Strolling across your lush, manicured lawn, something isn’t quite right. As you process the strange raised trails that now crisscross the canvas of green, your next step tells the tale. Your foot sinks into the turf and your heart sinks in your chest.
Congratulations. You have moles.
That may sound like sarcasm, but those depressing tunnels that now mar your previously pristine turf mean that your hard work has paid off. The rich soil and ample moisture conditions of a well-maintained lawn have resulted in a yard brimming with delicious underground life. Those tasty grubs and plump, luscious earthworms are the mainstays of a mole’s diet. Small solace, but if your lawn wasn’t doing as well as it is, these pesky varmints wouldn’t be all that interested in screwing it up.
These members of the shrew family are roughly 6 inches in length and weigh in at 4 to 5 ounces. Contrary to common belief, they are not plant eaters, but voracious insectivores, consuming up to 90% of their weight in grubs, worms and bugs each and every day. Although these carnivores aren’t gobbling up your plants, they still give the home gardener reason to worry.
It is certainly possible to live in harmony with moles. It’s not all bad. The tunneling they are known for does have a positive impact by way of soil aeration and a little help keeping the insect population down doesn’t hurt. Often, though, the cons quickly outweigh the pros. We’ve all seen the damage done as a lawn is scarred by shallow tunneling, completed at breakneck speeds of up to 18 feet per hour. Below ground, the effects can be even more devastating as root systems are disrupted, inhibiting turf growth and damaging cultivated plants. Those tunnels will also draw traffic from critters like field mice or voles, who will happily munch away on exposed roots.
Evicting moles can be challenging. If you are disinclined, as I am, to go mole hunting with poisons or spear or loop traps (many of which are illegal in some states) or going all Whack-A-Mole with a shovel, getting a cat or dog to do your dirty work is a possibility. More humane options are available, though, and you won’t have to pretend the mole carcass that Pumpkin just left at your feet is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
The primary complaint against these burrowers is usually visible damage to turf. One solution is to replace grassy areas with gardens, hedges or other ground coverings. For many, this may be impractical. If the lawn isn’t going anywhere, moles can be discouraged from digging shallow tunnels that damage the turf. Take care not to overwater, as the excess water draws worms and grubs to the surface where the moles are soon to follow. Each time surface tunnels do appear, collapsing the tunnel completely by foot or by shovel will eventually drive moles to dig deeper. Fair warning, this may take a little while and a lot of patience.
Sometimes though, peaceful coexistence just isn’t an option. Mole deterrents from pickle juice to vibrating windmills have been employed over the years to limited success. Chemical treatments are numerous, but the solution may be as simple as selecting the right plants. Marigolds, allium, fritillaria and daffodils planted along the perimeter of the lawn are all natural, effective and beautiful mole repellents. Garlic and shallots also discourage moles and the castor bean plant gets the job done as well, although it is considered poisonous and should not be used where pets or children may be exposed.
If moles have already moved in, it may take a little more encouragement to send them packing. Castor oil is a proven winner when it comes to safe, non-lethal mole eradication. Using a garden hose and sprayer, one quart of castor oil will treat 5000 square feet of lawn. Castor oil is also available in granule form and can be broadcast with coverage of 1000 square feet per pound.
Cheap, effective and no Whack-A-Mole training required.