Mole Mania

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My lawn has mole tunnels. More than just a couple. I know they are hunting for meat and since there are a number of tunnels, there is meat below ground that they are hunting. But they are still disrupting my lawn and they are still pests. I can’t wave a magic wand and make them go elsewhere while their food supply is underneath my feet. While I understand that they are actually aerating my turf, I need strategies to deal with them and I am not alone. In terms of insect pests, the ground rules apply. Step 1= identify them. 2= learn about their biology and life cycles, 3= control options that are effective and meet my standards for acceptable treatments in regard to the environment.

Although there are three kinds of moles in North Carolina, only one, the eastern or common mole, is often “seen”. Moles have two types of tunnels and nests which are 10 to 18 inches below the ground. Moles feed primarily on insect larvae and earthworms. In fact, the common mole may eat half of its body weight each day. Once identified, scouting the eastern mole is critical. Thoroughly inspecting your lawn and looking for above and below ground action will tell you when and where to act. It will also help you to pay attention to, and to appreciate what is just outside your door. Then decide if the numbers you see constitute a threshold for action. As with all pesticides, it’s critical to read and follow all label directions to obtain maximum efficiency. Pay close attention to the dilution rate, pH of water, needed spreader/stickers, pre and post watering instructions, timing and interaction with other products. Traps are still a favorite, if lethal method.

So what to look for? In residential lawns, business parks and school campuses there are a couple of bad insect actors that attract attention as food sources. Sod web worms, chinch bugs, bill bugs, cutworms and armyworms and of course, the white grubs. Hey, we all gotta eat – right? And then there are the masked chafers, the May/June beetles, and Japanese beetles.

It’s important to get the right information about the types of grubs that may be present in any given season as well as the idea about what a treatable threshold really looks like. Healthy yards can withstand mild infestations of grubs. Weaker stands of turf are damaged quite easily. A soil test for your site is really important because the best defense to turf invaders is a healthy stand of turf for a strong offense. Out compete the competition. Caring for the plant population that makes up your turf is best. So know before you go. Turf is a monoculture of many thousands of the same plant. Not an easy environment. Actually more like a smorgasbord for insects and other fungal and pathogen “diners” queuing up to the lunch line.

Plant pathologists, weed scientists and entomologists make recommendations to prevent pesticide resistance including identification of the pest, proper plant care and selection to reduce the need for applied pesticides, and rotating among the various modes of action and making sure that the product formulation reaches the site of the infestation adequately. Using the recommended label rate instead of “more is better” or “my cousin says use 1 cup per sprayer tank” is another technique that will lessen the likelihood of control failure and tendency for resistance. And please watch your step in the yard so you don’t turn your ankle stepping through a mole tunnel.

For more information regarding moles and methods and regulations for control, take a look at the following sources:

Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.