Signs of spring in the North Country: Moles, mud, mold and moss
Sunday, April 20, 2014 - 4:38 pm

By PAUL HETZLER

“Moles, Mud, Mold and Moss” could be a recipe for a magic potion from a Harry Potter book, but it also describes many North Country lawns this spring.

After a long cold winter encased in snow and ice, most lawns have emerged in less than stellar condition. Alas, there’s no magic wand to wave to make it all better.

Turf grasses will start to recover on their own, and will begin looking more perky and green with time and warmer temperatures. But in some cases, lawns could use a little extra help.

It’s disheartening to finally have the snow melt away only to find your yard peppered with soil piles as if a mob of drunken moles had gone on a blasting spree over the winter with miniature dynamite. The good news about moles is that there are generally fewer of them than their damage would suggest. They don’t breed quickly, and removing one or two often solves damage problems. Also, this is the best time of year for controlling them.

The bad news is that “anti-mole” electronic devices sold on the Internet don’t work, and chemical repellents are of limited value. Broken glass, mothballs, rat poison and other home remedies are also useless. The best way to tackle moles is through patience and traps.

In the spring, moles dig temporary shallow tunnels as they seek earthworms, their main food source, and grubs and other invertebrates to a lesser extent. Later in the season they mostly use permanent deep tunnels for hunting, and are hard to control. By tamping down the mole runs in your lawn and observing which ones are repaired the next day, you can see where to set body-gripping traps, available at most garden centers.

Castor-oil based repellants irritate moles’ skin and can be effective, at least in the short term. Because they are carnivores, poison bait often fails to attract the interest of moles. Zinc phosphide, a restricted-use pesticide, is the only chemical legal for use in mole baits. One solution that does work well for garden beds and other small plots is to bury hardware cloth 12” deep along the edges to exclude the critters.

Cornell has no bulletin on mud control, but can offer some advice on mold. You may have noticed gray or pink mold on some areas of your lawn as the snow melted. This is caused by grass fungal diseases, and it’s seldom a serious problem. Simply rake matted grass from the affected areas to stimulate new growth, and seed areas that are particularly sparse. Avoid fast-release nitrogen application in the fall, which can encourage winter mold growth. Mold problems are rarely widespread, although bent grass, Bermuda grass, Zoysia grass and Kentucky bluegrass are most susceptible.

For reasons that are not well understood, mosses are becoming an increasing problem in lawns. Of the mere 12 or so species worldwide, “surprisingly little is known about them,” according to Cornell’s Horticulture Diagnostic Laboratory. While mosses can invade a healthy lawn, they’re usually associated with poor growing conditions. Moss control is not possible in areas of excessive shade, moisture, grub damage, injury from wear, or if soil fertility is very low.

If your lawn has moss issues despite full sun, good drainage and adequate fertility, de-thatch as early as possible, seeding as necessary. Only fertilize or add lime if a soil test indicates it’s needed, and wait until about Memorial Day to apply fertilizer. Often the only nutrient needed is nitrogen; it’s rare for lawns to be phosphorous-deficient.

For more information call your local Extension office. In St. Lawrence County you can also email questions to ph59@cornell.edu. I can’t work magic, but always do my best to find the answers, sometimes even correct ones.

Paul Hetzler is a forester and Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County horticulture and natural resources educator.