatest concern are picloram, clopyralid, and aminopyralid but the list of products that cause at least some concern is too long to list in this article. The garden plants that are most sensitive to these types of herbicides are tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, peas, beans, dahlias, and some roses but many other plants can be impacted to some degree.

Most of these herbicides have a rotational crop restriction of at least 18 months for vegetable crops. This means if these herbicides are used you would need to wait this length of time to safely plant certain vegetables on that soil again. This can vary from product to product and vegetable to vegetable based on their sensitivity to that product.

The real problems arise when the hay, manure, grass clippings, etc. leave the hands of the individual who applied the herbicides. If you choose to use any of these sources of organic material, you should find out what herbicides have been used on the grass the animals have eaten and how old the manure or compost is. A farmer you are considering getting the manure from could probably tell you this, but someone with a few horses might not know where the hay they bought for their animals originated from nor with what chemicals was it treated. Likewise, if you plan to use grass clippings you should find out what herbicides have been used on that turf to control weeds. If you don’t know what, if any, herbicides were used, do not use the hay, straw, grass clippings, manure, or compost to grow sensitive crops.

The only other concern with using fresh animal manures relates to potential pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. Although the chance of contamination is slim, severe sickness and even death may occur if contaminated produce is eaten. To be safe, either compost your manure or apply it in the fall after harvest. Wash your hands after handling manure and try to leave at least 120 days between application of fresh manure and harvest of a crop. Lastly, you should always wash vegetables thoroughly before eating whether they come from the store or your garden.

For more information about horticulture related topics, please contact Regional Extension Agent, Bethany O’Rear at the St. Clair County Extension office at (205) 338-9416 or email Bethany@aces.edu.