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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

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This week's HomeGrown

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When we had snow, I couldn't see my lawn. Then the snow melted and I had piles of dirt all over. Why are gophers working during the winter and how to I get rid of them?

Michigan is gopher-less. So leave those silly giant rodents out of consideration for the your lawn-lumper title. Your subterranean critters are moles. Its just the usual suspects like eastern mole and star-nosed mole. The ground isn't frozen and the moles have not gone dormant because there are still earthworms, soil insects and a few grubs available for snacking. Sandier soil and south facing lawns can be even warmer than most. At this time of the year, both kinds of moles will leave similar damage. You know, those cute little mounds that are decorating your lawn. The good news is that we have identified the mammals of interest. The bad news part is that there is little that will be effective at this time of the year. Pesticides wont kill insects that are semi-comatose and not feeding. With soil this cold, the repellants that work because of their odor will be minimally effective. If you want to buy traps, they may difficult to find because they have been displaced by Christmas clear-out stuff in the stores. If you can find traps, the choker loop and scissors traps seem to work best for many serious mole hunters. Still, using mole traps successfully is still a combination of art and science with a dash of magic spells thrown in. In the spring or whenever the ground is not frozen, rake out your mole heaps. Rake until the grass is sticking through the rearranged soil. There is one tiny silver lining to your dark mole clouds. In their own strange way, the moles have just made your soil better draining so you shouldn't have to worry about standing water.

I have some little flying insects that are about as big as fruit flies. I don't eat fruit so I know that isn't what these are. How can I get rid of them?

I believe that this falls into the category of, I have a tree with green, pointed leaves. What is it? There is amazing lack of information to even make a semi-educated guess. You don't have to have fruit to have fruit flies. They could feed on damaged stored bulbs or tubers. They could feed on rotten potatoes or a gourd with a decayed bottom. They are not strictly fruit guys. There are also fungus gnats. They are associated with houseplants and moist soil. The larvae feed in to top inch of soil and the adults often hover around indoor plants. They are very fruit fly-like when you view them. There are also sewer or drain flies. They are fruit fly and fungus gnat-like when you see them. They breed in standing stagnant water in floor drains. They are associated with standing, still water with organic material at the bottom. Start by eliminating. Do you have plants? Is the soil consistently moist? Do you have thingies flitting around the plants? Do you have bulbs, potatoes or squash that are not refrigerated? Do they have any moist decay? Do you have a basement floor drain or sump pump area with water in it? This is an insect problem that you should be able to think your way through. Get rid of rotting stuff. Water plants and let them dry well in between. Or you can water them by sitting them in a water filled container and letting the water absorb until it is within one inch of the top so the top inch of soil stays dry. Their larvae die in dry soil. Pour boiling water down floor drains to kill sewer fly larvae. Repeat twice a week until you see no more. Hit the adults with a rolled up newspaper of fly swatter. So strap on the old deerstalker cap and grab your giant magnifying glass. The games afoot.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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