Discovering small, volcano-shaped mounds of soil in your lawn may at first lead you to believe a massive colony of ants has set up shop in your yard. Or that your neighbor’s kid did a really poor job trying to bury his latest report card. But those hills of freshly dug dirt were likely made by moles. While moles are solitary creatures, they sure can cause a lot of damage with their molehills. Learning how to get rid of moles often comes with a huge amount frustration. Today, I’d like to review how to properly ID these rodents and the damage they cause, and offer you some possible solutions.
Signs of moles in the yard
Moles live underground, and the majority of their subterranean excavation typically goes unseen. But, as moles dig tunnels in their hunt for food, the soil they remove from the channels gets pushed out into mounds of dirt on the surface of the yard. Signs of a mole infestation in the yard can also include slightly raised, underground ridges or trenches going from soil pile to soil pile. They may even cause raised ridges in your mulch.
Mole lawn damage is typically most evident in the spring and early summer, and then again in the fall. This is when the animals are closest to the surface. During the summer months, their excavation is often at a deeper level.
Moles vs voles
It’s important to distinguish moles from voles because the damage the two cause is very different. While moles leave mounds and raised ridges of soil in the lawn, signs of voles include well-worn traveling paths on top of the lawn, bark nibbled off the base of trees, and eaten tubers, bulbs, and plant roots.
Unlike moles, voles do not leave mounds of soil behind, but there are often quarter-sized burrow entrances throughout the area. Voles are mouse-like creatures with an elongated snout. They’re active above ground both day and night, and their presence is most often noted in early spring when the snow melts and their worn-down travelling paths and burrow openings are exposed. Voles typically live in a large colony with dozens of animals while moles are solitary. This is another important fact to remember when figuring out how to get rid of moles in your yard. Yes, one mole can create quite a few soil mounds, but that one small animal is a whole lot easier to control than dozens of voles.
What do moles eat?
Moles and voles differ in their feeding habits as well. While voles eat plant material and can be very destructive in the garden, moles have an entirely different diet. Moles are insectivores. Their diet consists of grubs, worms, bugs, beetles, and other subterranean insects.
A big step in knowing how to get rid of moles is understanding their diet. One old-wives tale that continues to live on is the suggestion of sticking a half-chewed piece of chewing gum into mole hills so the animal will eat it and choke. This is completely ineffective because moles only eat insects. A piece of chewing gum would simply get pushed out of their way as they go about digging their tunnels in search of real food.
What do moles look like?
There are 7 species of moles in North America. Moles are six to eight inches long and shaped like a sausage. They have dark brown to black fur and outward-facing, large front claws perfectly suited to digging. Their nose is elongated and pink, making them fairly distinctive looking, should you ever happen to catch a glimpse of this underground animal.
How to get rid of moles
While moles do not eat your precious garden plants or even the roots of your turf grass, the soil piles and raised trails found in the yard can be a real nuisance. The damage moles cause is aesthetic, but it’s understandable why so many homeowners want to send moles packing. Continually pushing down the soil piles and reseeding the bare spots left behind by moles can be a never-ending job.
Now that you know moles aren’t harming your garden or your grass, you may be inclined to just let them be, as many gardeners do. But if still want to learn how to get rid of moles, here are a few suggestions to help.
Your first line of defense against moles should be repellents. There are two types of mole repellent products to use when deciding how to get rid of moles.
- Granular mole repellent: Granular products are distributed over the soil surface by hand or with a drop spreader. Made from castor oil and other ingredients, granular mole deterrents, such as MoleMax, Repellex, Sweeney’s, and MoleScram, create an unwelcome environment for moles through a combination of scent and taste cues. Used according to package instructions, they don’t poison or kill moles, but rather they force the critters to leave the area.
- Liquid mole repellent: You can also use a liquid mole repellent mixture based on castor oil to get rid of moles. You may find it less expensive to mix your own liquid repellent using 2 parts castor oil to 20 parts water (2 cups oil to a gallon of water, for example). It’s easier to spread than granular products. All you need is a hose-end sprayer. But, if you don’t want to mix your own liquid formulation, mole repellents like this one from Liquid Fence and this one from Sweeney’s already come with a hose-end sprayer on the bottle. Simply attach it to your hose and spray the area.
It’s been noted that mole repellents based on castor oil are more effective against the mole species found east of the Rocky Mountains. Western species of moles may not be deterred by them.
How to get rid of moles using mole traps
If repellents prove too problematic, expensive, or ineffective, mole traps are also an option when considering how to get rid of moles. Unlike voles which can be trapped in a mousetrap baited with peanut butter, if you’re going to trap moles, you’ll need to use a scissor trap or a harpoon trap. These traps are pushed into the ground along active mole runs. When the mole encounters the trap, it’s triggered and the mole is killed instantly. Use your own moral compass to determine whether or not traps like these are something you care to use, but please note that in some states (Washington, for example), it’s illegal to use these types of traps. And in several other states you need to get a trapping permit to trap moles legally.
How to get rid of moles using mole baits
Bromethalin is the neurotoxin most often used in mole baits. Like common mouse poisons, it’s also toxic to pets and other wildlife. Mole baits infused with bromethalin are often shaped like earthworms or grubs in an attempt to trick the mole into thinking they’re a food source. Mole baits like TomCat earthworms and TomCat grubs are inserted down into active mole tunnels or mole hills where the mole is likely to encounter them. Once consumed, the bait kills the mole within two days. Keep in mind that poisoning moles and other wild animals is illegal in several states so you’ll want to do your research before using this method.
Ultrasonic mole spikes
Ultrasonic mole spikes claim to use high-frequency sound waves to chase moles out of an area. Most often solar powered, the base of these spikes is pushed down into the soil to hold them in place. Whether or not these devices actually work is a subject of much debate, though most wildlife experts agree that they are not effective.
How to get rid of moles using plants as deterrents
Home remedies such as planting marigolds, fritillarias, alliums, and the castor bean plant as mole barriers in the garden is often recommended, but in my experience, doing so provides little to no success.
Should you get rid of grubs to get rid of moles?
It’s often recommended that gardeners attempt to get rid of any grubs feeding on their lawn as a first step in figuring out how to get rid of moles in yard and gardens. Yes, moles eat grubs; in fact, they’re great at helping to manage Japanese and oriental beetle populations. But, getting rid of grubs won’t necessarily get rid of moles. Instead, wiping out the grubs may force the moles to create more tunnels to find food. They may also turn to eating more earthworms and other soil-dwelling insects, something that may prove more harmful than beneficial. Grub management is not always an effective solution for mole control, but if you want to give it a go, I recommend spraying your yard with beneficial nematodes or milky spore every spring.
Are a few soil mounds in your lawn really worth the fight?
As you can see, it can take a good bit of effort to control moles in the yard, but it’s definitely doable if you’re willing to dedicate the time and money to do so. Some gardeners prefer to just look the other way and try their best to remember that moles help aerate the lawn and control several different turf grass pests. For those gardeners, moles are nothing more than an occasional nuisance. Whether you see moles as friends or foes is up to you.
For more on animals and insects in the landscape, be sure to read the following articles:
How to manage deer in the garden
Guide to vegetable garden pests
Building a wildlife-friendly garden
5 facts about ladybugs you don’t know
Have you faced mole damage in your yard? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.