Controlling moles in a yard or garden is considered necessary because mole holes are unsightly on lawns, and these pests can also harm (albeit indirectly) the root systems of garden plants. 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 first step in getting rid of moles is to identify them accurately, to be sure they aren't voles.
Signs of Moles
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, including:
- Eastern (Scalopus aquaticus)
- Hairy-tailed (Parascalops breweri)
- 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 is 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.
Identifying Moles vs. Voles
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 methods for one pest may be entirely different from those of another, so positive identification is important.
Moles and voles may have similar sounding names, but it's easy to tell them apart: A vole looks like a mouse; a mole is much larger (about 6 to 8 inches long) and has a long, pointed snout and large paddle-like front paws with prominent claws. However, 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.
Mole mounds are volcano-like in appearance, while voles leave behind no mounds at all. Instead, voles construct well-defined, visible runways at or near the surface, about 2 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.
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. Therefore, a simple first step 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. 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.
Repelling, Baiting, and Trapping Moles
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 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, following the manufacturer's instructions. 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, for catch-and-release removal. The problem with this method, however, 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 female moles, effectively nipping in the bud what would be a greater problem later. Where you place the trap is critical to success. Place your mole trap near active feeding tunnels (that is, the shallower of the two types of tunnel described above):
- Using your hand or a trowel, flatten sections of the raised soil edges of the feeding tunnel.
- 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 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.
Warning: If you have pets or children who play in the yard, seek alternative (natural) methods for getting rid of moles, rather than using potentially dangerous poisons or killing traps. 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.
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 repels moles. While this alternative, organic method (an instance of "companion planting") is probably less reliable than the use of traps, baits, or repellents, it is also a lot more fun and potentially much safer. In addition, some of these are gorgeous plants that are worth growing in their own right:
- Daffodil (Narcissus); this is a poisonous plant
- Siberian squill (Scilla siberica)
- Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)
- Allium schubertii
- Allium giganteum
- Mole plant (Euphorbia lathyris), also called "caper spurge"; this is a poisonous plant
- Castor bean plant (Ricinus communis), also known as castor-oil plant; this is a poisonous plant