If you’ve had your garden invaded and plants destroyed by moles like we have, you’re probably ready to declare war on these unwelcome subterranean invaders.

First, are moles good for anything? Well, they do eat fire ants and beetle grubs and aerate the soil, but otherwise they tend to do more damage than good. Let’s dig in a bit more.

What Do Moles Eat?

  1. Moles are not rodents but insectivores subsisting exclusively on bugs, larvae, worms and other invertebrates. Therefore:
  2. Moles do not eat plant material. Their dental structure is suited for worms, grubs, and the like. They even eat fire ants.
  3. Most often, it’s the best kept yards that have the worst mole issues.

This may sound counter intuitive but it’s all related to underground biomass, and well watered, well fertilized landscapes and lawns have a lot of biomass. This would include food gardens. A mole’s territorial range can be as vast as 2.7 acres, so mole extermination can seem daunting, and while it’s not easy, it’s possible with diligence.1)https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-9095.pdf

A Fateful Discovery

So, we came to garden one fine day in April and noticed the soil around our raised bed plantings was fairly riddled with uplifted ridges. Darn! Using a cane pole as a poker, we traced tunnels that seemed to run in all directions, even in places where the soil appeared normal. Sad little seedlings lay wilted up and down the rows. First came anger at the marauding varmint, and then anger at myself for not putting in a hardware cloth barrier as we were building the raised beds. CWS – Coulda, woulda, and (definitely) shoulda.

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We’d discovered a matrix of surface tunnels. The mole (we presume just one) was essentially soil surfing looking for invertebrate tasties and quite heedless of the collateral damage. Our enriched garden beds had lots of worms. Good for us and good for Mr. Mole.

Moles dig three kinds of tunnels, though all types may not be present at every site. There’ are the surface tunnels, but think of them as the top layer in a 3D Tic Tac Toe game. Under them lie the main tunnels used to move about and these tend to be permanent. And then there are the nests, larger spaces filled with grass, roots, and leaves for nesting and winter protection.

The Down and Dirty on How to Control Moles

There’s a lot more to understanding moles, their habits, and their subterranean existence. We’ve sourced most of the above information from an article put out by the University of Arkansas. 2)https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-9095.pdf

Natural and Organic Mole Control

Of course, the burning question is the one we asked that day we discovered the mole tunnels: what natural and organic mole control can we deploy to stop moles from destroying our garden plants? Our first resort was an organic type repellent consisting of castor oil and pepper. The product comes in granules that can be spread in a spreader, a shaker container, or by hand. We often use a 32 ounce yogurt container with holes punched in the lid or bottom.

The directions advised watering the treated area immediately for 1/2 hour. Upon repeated treatments, waterings and pre-rain applications, there was little sign of the mole vacating. We even poked holes in the surface tunnels and sifted the pellets into them. No observed effect.

Mole Poisons for Serious Mole Extermination?

We might have escalated to using mole poison such as poison peanuts (hard to understand that theory since they are insectivores), or used BT /Dipel (which will take out grubs but not their favorite earthworms), gassing, impaling, or haphazardly stabbing the tunnels with a spade fork.3)http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/g3200.pdf

Instead, we didn’t do anything further than punch holes up and down the rows wherever we traced tunnels, and added that castor oil and pepper blend of Molmax mole repellent. We also put a good 4 inch layer of compost around the plants. But that’s it!

At first it seemed like it wasn’t working. The moles were winning.

But now, for whatever reason, there is barely any more sign of mole tunneling or plant damage. Put that in the category of “go figure”. Perhaps the repeated treatments with the repellent did finally take effect, after a couple weeks of diligent application. Perhaps, the mole just moved on.  We have another plausible notion that’s mentioned further on.

At any rate, from now on we’ll likely shift toward all raised bed gardens with barriers and straw bales. Next time we build a raised bed, here’s what we’ll do.

Small gardens, raised beds and other small, highly valued areas may be protected with a mole barrier. Use 24-inch widths of sheet metal or hardware cloth to create a fence dug 12 inches deep into the soil, with the bottom bent outward at a 90° angle for 6–8 inches. Only a few inches need to remain above the soil surface.Such a barrier will require a significant excavation.4)http://learningstore.uwex.edu/assets/pdfs/g3200.pdf

Some Mole-Ridding Methods are a Toss-upshutterstock_318173921

People should beware of false claims about schemes to drive moles away. Many books and magazines having to do with gardening and landscaping have references or advertising concerning bizarre strategies to control moles. These include putting mothballs, human hair, razor blades, or chewing gum in their tunnels, or using pinwheels or ultrasonic devices to scare moles away. The reality is that these just do not work. 5)https://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/expert/Moles.html
Note: A survey of scientific research supports the above statement with the possible exception of castor oil formulations, though the evidence is thin (other than on-line Amazon reviews of the products). Other means, such as a specific kind of chewing gum, dog or cat feces, piping in car exhaust or propane (shades of Caddyshack!) render mixed results. Users either swear by them or swear at them.

Dogs, Cats and Black Rat Snakes

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There are natural predators. Dogs and cats qualify. Our semi-feral cat has nabbed one mole so far this season. Dogs have been touted as effective terminators but for the damage they leave behind.

A category of predators rarely mentioned is snakes.

We have several that roam our garden. A large black rat snake got accidentally trapped in a temporary fence of bird mesh. We freed it and got rid of the mesh, but it may not return. We also have spied a kingsnake moving about the garden. Both of these (and other types) seem well suited to hunt down moles, voles, and shrews. And they do! So before taking a hoe to a serpentine intruder consider how it might be a friendly. Of course venomous snakes are not welcome and we’ve transplanted a number of copperheads to the hinterlands.

What Definitely Works

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The only two methods of effectively controlling moles are to (1) to use a bait that they are attracted to OR (2) to physically remove them. A fairly new bait that has been proven to be effective is packaged and sold in the form of a worm. The attractive smell and taste that is incorporated into the worm, together with Bromethalin (the active ingredient that poisons the mole), makes for a lethal combination.
Warning! Before launching into lethal methods, be sure you know what the laws are in your state. Here in NC, the application of lethal baits by homeowners was allowed only as of last year. Currently, the homeowner must obtain a permit (!!!) to trap (kill) moles or hire a licensed Pest Control Agent. Other states and regions will vary, so check to see what those restrictions might be.  6)http://www.buncombemastergardener.org/mole-control-tools-north-carolina/

Whether using traps or worm-shaped baits, placement is critical. Choose a run that the mole uses regularly. Usually this is a run that is in a straight line as opposed to squiggly tunnels that are generally used for food foraging only. The best straight runs follow a structural guideline such as a curb or a gutter, because these are used regularly as the moles travel from their nest to the foraging area. To determine if a run is active, stomp it down flat then check the following day to see if it is pushed back up. If the tunnel has been repaired, it is usually an active tunnel and should be considered for trapping or baiting.

Mole traps and baits are available at most hardware, home repair and farm supply stores, generally right there in the middle of a bunch of mole control products that do NOT work. Buyer beware! 7)https://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/expert/Moles.html
We are not big fans of lethal controls, but we accept the choice is out there for those seeking a “final” solution.
We are inclined toward natural approach allowing for things balance out eventually. Like letting non-venomous snakes roam and “patrol” the garden. Building the soil all around the property so the moles have optimal food locations other than just the garden. And of course applying what we’re learning along the way.

Lessons Learned

When we built another raised bed for our tomatoes, we laid down hardware cloth as a barrier. And when we go to revamp our previous raised beds, we’ll do the same. This is certainly a case proving an ounce of prevention betters a pound of cure.
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In the long haul, moles are here to stay.

Their elusive lifestyle and ability to form extensive networks of underground tunnels and chambers make them difficult to control. Some farmers have trapped more than 100 moles in a single season, only to be faced with the same degree of mole infestation the following spring. As a result, when large populations of moles invade a lawn, all control measures are short-term and partial.
Peaceful coexistence may be the best strategy for dealing with moles. Mole activity should subside later in the spring once the ground dries out. In the meantime, continue to press down ridges and mounds by stepping on them and tamping down firmly. Smooth out mounds of excavated dirt with a garden rake. Some light over-seeding may be necessary. 8)https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000563_Rep585.pdf
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Good luck getting rid of those moles!


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Coleman Alderson is author of the Mountain Whispers series and frequent blogger on LittleRedPill.com. "I see myself as an outlier, a free-market entrepreneur, an eclectic reader and devout learner, a devoted family guy, a plantsman, a home designer-builder-remodeler, a conscious environmentalist, and a friend to humanity." He holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. "But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And the beauty of gardening is that those lessons never end!"