Q&A: Methods for Mole Control

Learn how to rid your garden of a pesky mole.

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Q: I have a major problem with moles. Sprays appear to work only for a week or two. I've tried to convince my wife we need a cat to help chase the moles away, but she doesn't want any pets.

A: A common misconception is that moles like to eat plant material, especially roots. This is not the case at all — they're insectivores who prefer a diet of insects and especially earthworms. Although gophers are notorious for causing widespread damage in the garden, moles can still be annoying to have around, especially if their tunnels are disturbing the root systems of your prized plants or the green lawn you've worked so hard to cultivate. (Determine if you have a mole or gopher problem in your yard.)

It's a good idea to employ a cat or dog to help solve your mole problem. They'll dig up and kill the pesky rodent though they may not actually eat it. But if you don't already have a pet who likes to dig, it might not be worth it to get one just for pest removal.

Although it may seem as if you have a voracious mole problem, it's more likely that you have only one or two pests in your yard. In an average yard, one mole can burrow several feeding runs that extend all over the yard, making it seem as there are dozens of moles.

Sprays, repellents, ultrasonic devices and home remedies such as human hair and concoctions made from items in the kitchen pantry don't provide consistent, effective controls for populations. Trying to rid soils of the insects that moles eat for food is also ineffective.

There are many poison controls available for getting rid of moles and other critters. And they would be effective against moles if you could only get them to eat the poison, says Dr. James Pease, extension wildlife specialist at Iowa State University. These poisons are plant-based and so hold very little interest for the carnivorous mole. There is a relatively new product called Talpirid that has shown promise. It comes in the shape of worms (which are attractive to moles) but contains bromethalin, a chemical that carries a lethal punch. However, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of this treatment. (Because this product looks like gummy worms but contains a pesticide, keep it out of reach from children.)

Trapping is the most effective method of treating the problem. With traps, though you may have a carcass or live animal to remove, you're sure you've gotten rid of the animal. With poisons and other methods, the animal may die or move to another part of the landscape without your ever really knowing if you solved the problem.

Quick-kill traps are quite effective. With moles, a good time to set traps is after a good rain. Think about it — earthworms come to the surface after it rains due to the abundance of moisture in the ground. The mole will follow the food source, making it a better opportunity to capture the critter.

It's possible to capture a mole without killing it. To do this, find the active run. This is typically a straight tunnel that comes from a deeper area where the mole resides in a nest. You can find the active run by looking for raised areas on the ground where the mole's tunneling has uplifted the earth. These are often areas that exhibit moisture problems. Flatten the raised turf with your foot. Because the runs are often used daily, check back every few hours to see if the turf has been pushed back up. When you've determined the active run, dig a hole in the bottom, or floor of the tunnel, deep enough so that the lip of a three-pound coffee can is even with the floor of the tunnel. Insert the can into the hole and conceal the hole with a piece of plywood or a metal cover. When the mole comes back through the run, it will fall into the can. You can then carefully remove the can and set the mole loose in another location. Just make sure that wherever you set the mole loose, you have permission and it is legal to do so.

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