The phone rings. I answer. The person on the other end starts complaining about a small furry creature wreaking havoc in their lawn or landscape.
They know what it is, or at least they think they do. They think they have moles. They just want me to tell them how to control it.
That’s when I have to put the conversation in reverse and start at the beginning. After speaking with the concerned homeowner for a time, I usually figure out exactly which small rodent is causing problems in their landscape.
Of course we have the common squirrel and the chipmunk (and the fairydiddle, often found in Appalachian mythic tales). They can sometimes cause problems by digging up bulbs or tender roots, or chewing on a few plants.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many straightforward ways to keep these critters out of the lawn.
Sometimes, it turns out, that the homeowner has what is called a vole. This small, mouselike creature has ears set far back on its head and a short, stubby tail. I think these creatures cause more damage than moles.
While moles will tunnel through the lawn and make it unsightly, voles see the roots of many plants, including trees and shrubs, as a food source. Moles, on the other hand, eat manly insects and worms.
It turns out that voles undergo natural swings in population. Sometimes there are a large number of them and then sometimes not many at all. They usually use roots as a food source in winter. My father lost several newly planted fruit trees to voles one year. I think that was also the year that he startled one in the orchard and it ran up the inside of his pants leg. Luckily, the orchard is secluded, as I’m sure he did a striptease (Happy Father’s Day, by the way).
You can sometimes keep them away from plants by using a ring of small gravel as mulch, which falls in on their tunnels to block them. There are also repellents available on the market that either have hot pepper or castor oil in them. There’s also the poison bait option, but you need to make sure that pets and other animals can’t get to it.
But the problem I hear about most often is moles. And this problem can be bigger than you think. Moles love eating things like white grubs, earthworms and other insects in the ground. When you have moles, they create burrows through the yard as they establish their territory. I find that a mole problem is often paired with a grub problem.
Grubs in the yard emerge generally in midsummer, lying at the top of the soil level, munching on roots. Lots of roots. They will eat the roots of grass and will also dine on other plants. A heavy infestation can mean the death of grass in your lawn in midsummer. If brown patches appear, check to see if you can lift the grass up, almost like a piece of loose carpet.
So, the grubs create a problem. The moles create a problem.
What could be worse? We’re just getting started!
The grubs you find in your lawn and garden are the larvae of a number of different beetles. Some are not troublesome, but a great many of them are a gardener’s worst nightmare — Japanese beetles! So this problem can turn out to be a triple threat.
One of the best ways to control this issue is by controlling the grubs. Now, don’t go all chemical commando for a few grubs. They only really cause problems when they are in a large number. They are actively feeding in our area in late June and early July, so a curative control is best applied then. One control product commonly available in our area is a chemical called chlorantraniliprole, available in a product called Grubex.
Some homeowners, hoping for a more organic route, turn to introducing a grub disease to their lawns called milky spore. It is available commercially to apply to your lawn. Unfortunately, most studies show limited success with the product.
Still others hope to trap the adults by using Japanese beetle traps. Studies show that these traps are more effective at luring the beetles than trapping them, so you can end up with more than you hoped for. Perhaps the best use of these is to give them away as gifts to your neighbors so that all of your beetles are lured away from your property.