How to Get Rid of Moles and Voles
Find out the difference between moles and voles and learn how to get rid of moles and voles so these burrowing varmints don't turn your lawn or garden into their playpen.
Mounds of soil, raised tunnels and soft spots in your yard are common signs of moles. In general, only two or three of these solitary animals will inhabit an acre of land.
You're strolling across your beautiful lawn when you notice something isn't right. Strange, raised trails zigzag across the grass, and with your next step, your foot sinks into the ground. You may have moles, little animals that live underground and feast on grubs, earthworms and insects. Unless you learn how to get rid of them, they can destroy your well-maintained lawn.
Moles aren't the only troublesome garden pests. Voles can devour your flower bulbs, munch on the roots of your carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables, damage your trees and shrubs, eat your grass and leave well-worn paths through your yard. Learn how to get rid of of moles and voles before they ruin your landscape.
What Are Moles?
Moles belong to the shrew family. They're roughly seven inches long from their snouts to their tails and weigh two to four ounces. Because of their small size, they can be in your yard and you won't know it until you spot their tunnels and volcano-shaped mounds or step into a soft spot they've created. Many people think they eat plants, but they're really voracious insectivores, gobbling up 90 percent of their weight in bugs, worms and other creatures every day. They have tiny eyes, so they can't see well, and ears under their thick fur, which is usually brown, black or gray. They dig with the big claws on their paddle-shaped front feet.
Moles aren't all bad. Their tunnels can help aerate your soil, and their appetites help keep down insect pests. But while you can live in harmony with moles, the cons usually outweigh the pros. Their tunnels, which are usually about ten inches below ground, can scar your lawn and damage the roots of your grass and cultivated plants, causing them to die. Their tunnels can attract field mice, voles and other wildlife that visit to dine on exposed roots.
Signs of Moles
How can you be sure you have moles? One sure sign is the presence of molehills, volcano-shaped mounds of loose soil they make at the entrances to their tunnels. Those tunnels cause soft areas in your yard that you sink into when you walk over them. Their tunnels are marked by raised ridges in the soil that crisscross your lawn. Moles can dig those underground tunnels at speeds of up to 18 feet per hour.
How to Get Rid of Moles
There are traps that will capture and kill moles — a surefire way to eliminate them, but they're illegal in some states. Besides, many gardeners want to use more humane methods to banish these unwanted visitors. Getting rid of moles without harming them can be a challenge, so be prepared to repeat your efforts or try different ways to get rid of them if something isn't working.
Apply castor oil. This multi-purpose vegetable oil is often effective in eliminating moles because it makes the soil smell bad to them (you may notice a faint odor). Castor oil doesn't kill these animals, but it does upset their digestive systems. Look for repellants in liquid or granular form and apply as directed on the product label; be sure the one you choose is safe to use around any pets or children you may have. If you prefer, use a quart of castor oil and a sprayer attached to your garden hose to treat up to 5000 square feet of lawn.
Tidy up. Moles like to hide, so keep your grass mowed and your beds manicured. Don't use thick layers of mulch, which you should never pile up against tree trunks or plant stems anyway, as it can attract insect pests and cause decay. Also, remove stacks of wood and piles of leaves and other debris.
Replace grass. Since moles primarily damage turf, another option is to replace grassy areas, although this isn't practical for some people. If it is, consider using shrubs, hedges or other ground coverings instead.
Grow protective plants. Some plants help deter moles. Put them around the perimeter of your lawn for a natural, effective and attractive mole repellent. Try marigolds, alliums, fritillarias, daffodils, garlic and shallots. Castor bean plant also works, but it's poisonous and should not be used anywhere around pets or children.
Cut back on watering. Excess water draws worms and grubs to the soil's surface, attracting hungry moles. Continue to water your lawn; just don't overwater.
Eliminate wet areas. Watch to see where water collects after it rains or after you water your garden or lawn. Areas that don't drain properly can attract moles since they like the insects that live in moist places. Moist soil is also easy for them to dig in. Use a shovel to level wet areas and improve the drainage, or call a professional landscaper for help.
Flatten tunnels. Use a shovel or your foot to push down and flatten mole tunnels. Be careful, since a mole may be in the tunnel. You'll need to be patient if you use this strategy. The tunnels are likely to pop back up again and again before the moles give up.
Encourage predators. Owls and hawks eat moles and voles, so invite them to your yard by installing a post 10 to 15 feet high. Add a one or two-inch diameter perch to give them a place to land and survey their surroundings. Foxes and snakes are other natural predators that may show up. If you have a cat or dog, your pet may dig up moles or voles and kill them.
Get rid of their food source. Make moles go hungry — and go somewhere else — by eliminating their favorite foods. You can buy beneficial nematodes, which are microscopic parasites that kill grubs, from some nurseries and garden centers and put them in your lawn. Eliminating the grubs can be a slow process. It can take as long as three years for the nematodes to form a colony big enough to kill off all the grubs. Milky spore powder will also banish grubs, although it works primarily on the grubs of Japanese beetles, so you may want to use both milky spore and nematodes. If you're willing to use an insecticide, buy a chemical grub killer. Always follow your product's directions.
Use a physical barrier. A regular fence won't discourage moles, as they dig deep into the soil, but a barrier around a small garden or other small area can work. To make the barrier, dig a trench 24 to 30 inches deep and line it with 1/4-inch galvanized hardware cloth or 36-inch wide aluminum sheeting. Fill in the trench with dirt, leaving six inches of the hardware cloth or sheeting above the surface of the soil.
Try a sonic device. Some gardeners say the high-frequency sound waves will drive moles away. There's not a lot of scientific evidence that they work and some frequencies can be heard by dogs, so research the product you're interested in before you buy.
How to Trap a Mole Without Killing It
When other methods fail, trapping is the most effective method of treating the problem. Many traps are quick-kill, but it is possible to capture a mole without killing it. Here's how:
- 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 raised the earth. These are often areas with moisture problems.
- Flatten the raised turf with your foot or a shovel. 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 found 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 cover the hole with a piece of plywood or a metal cover. When the mole pushes off the cover and tries to go back through the run, it will fall into the can.
- Check the can often to see if you're caught your quarry. Carefully remove the can and set the mole loose in another location. Just make sure that wherever you set it loose, you have permission and it is legal to do so.
What Are Voles?
Suspect voles if you see two-inch-wide paths, called runways, near the surface of your lawn. Their burrows are holes in the grass or around the base of trees.
Voles are sometimes called field or meadow mice, but they're actually small rodents that just look like mice. You can recognize them by their tiny eyes, small, mouse-like ears and short tails. Their fur ranges from gray to light brown and they can grow five to eight inches long.
The two main species of voles in North America are prairie voles and meadow voles. Both live only a year or two in the wild, but they're prolific. A female vole in a mild climate can bear up to 12 litters a year.
Voles eat primarily grass stems and blades with their big front teeth, and they love flower bulbs and the fleshy roots of perennials like daylilies and hostas. They can also damage shrubs and trees as they tunnel through their root systems and chew the bark at ground level.
These destructive little animals typically make above-ground "runways" to travel from one place to another. The runways, which are about two inches wide, also connect their underground burrows. Entrance holes to the burrows are about 1 1/2-inches in diameter.
If you live in a snowy climate, and you have voles, you may see signs of their presence when the snow melts in spring. That’s because the voles run around under the snow, eating the grass in their paths and wearing trails on the ground. When the snow is gone, voles retreat to hide in garden beds or overgrown areas. At other times of the year, their trails are sometimes visible in mulch.
How to Get Rid of Voles
Castor Oil. Voles don't like castor oil any more than moles do because it makes the soil smell bad to them. Look for a product containing castor oil that's labeled as a mole and vole repellant and follow the label directions.
Tidy up. Voles conceal themselves in dense vegetation, meadows and weedy spots. Make them unwelcome by mowing your lawn regularly and removing brush. Use only thin layers of mulch and get rid of stacks of wood and piles of debris. Voles don’t like being disturbed, either, so work often in your beds to send them scurrying.
Cage your plants. Make cages out of 1/4-inch hardware cloth and put them around the roots of your plants so voles can't nibble through. Let the cages extend a few inches above the soil.
Clean around bird feeders. It would be a shame to stop feeding wild birds because voles are attracted to the seeds, so instead of removing your feeders, keep the ground around them clean.
Put out humane traps. If they're legal in your state, set out live vole traps, bait them with peanut butter and follow the manufacturer's directions to set them up. Check the traps often and take any captured voles to a remote area to release them; be sure you have permission to do this and again, check to be sure it's legal.
Use gravel. When you plant flower bulbs, add some gravel to the planting holes to give hungry voles a toothache. You can also dust bulbs with a fungicide designed to deter voles.
Julie Martens Forney
Voles and rabbits probably damaged the bark on this unprotected pussywillow. Use tree guards or fine hardware mesh around the trunks and stems of young trees and shrubs to deter them.
Protect your trees. Surround your trees with fine mesh tree guards, burying the bases in the ground. Keep the guards loose enough to let the trees grow.
Put up a physical barrier. Fence your garden with 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth. Bury it six to 10 inches deep in the ground and let it extend at least one foot above the ground.
Try a natural remedy. Some gardeners swear by putting mothballs into vole burrows or mixing irritants like garlic and ammonia with water and spraying them in the entrances. The downside is that these wash away in the rain and have to be reapplied.
Apply predator urine. Some garden centers and nurseries sell the urine of predators like coyotes and foxes, which is said to repel voles.
Exterminate voles with mouse traps or poison baits. Do this as a last resort, and do not use poisons or any kind of traps around pets or children.
Need more help? Call a wildlife control professional to get rid of pesky moles and voles.