February 2017 - Velvet Underground
by Pippa Greenwood
They may be known as ‘velvet coated gentlemen’, but believe me if you have a problem with moles in your garden, it is highly unlikely that you will be inclined to call them anything quite so polite! For years I thought people were over-reacting when moles appeared, but having now come across them in great numbers in my own garden, I too have started to have some rather unfriendly thoughts. So what can you do if all of a sudden your lawn becomes decorated with mounds of finely turned soil, or if plants in your beds and borders suddenly start to disappear beneath soil level as subsidence occurs within the flowerbed, or an entire row of vegetables is excavated from below?
Moles can do a lot of damage to a lawn, largely because that fine soil acts as an excellent seedbed for weeds and is also inclined to make the surface of the lawn rather slippery. If their runs go beneath your lawn or, worse still, beneath flowers in a flowerbed or vegetable plants in your vegetable plot or allotment, then because they tunnel quite close to or in amongst the plant roots, they can occasionally cause the plants to suffer from drought because the soil is no longer in contact with the roots. Often, when the tunnels collapse subsidence occurs, everything starts to topple inwards, and plants can literally fall over.
Moles can sometimes be deterred by high-pitched sounds or vibrations. To this end you could try inserting children’s windmills over the mole infested areas, as the vibration that passes down these into the soil is often said to send moles scampering away. It is an inexpensive and relatively decorative solution AND I’ve seen gardens where it really does seem to work. Similarly, you can try plunging glass bottles into the soil so that just the neck is protruding. As the wind whistles over the mouth of the bottle the noise and vibrations created may also discourage moles.
Very smelly substances can work against moles. It is possible to buy mole smokes which seem to work, in the short term at least. These are rather like fireworks and are inserted into the run where the smoke they produce is unpleasant to the moles. Unfortunately, however, with these and indeed most other smelly deterrents, it is likely that once the smell has subsided the mole will return.
Traps are available from some garden centres or online stores. In order for these to be effective you must set them carefully, and because the moles are very aware of human scent it is essential that you wear gloves when setting them up, so you never actually touch the trap with your hands. The trap needs to be correctly set or else there is a risk that the mole could suffer a lot before it dies. Some gardeners find traps work well but I must admit I know many who have found that they don’t seem to do the job, as it is very difficult for a non-expert trap setter to get it right!
Perhaps the most effective means of control is to hire in help by employing a mole catcher. Many of these specialists have worked with moles for many years and are adept at trapping them. Since they often charge only on the basis of moles caught, it need not be too expensive a process either.
Moles do eventually decide to go elsewhere, and although this does not imply that your garden will then remain free of moles, if the problem has been very bad one year it may not be quite so severe the next.
It is sometimes said that the plant caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyrus) will deter moles. I have never found that this has any effect whatsoever, but it does seem to work for some gardeners and as the plants are fairly attractive it is worth giving it a try!
Some gardeners report success with ultrasonic devices that can be inserted into the ground. Once again, I am afraid that it seems the majority of you find these ineffective and indeed I will never forget once seeing a molehill which appeared directly around the base of one of these gadgets in a friend’s garden - so they are not a method I recommend.
If all else fails, and attempting to look at this problem in a positive light, it is worth bearing in mind that incredibly finely turned soil can be useful and many gardeners I know, including the wonderful ‘grandfather of gardening’ Geoffrey Smith, used the soil as a medium in which to grow an excellent crop of seedlings!
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