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.
Urban Regional Extension Agent