How to identify and control moles in the garden
Learn how to prevent moles from ruining your lawn and garden.
Common name: Common mole, northern mole, European mole
Scientific name: Talpa europaea
Moles are rarely seen but their presence is easily recognisable by the mounds of earth they create when they are tunnelling underground. As they dig their tunnels, the excavated soil is thrown up as a molehill on the surface. They are fairly territorial animals, so often the mounds of earth seen in your garden will have been caused by just one mole. They can spoil a perfect lawn completely if left uncontrolled.
They are most active during the winter and early spring, so it is important at the time of year I am writing this, to remain on the look out for symptoms of mole damage on your grass and in your flower borders.
Below I am going to describe the symptoms to look for when spotting these very cute but destructive creatures, and teach you the ways to control them, to ensure they do not damage your plants and lawn.
Facts about common moles:
- Habitat: Throughout Britain.
- Found in urban, garden, upland, moorland, woodland and grassland habitats.
- Small mammals with black, velvet-fur.
- Spade-like front legs with large claws.
- Pink feet and a long, pink nose.
- Ears which are not visible and very tiny eyes.
- Mainly worms.
- Occasionally they eat insects larvae – found in their system of tunnels.
- They do not eat plants (damage they cause to plants is incidental to their tunnelling).
- Food storage:
- They sometimes store live earthworms in chambers.
- They kill and eat them when they are ready by biting their head to immobilise them. Yuck!
- They spend nearly their entire lives underground in a system of tunnels.
- Tunnels are a combination of permanent and semi-permanent tunnels.
- Some of the permanent tunnels are used for years by several generations of moles for feeding.
- Lifespan: Three and six years.
- Predators: Mainly owls, buzzards, cats and dogs.
- Breeding: Moles are solitary apart from in their breeding season.
- During breeding season, male moles enlarge their territories and tunnel long distances in search of a female.
- Baby moles leave the nest at approximately one month old. At five to six weeks they live completely independently from their mother and are sexually mature the following spring.
Plants most affected by moles:Lawns and young plants in flowerbeds. They do not eat the plants or grass themselves, but their digging causes incidental damage as follows:
- Dead patches of grass: Mounds of earth (molehills) disposed of on the surface of a lawn will block the light and may cause a dead patch on your grass. These always need to be removed before mowing.
- Dips in lawns: Collapsed surface tunnels lead to dips on your grass and need to be filled in to maintain a level surface.
- Plant death: Tunnelling disturbs the roots of seedlings and small plants in flowerbed and vegetable gardens. This can lead to the death of a plant.
Signs that you may have an infestation of moles:
- Molehills (piles of pure, loose soil) on grass or in flowerbeds.
- Root disturbance of small plants and seedlings.
Control methods and treatment of moles:
It is best to control moles biologically in a way which does not affect the rest of your garden too much. If they are not causing a huge amount of damage, try to enjoy them being part of the wildlife in your garden, which support the biodiversity found there. If you don’t want any moles in your garden, it is better to move them or to deter them from entering your garden in the first place. Here are some of the different methods for controlling them:
Cultural control –
- Install netting to stop moles coming to the surface of your lawn. This needs to be installed before you lay the turf. Be aware that as this netting is usually made from plastic, it counts towards plastic pollution as it breaks down.
- Choose plants which repel moles. Plant plants such as Caper spurge and Allium moly as both are thought to deter them. Be mindful that Caper spurge can be invasive, so do not allow it to self-seed.
- Electronic devices. The high-frequency noise deters moles. Bear in mind that the mole may just move to a different part of the garden.
Physical control –
- Live capture traps. Dig the trap into the soil and cover it with a bucket to keep it dark. Check the trap at least twice a day and release any that you find a mile or more away. Live capture traps can be impractical because you are required to gain the landowners permission before releasing a mole.
- Mole traps that kill the moles can also be used.
- Bear in mind that a tunnel may be occupied by another mole once it is vacant. Trapping and/or killing them may not work long term.
Chemical control –
- Toxic gas smoke. Hire a contractor to use pellets which release toxic gas into the mole’s chambers and tunnels. This has to be carried out at least ten metres from a house. This method can be expensive and may not work long term as another mole could recolonise the garden space in another area.
- Mole-repellant smoke e.g. Biofume Mole Smoke can be used to deter worms from entering mole tunnels. This may encourage the resident mole to move elsewhere, however it may just dig another tunnel nearby.
If you have any further questions about moles or a pest affecting your garden, please comment below or get in touch.