Thursday, April 24, 2014

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2/27 Your Garden: Denise Ruttan

For mole control, go underground

February 27, 2013

Have moles or gophers attacked your yard or garden? Maybe you sympathize with Bill Murray's travails in the movie, "Caddyshack."

But Chip Bubl, a horticulturist with the OSU Extension Service, has a soft spot for moles.

"I've caught a few moles by the tail (with traps)," Bubl said. "Because I admire them, I put them in a bucket and take them to a canyon area on my property and release them."

Moles leave a trail of destruction in the Willamette Valley, the coast and the St. Helens area where Bubl lives. But how much do you really know about them? By understanding them, you can better control them or, who knows, you might even start to like them.

Bubl notes that moles are not rodents. Some rodents can be omnivores. Moles are insectivores, a type of carnivore that feeds primarily on insects, earthworms and grubs.

Moles like to tunnel, and their tunnel system "is like the aisle of a grocery store for feeding on earthworms and insects," Bubl said.

Moles cause the biggest damage to vegetable gardens because their tunnel system is indiscriminate. Their runways excessively aerate plant roots, causing plants not to soak up water as well.

In addition, voles, also known as meadow mice, use the mole runways to feed on plants. Moles often get blamed for plant damage caused by voles.

You can tell you have a mole on your hands if the mounds in your yard or garden take on a volcanic, rounded shape, Bubl pointed out. Gopher mounds, on the other hand, are flatter on top and shaped like a crescent with a distinctive plug in the center.

Moles are extremely territorial and protective of their tunnels, which give them access to food. Moles breed once a year and from February to May moles scout for mates; after the female mates, she boots out the male.

The mother digs a cavity the size of a small volleyball in one of her tunnels. She pads it with fresh green material that becomes hot compost, providing a toasty blanket for her babies when she leaves the nest. Females give birth to one to five babies.

"After 36 days, it's tough love in the mole world," Bubl said. "She kicks them out."

To control moles, Bubl suggests the following:

* Build raised beds and layer the bottom with welded wire for a barrier to rout moles.

* Persistent tilling of the garden can sometimes repel moles from the area.

* When using drip irrigation, understand that it attracts moles right next to your plant row by leaving moist soil for earthworms, one of the mole's favorite snacks.

Traps are a good control method. The scissor-jaw trap is recommended. With a probe or iron rod, locate a tunnel in which moles are the most active to place the trap.

* Exercise extreme caution and read and follow all label directions if you choose chemical bait because you are handling a toxic substance.

To learn more, view the Extension guide "Controlling Moles" online at http://bit.ly/14T7ciP.

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