Moles are small subterranean mammals that are uniquely adapted for their underground lifestyle. Everything from their digger-like claws to their thick fur, which even covers their sensitive eyes and ears, makes them supreme burrowers—and very strange-looking creatures! Moles are also set apart from most other garden pests because they do not actually eat your plants; they are after all the insects and earthworms in your soil. But the extensive digging done by moles in your yard is, nonetheless, damaging to your plants and lawn.
Moles are not dangerous but can cause damage to lawns and gardens. 6 ways to stop moles from digging holes in your yard:
- Trap and remove them humanely.
- Use lethal traps.
- Use pesticides.
- Remove attractions.
- Repel them out of their tunnels and away from your yard.
- Create physical barriers.
Unfortunately, moles are not the only burrowing pests you can have in your yard; voles and pocket gophers, who do eat the roots of your plants, can also be problematic. So, identifying the handiwork of moles is the first step to stopping them from digging holes in your yard. Then you can move on to getting these critters off of your property!
Signs That Moles Are In Your Garden
The tell-tale molehill, a volcano-like mound of loose soil rising from your pristine lawn and among your flower bushes or tidy rows of vegetables, is a definitive sign of moles. These molehills are usually relatively small in size, moles are only about seven inches long, but the molehills can be up to a foot in diameter! Molehills mark entry and exit points for moles.
The tunneling systems of moles undermine the integrity of your lawn and gardens and can create soft spots. You are not likely to be walking through your flower beds often, but you may find these weak points as you walk on your lawn or through your vegetable garden. You can sometimes see a small dip indicating locations where the structural integrity of the ground has been compromised. Other times, you will only find the soft spots as they collapse when you walk over them.
Moles don’t only make deep tunnels that can cause the ground to sink inwards. Some temporary tunnels are formed right under the ground’s surface, creating ridges of raised turf and soil that crisscross over your lawn and gardens.
Mole Behavior: Knowing Where They Will Be And When
To get rid of moles in your garden and stop them from coming in, you need to understand what attracts them and when they are most active.
Moles are attracted to soils that are rich in organic matter, such as moist loamy soil. Therefore, they will target shady areas where the sun cannot quickly dry out the ground, well-watered spots (like your flower beds and vegetable gardens), and areas where there is poor drainage. Moles eat insects and other invertebrates but are particularly partial to earthworms, which are also attracted to moist soil.
Moles are at their most active during the spring and fall, early in the mornings and evenings. Their tunnels are usually around twelve to eighteen inches below the surface of the ground. These animals do not live in groups. Mole pups don’t even stay with their mothers for longer than six weeks.
If you have more than one mole in your yard at a time, there are three possible reasons:
- You have a massive yard with enough territory for more than one mole.
- It’s the breeding season (generally sometime between February and May, depending on the mole species), and a mole of the opposite sex has joined your resident mole, or your yard is hosting a mother and her pups.
- You have an alarmingly extensive insect and grub infestation. In this case, the moles may be just the start of your troubles!
Ways To Stop Moles From Digging Holes In The Yard
Without further ado, here are six ways you take preventative measures to get rid of moles:
1. Setting Up Traps In Your Yard & Releasing Them Elsewhere
The trapping and relocating of wildlife is illegal in some states, so make sure you check with the relevant authorities before attempting non-lethal trapping and relocation of these critters.
Catch Them In The Act
If you catch a mole in the act, in other words, if you actually see the moving dirt as the mole digs its way beneath your lawn, you can catch it quite easily. All you will need is a shovel or two, a pair of gardening gloves (or other thick gloves), and a plastic bucket.
You can increase your chances of catching moles in the act by collapsing and compacting their tunnels, forcing them to dig them out again. You can then see this movement more clearly from the surface.
Stand well away from the spot you hope they will return to; you don’t want them to smell you or detect any vibrations that will keep them away. One creative person even suggests putting a plastic bag down over the tunnel and putting a baby monitor onto this bag. You can then go into your house and wait in comfort for the sound of rustling plastic to be picked up on the monitor, indicating the return of the mole.
Take a shovel and dig up the spot around the moving ground. Remember to dig the sharp edge deep into the soil before lifting it not to hurt the mole. Moles are actually relatively quick diggers, so you can try embedding a shovel on either side of the moving ground to trap them before digging them up. When you have unearthed the mole, grab it (wear your gloves) and put it in the plastic bucket to be relocated.
Because moles don’t live in groups, you should sort this problem out unless a new mole moves into the existing tunnel system or the first mole comes back. The likelihood of a second mole moving in depends on how prolific they are in your area. The probability of the first mole returning depends on where you relocated it (how far away).
There are ways to repel or block moles from your yard once you have gotten rid of them. We will discuss these methods in later sections.
Retail Humane Traps
There are humane traps, such as the one linked here, that are available online. The effectiveness of these traps is not guaranteed. But if you want to try the non-lethal route first, it won’t hurt to try these or similar traps.
When using humane traps, you have to check them every few hours so that the moles don’t die of starvation or dehydration in the trap. Moles require and consume large quantities of calories each day, so they cannot go without food for too long.
Having to check humane traps so often can reduce their effectiveness because you are continually disturbing the tunnel and putting your scent on the trap. Instead, use the habits of a mole to increase your chances of catching them; set the traps early in the morning and evenings when the moles are most active.
You will need to set these humane traps in an active tunnel. To find an active tunnel, you can try collapsing a molehill or known section of the tunnel, and if, after a few days, it has been excavated or pushed out again, you know that the underlying tunnel is in use.
If the mole has not been caught in the trap after two days, move the trap to a new location. You can mark the spot with a distinctive stick, rock, flag, etc.
DIY Humane Traps
You can try setting up your own humane mole trap using a tub that is too deep for a mole to escape. Locate an active tunnel as described above and dig down. Dig past the floor of the tunnel, creating a hole large enough to fit the tub.
Place the tub snugly into this slot and cover the opening in the ground with a piece of wood or a chunk of sod to block out the light. The idea is that the mole will move along the tunnel and fall into the tub. It is more effective if the tunnel on either side of the hole is blocked, forcing the mole to re-dig it.
Once again, check the traps to ensure the mole does not die before it can be relocated, and move it to a new location if not successful in two days.
2. Use Lethal Traps
You need to check if lethal trapping is legal in your state or country; if it is, you will need to apply for a permit before you start. In some countries, moles are even a protected species.
Lethal traps are effective, poison-free, and act quickly, minimizing the mole’s suffering.
Moles spend very little time above the ground, so you have to set the traps into their underground tunnel systems.
Locate the active tunnels in which to put the traps. As mentioned previously, you can try collapsing or compressing a molehill or portion of a tunnel, and if it is pushed back up a few days later, the tunnel is in active use.
Dig a tight hole down into the tunnel and insert the trap of your choice. Then put a clump of sod or a piece of wood on top to block out the light that your excavations let into the tunnel. Check the traps every two days. If a trap has not caught the mole, move it to a different tunnel. There is no need to bait these traps.
There are several lethal mole traps available online and in your local pest control store. Most work on a spring catch. Some spring catches trigger a cinching mechanism; others trigger harpoon or impaling mechanisms; and other trigger scissor jaw mechanisms.
If you are loath to do the trapping yourself, or if you have been trying and failing for a few months, you can hire a professional mole-catcher to help.
3. Using Pesticides
You need to be careful when using pesticides at home to harm pets, children, and non-pestilential wildlife on contact or by entering the food chain. Whenever you use a pesticide, you have to follow the manufacturer’s directions closely. These should be provided on the packaging.
You can purchase mole pesticides online or at a pest-control store. Place the pesticides into the tunnels as directed on the product.
Some people use pesticides that produce toxic gases that permeate through the tunneling system. These include:
- Acetylene gas, produced by calcium carbide
- Phosphine gas, which is produced by aluminum phosphide
- Nitrogen gas
4. Remove The Mole Attractions
The effectiveness of this method is based on an entirely un-neighborly principle: you don’t need to make your yard entirely unattractive for moles as this is mostly impossible; you have to make it less attractive than your neighbors’ yards. If the moles can get better food next door, they may move out of your yard or stop trying to come back after you have ousted them.
- Reduce the mole’s food sources: You can use pesticides to kill off some of the mole’s food sources, such as lawn grubs. Castor oil spray is a natural alternative to pesticides. Mix castor oil with a solubilizer like a dish soap and add it to a spray bottle of water. The solubilizer is needed to allow the castor oil to disperse in the water. You can then treat the lawn and garden with this spray.
It is neither practical nor possible to kill off all the insects, grubs, and worms in your yard’s soil. Earthworms, especially, are suitable for your soil. But if you can make your yard less appealing than the surrounding areas, the mole might move out on its own accord.
- Reduce the moisture content of your yard: If you are not an avid gardener, you can consider taking up your flower gardens and replacing them and your existing lawn with hardy, drought-resistant grass such as Tall Fescue and St. Augustine grass.
Grasses like these require little water to survive, so you can limit the moisture content of your yard, making it less attractive to moles, which prefer moist soil. If you still like your flowers, you can put them in pots instead. If you still want a vegetable garden, you can make this in raised box beds with water catch trays underneath it.
This will allow you to freely water your vegetables without increasing the moisture content of the lawn, and you can also recycle the water caught in the tray.
A bonus benefit of this method is that earthworms, a mole’s favorite food, are also attracted to moist soil. So, by reducing the moisture content of the ground, you are discouraging earthworms from living in your soil, reducing the mole’s food supply.
Of course, if you live in a place where it rains heavily and frequently during the spring and fall when moles are most active, this somewhat extreme approach is less likely to be effective.
5. Repel The Moles Yourself
Mole repelling methods are not always effective. However, as most of them are inexpensive and relatively harmless, it is worth giving them a try. Especially if you are attempting to treat your mole problem humanely or you are trying to prevent other moles from moving in after you get rid of the first mole.
As with reducing a mole’s food supply in your yard, mole repellents work better if the surrounding areas offer less resistance to the mole’s presence. You also have to be persistent and patient. Make the mole’s life in your yard miserable enough, and he might choose to move out on his own.
- Sonic or ultrasonic devices: These devices are designed to emit frequencies repellent to a mole, either by being physically offensive or by mimicking the sound frequencies produced by other moles. As moles tend to stay away from one another, the false sound of another mole is supposed to deter them from entering your yard. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of ultrasonic and sonic devices is inconclusive.
- Castor oil spray repellent: Castor oil spray not only kills the insects on which moles feed, but the smell of castor oil also repels the moles themselves. You can spray the castor oil solution at the tunnel entrances and exits and even along the length of the tunnels if you can follow them.
- Retail mole repellents: You can purchase non-pesticide mole repellents to spray or place in the mole’s tunnels.
- Plant mole-repelling plants: People report that certain plants repel moles, including Marigolds, shallots, garlic, onion, and daffodils. These plants are less likely to run a mole out of your yard unless you plant them everywhere, but they may be enough to prevent the mole from coming back into your yard if you plant them around the perimeter.
- Increase mole predator presence: Moles are preyed on by birds like owls and hawks. You can set up hides and perches that encourage the presence of these birds in your yard. However, you also have to consider the safety of your pets; if they are small enough, they may also become prey to these birds. Additionally, these birds will chase away smaller local birdlife, so if you are an avid birdwatcher, you may wish to avoid this technique unless you are desperate.
If you own a cat, you can try sprinkling their used litter sand into the entrances and exits of the mole’s tunnels. Cats are also natural mole predators, and the smell will make the mole think that a cat is nearby, which can chase them away.
Other repellents that people recommend putting in and around tunnel entrances and exits:
- Blood meal.
- Coffee grounds.
- Cayenne pepper.
- Roofing tar.
6. Creating Physical Barriers
If you are landscaping a new yard in an area known to struggle with moles, you can be front-footed and imbed a wire mesh or hardware cloth frame below the entire yard. Depending on how big your yard is, this can be a costly task, so consider carefully.
It is wise to sink the mesh twelve to eighteen inches into the ground, and the mesh apertures must be small enough to stop a seven-inch long, four-ounce mole from passing through but large enough to allow roots to grow through if they need to go deeper than twelve to eighteen inches.
The mesh should have raised sides along the boundary of the yard to prevent moles from digging in horizontally.
Of course, sinking a mesh into an established yard is not an option. However, you can install the mesh if you build new flower beds or vegetable gardens. This will at least protect your flowers and vegetables, even if your lawn is still vulnerable.
You can try sinking a vertical sheet of wire mesh or hardware cloth twelve to eighteen inches into the ground along the boundaries of your yard. A mole encountering this may find it easier to go somewhere else rather than tunnel all the way under the mesh.
If Moles Don’t Eat Plants And Roots, Why Are My Plants Dying Or Being Eaten?
The extensive tunneling system created by moles can disturb the root system of lawns, flower beds, and vegetable gardens, causing damage to root systems. Plants with damaged root systems can be stunted and may even die if the damage is extensive enough.
Moles are continuously making new tunnels, and their underground roadways provide pests like weasels and voles, who do eat your plants, with easy access to your garden plants’ roots. If these animals eat the roots, your plants will die, and it will look like moles are the culprits.
Earthworms are suitable for the health of your soil. They provide physical, chemical, and biological benefits. However, they are also the preferred meal for moles. So, moles can reduce the health of your soil by eating all the earthworms.
As a result, this soil, which was once full of the vital nutrients that allowed your plants to flourish, will lack these sustaining compounds and minerals, unable to support healthy plant growth.
Moles: They Are Not All Bad
Moles are not dangerous to you, your pets, and other, less pestilential wildlife. This is usually what drives people to attempt more humane methods for getting rid of moles. There are even two benefits to having moles, although these benefits seldom outweigh the damage that they can cause.
- First, the tunnels that moles create provide beneficial aeration for the soil.
- Second, their insectivorous nature can help to keep other garden pests, like grubs, under control.
While moles can provide beneficial aeration to soil and help control garden invertebrate pests, these pros are often outweighed by the damage that they cause to root systems. By tunneling, moles can damage the root systems in your yard or expose these root systems to other pests, like voles, who eat the roots and kill your plants. Moles also undermine the integrity of your lawn and the health of your soil.
When you find ridges crisscrossing your lawn and gardens, start noticing soft spots that collapse when you walk on them and spot the tell-tale molehills, you’ve got a mole problem.
The most effective method of mole extermination is trapping. There are many different types of lethal mechanical traps on the market, but you can also buy or make humane traps. Before trapping, you always need to check the state and country laws governing trap killing, trapping, and relocating wildlife. Other less effective ways to stop moles from digging holes in your yard include pesticide use, natural repellents, and physical barriers.
The upside is that you are unlikely to have a mole infestation in your yard. They are solitary mammals, so if you catch one, you have usually caught all the moles in your yard (unless you have a massive yard). However, other moles can move into the existing tunnels, and you may have to catch several before the tunnels go dormant.