How to get rid of these pesky diggers in your landscape

By Karen Neill

I know you won’t believe this, especially if you have moles tunneling through your landscape, but moles are actually somewhat beneficial in the landscape. They are probably tearing up your lawn in order to achieve this, but they do help with soil management and the control of undesirable grubs and insects.

You may never see a mole, as they live in a series of underground burrows, only rarely coming to the surface. They actually live in seclusion, so while it might seem like you have dozens of moles tearing through your lawn, it is more likely only one or two.  

Moles have paddle-like forefeet that are very large and broad with pronounced claws for digging. They have a hairless pointed snout that extends nearly ½ inch in front of the mouth and they are approximately 5-7 inches long covered in a velvety fur. 

Moles are insectivores, which is important to know as they eat mainly grubs, beetles, and worms they find in the soil. Moles eat 70 to 100 percent of their weight each day. They are often wrongly blamed for the disappearance of tulips and other prized plants in the landscape – voles are more than like the perpetrator of that crime. So proper identification is very important when discussing control options. 

Effective mole control relies on patience, persistence, and knowing their habits and behaviors.

One reason home lawns are so frequently targeted by moles is that they prefer to hunt in loose, moist soil that is rich with grubs and earthworms. The shallow tunnels they form in a lawn as they search for food is what homeowners find most objectionable. Walking across a lawn where moles have been hunting will leave you feeling like you could break an ankle with every step. The tunnels also make mowing more difficult and can lead to browning of the grass when roots are damaged.

Not only are mole tunnels unattractive in your yard, they’re also a hazard as you could step over one and turn your ankle. Photo courtesy of Bob Westerfield.

All my life I have heard folks talk about putting a piece of Juicy Fruit gum down the tunnel as a way to control moles. But in all my years I have never seen a mole chewing gum. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts when it comes to mole control. I have heard of people planting marigolds (Tagetes spp.), castor bean (Ricinus spp.), or mole plant (Euphorbia lathyris) to repel moles and other pests, but none of these have been scientifically proven to be effective.

University research results have also not found any of the numerous types of electronic, magnetic, and vibration devices promoted for repelling indicate to be effective. 

A serious mole problem may be an indicator of a soil insect problem. An abundant food supply is certainly a draw for these critters, so if eliminated or reduced, the moles will be forced to leave the area. There are several insecticides available that will kill white grubs, the larvae stage of the Japanese beetle and green June beetle as well as other insects. Unfortunately, they also kill earthworms, non-target insects, and possibly even songbirds and pets. 

A spear type mole trap. Photo by Luke Rosynek.

Trapping is the most effective method for controlling moles. There are several mole traps on the market and, when used properly, provide good results. At least two traps work best on an average size lawn and they should be placed on active runways. If you have tunnels in the yard, you’ll need to determine if they are active. One way to do this is to step on all the runs, mark or flag them, and then check them after 24 hours. Those that have been repaired are active runs. We refer to these as the “freeways” and that is where you want to set the trap. To place a trap, step on the tunnel where you plan to set it to hide it from the mole’s point of view. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t succeed on your first try. You have to be persistent when dealing with moles. If traps remain un-sprung after a week or so, start the process over.

Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy solution to rid a yard of moles. Effective mole control relies on patience, persistence, and knowing their habits and behaviors.

Note: Many states have laws regarding the trapping and/or poisoning of nuisance animals. Check with your state wildlife and fishery agency before taking any action.

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