Home & Garden

The secret to outing a mole

The Iowa Gardener | Veronica Lorson Fowler

Got moles? The best way to deal with moles is to either trap them or repair your lawn in their wake.

Unfortunately, it can be a continuous process. When I go out and see how moles have ripped up my lawn once again, I take a deep breath and try to remember all the good they do. They mix and aerate the soil, improving its texture. Also, their presence is a sign of soil health. Moles thrive in soils filled with earthworms, which fertilize and enrich the soil tremendously.

That said, I wish I could get rid of every last mole. Unfortunately, it’s far easier said than done. Some key bits of information on coping with moles:

l Are you sure the problem is a mole? Mole damage looks very much like damage done by pocket gophers, voles, and other small mammals. Attempts to control the moles will not work on these other animals.

l Sprays, gizmos, and home remedies don’t work.

According to Iowa State University wildlife specialists, research shows time and time again that sprays, repellents, ultrasonic devices, human hair, chewing gum, and the like don’t provide consistent, effective control for moles.

l Getting rid of grubs doesn’t work.

According to ISU, the main insect moles like eat is earthworms. They also eat a variety of insects, grubs among them. Treat grubs only if the grubs themselves are damaging your lawn--not because you want to get rid of moles. Moles have plenty of other things to munch on.

l Poisons are problematic.

Commerical mole poisons work in killing moles, but only if you can get the moles to eat them. They’re usually plant-based and moles like meat (i.e. insects). Also, the poison needs to be placed where the mole is going to be--they don’t revisit tunnels. Moles plow through the soil to devour the insects in it, leaving tunnels in their wake. So you have to anticipate where the mole is heading--which is next to impossible.

l Dogs and cats can help.

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A dog or cat may trap or kill a mole, either eating it or leaving the carcass lying around. Also, a dog may dig up the tunnel to get to the mole, which gets rid of the mole but makes a mess of another sort.

l Trapping, if you’re willing to do it, works.

Trapping is the most effective method for dealing with moles. But, of course, you also have to figure out the trap, be diligent and knowledgeable in setting it, and then you have a carcass or live animal to remove. Quick-kill traps are especially effective but take skill and diligence, just as with trapping in the wild. (Iowa State has an excellent flyer of information on moles and trapping at https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2010/6-9/moles.html)

Another alternative is to find a professional who will trap and remove the carcasses for you. But that can be expensive. I got a quote from one professional at $50 a mole. And how many moles might he catch? I live in an older neighborhood, built in the 1920s, nicely wooded with rich black old soil. “In a neighborhood like that, I could catch a mole a day every day.”

I decided my lawn could sustain the damage but my pocketbook couldn’t.

l Deal with the damage.

In the end, this is my only real alternative, and probably yours, too. A single mole can rip up to 14 feet of tunnel a day. To repair this, simply walk along the tunnel to collapse it. This is especially important right before mowing or the mower can scalp the tunnel.

Each spring and fall, sprinkle bare spots with lawn seed heavily. Work the seed in lightly with a trowel or your hand. Water gently and then daily for the next two weeks

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