Mole Control in Lawn and Garden

Getting Rid of Moles Starts With Proper Identification

Mole in a hole eating a worm.
Ian West/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

Why is practicing mole control in the yard necessary? The reason is that mole holes are unsightly on lawns, and these pests can also harm (albeit indirectly) the root systems of garden plants. This article will tell you how to get rid of them fast. 

Moles are around all year long, but we are made aware of them mainly during the spring and fall, especially after periods of rain, when they push mounds of dirt up to the ground surface.

The mole's preferred diet is a carnivorous one: insect grubs, adult insects, and earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris). Despite what many people assume, moles are not rodents. Therefore any gnawing damage you detect on plants is unlikely to have been caused by moles. Rodents do, however, make use of mole tunnels to attack plants underground, damaging their roots. 

There are many different kinds of moles. As an example, three types live in the state of Massachusetts (U.S.):

  1. Eastern (Scalopus aquaticus)
  2. Hairy-tailed (Parascalops breweri)
  3. Star-nosed (Condylura cristata)

Moles produce two types of tunnels, or "runways" in your yard. One runway runs just beneath the surface. These are feeding tunnels and appear as raised ridges running across your lawn. The second type of runway runs deeper and enables the moles to unite the feeding tunnels in a network. It is the soil dug up from the deep tunnels that homeowners find on their lawns, piled up in mounds that look like little volcanoes.

Mole Control Begins With Proper Pest Identification

Since moles are not the only animal pests responsible for runways in the yard, they are often confused with these other pests, which include the vole (Myodes). Control for one pest may be entirely different from control for another pest. That is why you must first learn the difference between them.

As much as their names sound alike, it is really quite easy to tell a mole from a vole: The latter looks like a mouse, whereas the former does not. But because moles are rarely seen, it makes more sense to base identification on the signs they leave behind, rather than on how these mammals look. After all, you may never come face to face with one. And proper pest identification is the first step in effective mole control. 

Whereas mole mounds are volcano-like in appearance, voles leave no mounds at all behind. Instead, voles construct well-defined, visible runways at or near the surface, about two inches wide. Vole runways result from the voles eating the grass blades, as well as from the constant traffic of numerous little feet over the same path. And if any lawn and garden pests can literally "beat a path" through the grass, it is the voles. Rabbits do not have anything over this rodent when it comes to birth rate.

Prevention: Depriving Moles of Food

Any pest needs food to survive. If a pest is living in your yard, there is a good chance that it has chosen your yard, in part, for a source of food that it has found there. Two sources of food for moles are grubs (that is, the larvae of certain insects) and worms.

That's why one of the easiest first steps you can take for mole control is to apply an insecticide such as GrubEx (put out by Scotts) to your lawn that will kill grubs, thereby removing a food source for moles. If, on the other hand, moles are drawn to your lawn due to the presence of earthworms, you will have to fight them by some other means (see below). Earthworms are highly beneficial to your lawn and garden, and you would not want to try to get rid of them simply because you have a mole problem.

Getting Rid of Moles With Repellents, Baits, and Traps

The best bets for getting rid of moles are traps, but many people are reluctant to use them, both for humane and safety reasons. There are also poisons and mole repellents available.

The formula for commercial mole repellents, such as Mole-Med, is based on castor oil, while the active ingredient in Moletox, an example of a commercial mole poison (bait), is warfarin.

When using mole repellents or mole poisons, you must often water the area where you'll be applying them, so that the repellent or poison will seep down through the soil. Water the area well both before and after applying the mole repellent or poison, if instructed to do so on the package of the particular product that you choose. Re-application may be necessary.

There are also traps designed specifically for killing the pests, and they go by scary names like:

  • Scissors mole trap
  • Choker mole trap
  • Harpoon mole trap

You can also trap moles using a small live-trap, such as is put out by the Havahart Company. The problem with Havahart traps, though, is that you still have to get rid of the live critter after you've trapped it. In some states, animal relocation is actually prohibited.

Trapping in the early spring can get rid of pregnant females, effectively nipping in the bud what would be a greater problem later. Where you place the trap is critical to your success in trapping. You'll want to place your mole trap near active feeding tunnels (that is, the shallower of the two types of tunnel described above). Here's how to tell if a feeding tunnel is active:

  • Using your hand or a trowel, flatten sections of the mole's raised ridges of soil.
  • Mark these sections with something bright (perhaps some old ribbon that you can tie to a stick to make a little flag), so it will be easy to relocate them later.
  • Check back within 12 to 24 hours, to inspect the ridges you've flattened.
  • If the ridges of soil are pushed back up, you'll know that the mole regards this tunnel as an active tunnel. 
  • Cut out the turf over the active tunnel, and remove the soil right down to where the moles have beaten their path. This is where you'll place your trap. Moles don't see well, so they'll stumble right into the trap. While their vision is poor, however, moles are sensitive to the touch. This means you can't leave any loose soil in the path leading up to the trap, or the moles will detect it and back off.

Seek alternative (natural) methods for getting rid of moles, rather than using these dangerous poisons or killing traps, especially if you have pets or children.

Mole-Med mole repellent is advertised as a safe alternative. When you consider the likelihood of needing to reapply it, however, this method of getting rid of moles could be expensive. Natural, cheaper alternatives for homeowners who do not mind experimenting a bit may be a better idea. These will be presented next.

Natural Ways to Control Moles

Many do-it-yourself mole control success stories focus on methods that involve planting barriers composed of certain plants whose smell moles find offensive. While this alternative, organic way (an instance of "companion planting") is probably less reliable than the use of traps, baits, or repellents, it is also a lot more fun. In addition, some of these are gorgeous plants that are worth growing in their own right. So if you need to deal with these pests but are not desperate for fast results, then using certain plants as a natural way to control moles may be the right option for you.

Several bulb plants are said to repel moles. One is the popular daffodil (Narcissus), which is widely known to be poisonous. Two of the others are also classic spring bloomers, although not quite as widely known as the daffodil: Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) and crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis).

Squill bears small, bell-like flowers in shades of lavender, blue, white, or pink. Over the years, squill will multiply and fill in an area. Squill naturalizes in zones 4 to 8.

Yellow crown imperials such as Fritillaria imperialis 'Lutea' bear six to eight large yellow flowers that face down. The scent of its bulbs is said to be like that of a fox, which surely would not be a pleasant smell for moles (since the fox is a predator). These plants reach about 3 feet in height. Grow them in zones 5 to 7.

The Allium genus of bulbs is made up not only of garlic, onions, leeks, chives, and shallots, but also ornamental flowering onions, such as Allium schubertii. The latter are sometimes simply referred to as "alliums." These flowering plants range in size from about 6 inches to 5 feet in height. While garlic is also supposed to be a mole repellent, ornamental alliums are a better choice if you are seeking a living mole repellent strong not only in scent, but also in looks.

Allium giganteum is one of the taller ornamental Alliums, reaching 3 to 5 feet. Flowers are purple and form round clusters with a width of 4 to 6 inches. As its leaves die back in early summer, you’ll want this plant to be screened from view. To accomplish this, simply plant alliums behind other plants that will hide them as allium’s foliage dies. The bulbs can be planted in fall or spring, 6 inches deep. They are cold-hardy to zone 4.

Next, we'll consider choices among annual plants, including two that are perhaps the most interesting living mole repellents.

Organic Control Against Moles in Your Lawn: Repellent Plants

Marigolds are widely held to be mole-repellent plants. They are thought to drive moles away with their pungent smell. There are a number of different kinds of marigolds, and what you probably have in mind when you hear "marigolds" are the popular bedding plants by that name:

  1. French marigolds (Tagetes patula), the ones with small flowers.
  2. African marigolds (Tagetes erecta), the ones with large flowers.

Both are commonly seen in the colors, orange or yellow. But other types do exist. Less often found is the Signet type of marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia). You're even less likely to find the Mexican marigold (Tagetes minuta), a smelly herb that has uses in medicine. Tagetes minuta simply is not a plant you'll find for sale very often at garden centers, because it's not regarded as an ornamental. Sure, you could search online or through garden catalogs to find it, but there's another difficulty: It's considered an invasive species

This One Is So Repellent to Them That It's Called "Mole Plant"

A couple of living mole repellents have an exotic flair: namely, mole plant and castor bean.

That's right: One of these plants has gained such notoriety as a living mole repellent that it is often referred to simply as "mole plant." Also called "caper spurge" (Euphorbia lathyris), this plant is an annual but reseeds itself. It is related to similar plants you may have in your landscaping, such as purple wood spurge.

Mole plant has a striking architecture and is often grown as an ornamental, standing erect and bearing lance-shaped leaves. Its leaves are marked with a striking white vein running right down the middle. If you make a cut into a mole plant's stem, a milky sap will ooze out, as when you break the stalk of a milkweed plant. It seems to be the smell of this poisonous, caustic sap that repels the moles.

Another living mole-repellent is castor bean plant, also known as castor-oil plant (Ricinus communis). This one's a bit of a no-brainer, since, as was already mentioned, commercial mole repellent formulas are based on castor oil. Used in the old days as a laxative, there are still many folks out there who can attest to the repellent qualities of castor oil. And it would seem that moles do not like it any better than humans do. A word of caution, though: Castor bean, like mole plant, is a poisonous plant. Neither should be grown around small children.

In temperate climates castor bean is treated as an annual. It grows quickly and can reach 15 feet in height, suggesting another use for this plant as well: namely, as a privacy screen for those who don't have time to wait years for a shrub to reach such a height. Castor bean bears huge, star-shaped leaves that make it a very pretty plant. It is thus desirable even on landscapes not plagued by moles.