If you have ever walked across your lawn and thought you were walking on a sponge or looked across your manicured outdoor living space and thought a group of miniature miners were building tunnels looking for gold, then you might have moles.
Moles are small mammals that feed primarily on insects (grubs, earthworms, etc.). They are small (4-8” on average), have a long snout, web-like clawed feet perfect for digging, and are grayish in color with velvety fur.
Moles can be a homeowner’s nemesis. Not only are their tunnels unsightly, they can also damage the turf you are working so hard to perfect. Moles are surprisingly resilient and difficult to control. By understanding more about a mole’s lifestyle, there may be hope for your lawn.
Environment: Moles live underground (I know, shocker) . During the wet spring and fall they come to the surface to forage thus causing those pesky problems. Although you may not see them during winter, they are still there. Moles travel deep in the ground when the weather doesn’t suit them.
Reproduction: Moles reproduce once a year, usually mid April through early May. They have 2-3 babies that are fully grown within two months.
Eating Habits: Moles are insectivores. Contrary to popular opinion, a mole’s primary food source is earthworms, not grubs. J. Roberts of the UNH extension office says that moles can eat 60-80% of their body weight each day. That comes out to 40 pounds of food each year (per mole!).
Control: Using the term mole control may be an overstatement. You may be able to limit their damage, but true control is setting the bar too high. If you ask ten homeowners how to control moles you will probably get ten different answers. Here are some of the more popular ones:
- Castor Oil: thought to coat the insect and cause “digestive discomfort” to the moles, it only encourages moles to move to a clean area thus prolonging your mole issues.
- Insecticides: commonly used to kill grubs present in the lawn, insecticides only remove one of (and not the main) the mole’s food sources. Grubs in and of themselves can damage your turf, so it is still a good idea to treat for them… just don’t expect it to solve your mole problem.
- Poison Peanuts: If you go to your neighborhood lawn and garden store and ask for a mole solution you are likely to get a bottle of poison peanuts. These “peanuts” resemble rabbit food and are made from a compressed blend of hay, nuts and seeds. Though these may be effective on rodents (like mice or gophers) they are not effective on moles who only eat insects.
- Home Remedies: there are a myriad of “sure fire” home remedies you can find online. These range from putting human hair to razor blades in the mole tunnels. Bubblegum, vibration devices, pickle juice, moth balls, and so many other are at the least ineffective and can even be a hazard to you and your family.
- Trapping: one permanent solution is trapping. You can pick up several different types of traps from our neighborhood lawn and garden center. They key to success is following the instructions to the letter. Just to be clear, “trapping” does not mean a catch-and-release program, they quickly and efficiently kill the moles thus creating a permanent solution. Trapping takes some time and patience, but in the end it can be an effective way to eliminate the moles.
- Baits: These look like worms or grubs. Considering the fact that worms are the main part of a mole’s diet, poison worms would be a logical control method. These worms resemble earthworms and, when placed properly in the mole tunnels, provide surprisingly effective results. Again, following the directions exactly ensures good results. One additional step Cullen suggests is wearing gloves when handling the worms. This will keep your scent off the worms so it doesn’t alert the moles that something “fishy” is up.
- NC State University recommends an alternative solution: “Before initiating a control program for moles, be sure that they are truly out of place. Moles play an important role in the management of soil and of grubs that destroy lawns. Tunneling through the soil and shifting of soil particles permits better aeration of the soil and subsoil, carrying humus further down and bringing the subsoil nearer the surface where the elements of plant food may be made available.”
So… an integrated action plan can manage your moles and mole symptoms, but there is no permanent solution.
Keith L. Smith, Associate Vise President for Ag. Admin. and Director, OSU Extension “Effective Mole Control” W-11-2002
Kevin Frank, Michigan State University Extension, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. “What works and doesn’t to deter moles from tunneling in turf” April 15, 2011
John M. Roberts, UNH Extension Turf Specialist, and Virginia Hast, Program associate, Agriculture Resources. “Moles in Home Lawns” February 2001