Moles Under Your Lawn? Mothballs Will Not Help

Q: I'm about to go out and toss some mothballs onto the lawn to get rid of moles. Any other ideas?

A. Mothballs repel moths, but don't help with mole problems, and they're toxic enough so that you don't want to add them to the ground. In order to deal effectively with the often-frustrating mole, it's necessary to know a bit about him (or her.)

Sleek, muscular and well-adapted to subterranean living, moles generate anger among lawn growers and garden designers by rearranging lawns and flowerbeds. Their tunneling raises feeding runs and volcano-like humps. These mammals eat earthworms and grubs; they don't munch roots, plant parts or spring bulbs even though their digging may disturb growing areas.

Moles have long, slender snouts and strong forearms and feet. They're more common where soils are neither very dry nor very wet, and where earthworms are plentiful.

We'll never eliminate their presence in Pacific Northwest landscapes (they were, after all, here before your lawn was). An irrigated lawn with a high organic content in the soil presents an ideal living space for the mole.

The list of what doesn't work in controlling moles could fill several pages. Gardeners have tried various poisonous, expensive, and just plan silly ways to deal with them. Do not get tempted into using a poison "bomb," dumping drain potions, or poking your car exhaust down the run. Adding something poisonous to the soil is environmentally unsound. You may destroy beneficials or damage soil and water quality. Remember, these are mobile creatures and they simply move out of the run when something noxious happens.

Flooding the run or attacking the mole with vibrations or loud rock music won't work either.

Traps do work. Specifically, the scissors-type trap works best. For specific trap-setting instructions, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to King County Cooperative Extension, 612 Smith Tower, 506 Second Avenue, Seattle 98104, requesting KC 109 "Moles." You can also call 296-DIAL to request tape #1253, "Moles."

A motivated cat or dog also can help with mole-catching, but the resultant lawn damage could be worse than the moles leave behind.

Gardening runs Friday in Scene and Sunday in Home/Real Estate. It is prepared by Mary Robson, Master Gardener program director, Holly Kennell, Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension agent, Susan Miller, integrated pest management specialist, and volunteer Master Gardeners.