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Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004 10:25 am

On the mole patrol

art1369

Every summer, gardeners envision a beautiful lush green lawn and flower gardens abounding with color. Then along come four- and six-legged creatures to dine on the smorgasbord provided for them. Although many four-legged animals damage plants, others are just obnoxious. Among them is the lowly mole, a four- to seven-inch-long beady-eyed burrowing mammal with velvety fur, a half-inch hairless snout with upward-pointing nostrils, and small, sharp teeth.

Moles, who have large paddlelike front feet equipped with digging claws, are solitary animals that live in underground tunnels. They eat grubs, beetles, and earthworms, but in their tunneling, they can damage plant roots. In loose, moist soil, these underground earth-moving machines are capable of burrowing at a rate of one foot per minute. On average, two or three moles inhabit an acre of land -- a single mole probably produced the tunnels in your yard.

Though moles have their pluses -- they do consume large numbers of insects, and their burrowing aerates the soil -- anyone who has ever had to mow over a tunnel would consider them nuisances.

Trapping is the most effective way to rid a yard of a mole. Because burrows are deeper (12 to 18 inches below the soil surface) in winter and summer, you will have the most success with traps in the spring and fall. Prong and harpoon traps are the most commonly available devices. Place traps in active burrows that are used daily. Food tunnels are used only once. To determine whether a tunnel is active, step on a short section; if it's raised again in the ensuing 24 hours, you'll know that it's an active burrow. Be persistent and keep moving the trap until you are successful.

Another way to control moles is to cut the number of grubs. Although they're found all types of yards, moles tend to frequent well-watered lawns with high grub populations.

Mole baits are seldom effective because moles rarely eat the bait. However, castor oil and castor-oil products have shown good results in repelling moles. (Please note that "repelling" a mole does not mean "eliminating" the mole, just moving it to a new location.) Use extreme caution with castor-bean products, however: Castor-bean seeds are poisonous. Even a small amount can be fatal to human beings and animals. If you are growing castor-bean plants, do not allow them to flower or set seed.

Moles are often blamed for the damage caused by plant-eating gophers, voles, squirrels, and chipmunks. Because one method will not control all four-legged animals, be sure to identify the pest animal before selecting a control method.

For more mole info, visit the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension's "Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage" Web site, ianrpubs.unl.edu/wildlife/.

Garden seminars

Green View Nursery, 3000 W. Jefferson St., is offering free "Back to School in the Garden" seminars at 10 a.m. Saturdays. Call 787-4700 to reserve a space or to check October topics.

• Sept. 11, "Ornamental Grasses: Poetry in Motion": Learn how to incorporate grasses into your landscape for beauty, sound, and motion.

• Sept. 18, "A Harvest of Fall Color in Your Landscape": Discover dramatic fall color combinations of trees, shrubs, and perennials.

• Sept. 25, "Selecting Bulbs and Creating Colorful Combinations in Your Landscape": Find out how to select the right bulbs and bring colorful bulb combinations into your landscaping.

For more information, visit www.greenview.com.

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