In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
December, 2001
Regional Report

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Our lawn is haven to grubs, a favorite food of moles. Could the finely pulverized soil of this mole hill be a thank you gift for our hospitality?

Thugs in the Garden

I thought the shorter days and colder temperatures of December would lull my garden to sleep for a while. As a matter of fact, with all the holiday get-togethers, shopping, baking and house decorating, I was counting on it! The plants may be resting, but there's still an abundance activity in the garden.

New Visitors

The first sign was a little mound of soil piled on the lawn. A few days later there were four more little mounds of soil in a far corner of the yard. By the time I got out to investigate and really started looking around, I discovered two more mounds of freshly pulverized soil next to an uprooted perennial. Somehow our yard has become a playground for a family of moles and things seem to be getting out of hand very quickly!

Here in the Pacific Northwest we are host to North America's largest mole, Scapanus townsendi, known locally as Townsend's mole. Trust me, I'm not impressed with their size -- they can grow as long as 9 inches, plus a 2-inch tail -- nor am I impressed with their ability to reproduce.

Claims to Fame

Moles are insectivores and dine mostly on grubs and earthworms, but that's not to say they won't gnaw through any roots or bulbs that happen to be in their way. They're reportedly some of the animal world's most talented engineers, easily repairing collapsed roofs and outwitting trappers by digging detours around traps. During the rainy season a single mole can create as many as 500 mounds that are 1 foot across and spaced every 3 feet. And a mole on a mission, especially a male looking for a mate, can bulldoze soft dirt at the rate of 50 yards an hour. Now that's impressive!

After doing some research I began to weigh the pros and cons of moles in general. They tunnel underground which helps aerate the soil, they feed on grubs which certainly must keep the bad-guy insect population down, and they leave convenient mounds of wonderfully rock-free pulverized soil for me to scoop up and scatter in my raised beds. On second thought, maybe they're not such a problem after all!


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