Correct identification is vital to mole damage control. There are two species of moles in the Midwest and both have large, shovel-like front feet with long claws. 

Eastern Mole - The eastern mole has a naked red nose and a short tail. It makes many shallow tunnels that raise the soil into long, winding 2 inch high ridges. The few mounds that it makes are low, rounded and often have bits of turf on them. It prefers well drained soils. 

Starnose Mole - The starnose mole has a large red nose with 22 finger like projections and it has a long tail. This species digs deep tunnels that are not visible from the surface. They produce many conical mounds of soil 6 inches high and 12 inches wide. Starnose moles prefer moist soils. 

Moles frequently cause damage but are also beneficial since they feed on insects, worms and other invertebrates. They help aerate the soil by burrowing. Occasionally, they eat plant seeds, roots and bulbs but most damage is done when burrows expose plant roots to the air inside the tunnels. 

They are most active in spring or fall and on cloudy days. During winter and midsummer, they burrow deeper into the ground. Moles have very extensive underground systems including travel tunnels which are used daily and foraging tunnels which are rarely re-used. 

The following methods are the most effective for the control of mole damage in lawns. 

I. Direct Killing

For Eastern moles, flatten the tunnels and then identify those that are repaired the next day. Flatten them again and check them periodically through the day to see when the moles are active. This is often late morning or early evening.

When a mole is observed pushing through the tunnel, it may be killed with a shovel or similar instrument. Diligence and patience are required for success. This method rarely works on the starnose mole which burrows too deeply into the soil to be seen. 

II. Trapping Moles

Eastern Moles - Trapping is the most effective method of mole control. Carefully place traps in active tunnels (i.e. those that were repaired 12 to 24 hours after being flattened). Work the harpoons or jaws of the trap gently through the soil to insure smooth penetration. 

If traps are sprung prematurely, remove a small piece of sod from under the trigger pan to delay the action of the trap. If moles burrow around a trap, the soil has been flattened too tightly or part of the trap is projecting into the tunnel and is alarming the mole. 

Be sure no light can penetrate into the tunnel near the trap.

Starnose Moles - To trap starnose moles, locate an active tunnel by flattening the mounts of soil. Mounds that are pushed back up in 24 to 48 hours are over active tunnels. Beneath one of the mounds, dig a hole 4 to 6 inches deep to the bottom of the tunnel. Refill the hole with enough soil to cover the tunnel and then set the harpoon trap in the hole. 

If the trap is set in an active tunnel, it should catch a mole within 24 to 48 hours. If not, reset the trap and check for problems such as light getting into the tunnel or the trigger mechanism need adjustment. 

Plunger Trap Scissor Trap
Snare Trap Scissor trap set over mole tunnel
 
Tube Trap

III. Repellants

There are several repellants available that seem to work quite well on the Eastern mole. These products are castor oil based. When they are spread on the ground and watered in, they are an irritant to the mole. This causes them to stay out of the treated area from one to three months. One product, Mole-Med, gave excellent results on 25 of 26 lawns during a recent study at Michigan State University. 

Treating bulbs with the repellent thiram prior to planting may repel moles for several weeks. It soon washes off as rainwater moves through the soil around the bulbs.

IV. Reducing Mole Food Sources

Moles are insectivores. They feed insect larvae such as grubs but a large part of their diet consists of earthworms. The use of insecticides to reduce the food supply especially in light or sandy soils may help reduce but will not eliminate mole populations. It tends to have little effect on heavy, clay type soils. 

Insecticides such should not be used unless high levels of insects such as European chafer grubs are causing lawn problems. Routine use of insecticides on lawns for "prevention" purposes should be avoided. Studies indicate that this kills off predator insects that keep certain lawn pests under control naturally. 

Any insecticide treatment will have limited effect if only one section of the mole's burrow is treated such as a single yard in a neighborhood. Moles will continue to burrow through treated areas in search of food. Also, moles will eventually move back into the area from adjacent open fields or wooded areas. 

Smoke Fumigation - Smoke fumigation using specially designed cartridges for mole control is difficult. The key problem is treating a wide enough area with enough cartridges to be effective. All parts of the tunnel must be treated simultaneously. Many mole tunnel systems are so extensive that this is not practical. 

Vibrating Devices - Devices such as electrical vibrators or plastic windmills which send slight tremors through the ground will repel moles. Unfortunately, each device has a very limited range of effectiveness so the average yard 

would require dozens of them to be effective. In the case of electronic devices, this gets expensive. Hundreds of yellow whirling plastic flowers in the yard would be unsightly. 

Cats - Cats may kill the occasional star nosed mole but more often, they catch small, grey animals called shrews. These animals are actually predators of young moles so killing them may actually add to the mole problem. Also, cats seem to choose to be mole catchers or not. Nobody knows how to train them to go after this pest. 

Poison Baits - Baits registered for mole control such as pellets treated with arsenic and zinc phosphide are either ineffective or unreliable. Fresh baits tend to work better than those that have been setting on the shelf for long periods. 

Home Remedies - Mothballs, spreading lime on the soil, chewing gum, broken glass, exhaust fumes and flooding the tunnels are not effective in controlling moles. People have tried all manner of techniques over the years but, in controlled studies, only trapping, direct killing and castor oil based repellants worked. 

If anyone comes up with a quick, easy, inexpensive way of ridding the home lawn of moles, please let me know. We will share the riches.

 

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.

 

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