Eastern moles hard for gardeners to control

Local woman on a mission to remove yard nuisances

July 28, 2005

by Gerald Bludau, Victoria County Master Gardener
edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener

With the purpose of providing educational material to our readers, topics for this column are often a result of inquiries about seasonal conditions or the environment. Today's article is exactly that.

What is about 6-7 inches long, weighs 3-4 ounces and does about as much damage to your yard as all the insects and fungi you encounter?

The Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus). This is a robust, burrowing mammal with broadened shovel-like webbed front feet. It has no visible ears, is virtually blind and is brown with a silvery sheen.

The Eastern mole is the only mole found in Texas; however, there are other species across the United States. Their range covers the eastern two-thirds of the state, including the eastern portions of South Texas. The peak breeding season is the early spring, at which time the female bears two to four young after a gestational period of about 45 days. The mole spends most of its life underground and has few natural enemies. Coyotes, dogs and skunks dig out a few of them.

Moles feed primarily on earthworms, insects and other organic matter. Many times gardeners find plants that have been cut off below the ground - incidental to moles foraging for insects.

Anyone who has gardened or maintained a yard in or around Victoria, particularly if they have sandy topsoil, has probably had an Eastern mole encounter. Gardeners have laid a water hose on a garden or flowerbed only to return later and find the water has run down a mole tunnel.

Tunnels will appear as raised ridges in lawns, gardens, fields and pastures. They are generally more prevalent after rainfall or watering takes place. The Eastern mole uses two types of tunnels or burrows: a shallow burrow is used for food-foraging activities and a deeper tunnel for protection, and bearing and rearing their young.

As gardeners, one of the most difficult problems we have is controlling or eliminating the Eastern mole. In an
article available at the county extension office. F. Robert Henderson, an extension specialist with Animal Damage Control at Kansas State University, describes the use of repellents, toxicants, fumigants and trapping. Because of a lack of reliable, registered mole-controlling products or because of environmental concerns, most deterrents have not stayed on the market. The best method of eradication by far is trapping.

County extension agent Joe Janak referred me to a local woman he considers a mole trapper extraordinaire, that being Beverly Spies. I contacted her and she was willing to discuss her success. Beverly uses four to five of the Victor 110 mole traps set in the yard. This trap has two sets of three spears each set across from each other that spear the mole when a spring is released.

"When setting the trap, be sure the flat plate is resting securely on the ground," Spies said. "Also, be sure to press your heel firmly on the tunnel to be sure it is completely blocked off. By blocking the tunnel, the mole is forced to dig its way back through it and ... will cause the spring to release the spike.

"Always pull up and down on the spring devise two or three times to make sure the spikes can enter the ground unobstructed. The best results come from setting the traps on freshly made tunnels."

One last comment from her husband, Howard: "Always tie a piece of colored flagging on the trap so you don't run over it with the mower."

Beverly's success is documented. From 1998 through June of this year, she has trapped 138 moles and as many other varmints in her yard. That's more than 16 moles a year. If all the neighbors did the same, the entire subdivision could be mole-free.

Two other types of traps are mentioned in Henderson's article - the Out-of-Sight and the NASH (choker loop) trap. Traps are an excellent choice because the mole springs them while following its natural instinct to reopen obstructed tunnels.

Another way to control mole numbers is the use of an insecticide to reduce the insects and worms available to moles. Dig into the top 4 inches of your soil to see if some insect has become out of balance and needs controlling. Another helpful hint, especially around small beds and gardens, would be to install barriers such as wire mesh or sheet metal to a depth of about 12 inches to keep out moles.

If you are in an area where moles are a problem, get your neighbors together for some joint efforts. Make a challenge out of it and you too will be successful. .....

Let us hear from you with other questions or topics you wish to read about. Our editors are planning the fall and winter publication schedule now.

Don't forget to sign up for the upcoming fall master gardener training class that starts on Thursday, Aug. 11. Friday is the deadline to submit applications. Call the extension office at 361-575-4581 for information.