You take pride in your yard, and rightfully so. Carefully organizing and scaping your yard and garden is an art form. Unfortunately, your hard work can easily be ruined by tunnels and hills.
Moles dig holes in yards and lawns because they are looking for food such as grubs and insects. Moles can be deterred from a lawn by using natural plant repellents such as marigolds, used coffee grounds, or by building an underground garden fence.
Moles can cause a great deal of damage to your lawn, even if they don’t actually eat the plants in your garden. Here’s all you need to know about the reasons moles are in your yard and how to keep them away.
The Reason Why Moles Are on Your Property
Just like all pests, moles will show up in your yard because they’ll be looking for food (or maybe they already know that there’s food there).
Moles dig tunnels in the ground to look for food and often turn over a great deal of soil in the process. Once a mole has a reliable tunnel system built, they’ll usually stay in that tunnel for several hours at a time 1.
While in the tunnel, the mole is more than likely searching for a specific type of food to fulfill its diet.
A mole’s diet consists of mostly grubs, insects, and earthworms 2. Contrary to belief, they actually don’t care much for your crops, no matter how tasty they are
The reason that moles will be around your fresh garden is that the fresh produce you are growing will attract a variety of insects, which, in turn, will attract moles.
The moles will notice the garden or fresh plants in your lawn and will quickly determine that there may be a food source underneath all of those live plants.
Once that happens, the moles will create a variety of tunnels underneath your yard in search of their favorite type of food.
There’s a common misconception that moles directly dig underneath plants to eat their roots. While moles don’t eat plant roots, a close relative to moles called voles, do.
Since we now know that moles like to go after the insects and critters underneath of the plants, it’s even more confusing as to why moles are actually damaging to plants.
Mole tunnels can remove the soil around plants, leaving the plant roots desperate for nutrients.
But wait, there’s more.
The tunnels that moles make in search of food often lead to structural damage underneath of a lawn. Their digging removes the bottom layer of soil that was supporting the topsoil and will cave under a slight amount of pressure.
Basically, moles are in your yard to eat food. The tunnels they make in search of food don’t directly affect the plants in your lawn, but they most certainly affect the structure of your property and aesthetics as well. Moles do control grubs and insects, but this can come at the costly price of the look of your garden.
How to Spot Moles in Your Garden or Yard
It’s surprisingly easy to figure out if you have some tunneling guests hiding under your property.
Moles generally dig deep underground unless they’re searching for food, so you’ll be able to notice right away if you have moles in your yard if you see little hills. When these little guys dig, they tend to push the soil upwards to the surface, so if you have a garden with grass, there will be distinct lumps that look like mounds.
A good place to start is by fresh plants that are still not fully ripe. We’ve found mole tunnels over near our growing tomato plants before.
In order to spot moles on your property, here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Walk Over to the Suspected Area and See if the Ground Feels “Squishy”
- Find the Mole’s Main Tunnel (this will be a raised, consistent path)
- Use a Thin Metal Rod to Confirm the Tunnel
- Make Sure That the Animal Has Not Eaten Your Plants
While that’s the short version, here’s a more in-depth analysis of each of those steps.
Steps to See if You Have Moles in Your Garden or Yard:
1. Walk Over to the Suspected Area and See if the Ground Feels “Squishy”
What you need to do first is determine where the moles might be burrowing under. Generally, you’ll have a good idea of this based on if there is any destruction or raised dirt in a specific area on your property.
Go over to this area on your property and walk on it. Does the area feel solid, or like it may give in if you jump on it? If its the latter, you may have a mole tunnel underneath where a mole has dug out all of the soil and ruined the support of your lawn.
2. Find the Mole’s Main Tunnel (this will be a raised, consistent path)
Next, you’ll need to find the main tunnel that the mole is consistently on your property. This is so we can determine just where they are getting all of their favorite food from.
Look for raised ridges that look like they form a path. These are the results of moles doing extensive digging. It makes the soil loose and damages the roots of whatever is planted there.
When looking for the main tunnel, there may be more than one main tunnel in total. Notice that these tunnels follow a more consistent path and connect to a few different molehills, which are tunnel entry points.
3. Use a Thin Metal Rod to Check for a Deep Tunnel
This is a more elaborate extension of number two. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, deep mole tunnels are generally about 10 inches (link to DNR) below the ground.
If you’re finding a deep mole tunnel, this is one of the main ways that moles will go back and forth from spot to spot. If you see that a mole has created a mound of dirt and then the trail after seemingly disappears, poke around the area to see if your metal pole touches any firm soil after 10 – 12 inches.
If you can easily place your metal rod into the ground without much resistance, chances are that you have a deep mole tunnel underneath.
So step number 2 focuses more on visible tunnels, whereas step number 3 focuses on tougher to spot mole tunnels.
4. Make Sure That the Mole Has Not Eaten Your Plants
If you have any visible molehills, you have to identify which ones are still active. You can check by poking the tunnel with your finger to feel for an opening that feels shallow, around just a few inches deep. Check that spot again the next day, and you can see that the whole is repaired, implying that the mole still passes by there.
Mostly, moles are active during the day and not night 3. So if you see a tunnel that you didn’t notice before earlier in the day, you may have some active moles around.,
Moles are active all year round unless they can’t dig through the soil. For instance, moles will burrow deeper into the ground during the winter here in New York because of the cold weather. Moles tend to go deeper below the surface during dry seasons since the soil is hard to get through.
The warmer it gets, the more moles will dig closer to the surface in search of food. You’ll also see more molehills after rain because insects will be active, and the soil will be easy to dig through.
Identification: Is it a Mole, Vole, or Gopher?
If the damage to your yard is beyond just aesthetic, then there’s a chance that moles aren’t the problem. Moles, voles, and gophers are often mistaken for each other, but there are distinct differences between each of them.
One of the first signs of identifying your pests is based on the damages. Moles only eat the grubs and worms in your soil. Voles and gophers, on the other hand, would much rather munch on your fresh greens or damage your plants.
If you’re seeing mounds of dirt in your yard but no destruction to your plants, then you more than likely have a mole problem. In contrast, if you have a vole or gopher problem, you’ll see that your plants are destroyed rather than the soil around them.
In total, voles and gophers cause much more terror than moles. For voles, your plants could dry out or become unrooted due to the animals munching at the base of the plant.
Gophers have a tendency to pull out entire plants all at once. They just go underground and pull their snack inside, roots and all!
To make identification a little bit easier, you can clearly identify a mole by noticing their bright red/pink nose and long pink claws. A vole, on the other hand, is much smaller and looks more similar to a rat.
One more note about spotting moles is that they genuinely look like they don’t have eyes at all (they do).
Out of these three animals, gophers are the largest of the group and have a similar look to that of a large rat.
Average Size of Moles, Voles & Gophers:
When comparing tunnels, it’s interesting to note that gophers and voles dig different sized paths than moles.
Moles have the widest sized tunnels out of the group. However, this will be tough to notice if you haven’t seen a gopher or vole tunnel before.
Most importantly, a big point of comparison is the size and amount of the hills.
Moles create extremely noticeable mounds of dirt where they’ve dug into the ground. They push the soil up onto itself and create a cone-like shape surrounding their entry point.
Voles, on the other hand, don’t create these sorts of mounds. Rather, they have small holes on the ground where they’ve entered it.
Gophers have a tendency to make many holes, whereas moles will most likely create one or two entry points into their tunnel. If you’re only seeing one hole, you more than likely have a mole problem.
Conversely, if you see multiple tunnel entry points in your yard with fresh dirt packed on them, you probably have some gophers nearby. If you have a few holes in your yard but no fresh dirt in or around that hole, then that more than likely means that there was previously a gopher there, but it has since left the tunnel.
Between these three animals, you’d probably be hoping for a mole in your garden since they don’t directly damage your plants (but they’re still a problem)
When moles are infiltrating your garden, just remember that it’s not the end of the world yet. There are still a few things that can be done before having to call in a service.
How to Naturally Keep of Moles in your Garden or Yard
Though generally harmless, moles can truly ruin the aesthetics of your garden and yard overall. Luckily, there are many different ways you can actually get rid of them, depending on your resources.
Here are some of my favorite ways to keep moles out of your yard and garden.
Coffee Grounds Deter Moles
Back in the day, my mother had a pretty huge mole problem happening in her garden. Honestly, she kind of liked that she didn’t have to rototill the garden in those spots, but the moles were starting to expose some of the roots on the plants.
Fortunately, we got some good advice to try and throw coffee grounds on the garden to deter the moles. We loved drinking coffee daily, so this was an easy solution. It didn’t totally get rid of all mole activity, but it kept them away from the spots that had fresh coffee grounds.
Coffee grounds have an overpowering smell that deters moles, so place them in a few of the tunnels or mounds to drive them off. You can also spread them over the top of your garden (this is what we did) as it’s perfect for your garden and makes an excellent fertilizer 7.
If you see a molehill in your yard or garden, go ahead and try to place the coffee grounds on top of the tunnel entry point. This will have the most impact on the moles as they’ll want to avoid the areas with the grounds, and the smell will get inside of the tunnel.
The more coffee grounds you place on your garden, the more effective it will be. You’ll need to place coffee grounds daily in order to keep scent as strong as possible.
Plant Repellents That Moles Dislike
Another safe and beautiful way to repel moles is by growing flowers that moles dislike. Plants like marigolds, daffodils, alliums, and fritillarias seem to do the trick.
Daffodils 8 alliums and fritillaries have bulbs that are toxic to a variety of animals. Moles, along with other yard pests like voles, tend to avoid these roots. Similarly, bulb vegetables like onions, leeks, and garlic are great at repelling moles.
On the other hand, marigolds are aromatic and have a distinct smell that contains pyrethrin 9, which naturally repels grubs and other insects.
If you’re thinking about trying these methods out, I would recommend planting a good amount of marigolds in your garden. The marigolds will help to keep the insects otherwise known as mole food away from your garden and, thus, will probably end up keeping moles away.
Putting any sort of plant in the ground is more of a preventative method rather than an immediate solution. You’ll more than likely need to wait quite a bit in order for the plants to grow.
This may be the best method, however, and will likely require the least amount of effort in the long run.
Building a Mole Repellent Fence
If the area you’re protecting isn’t that large, you can build fences around it to keep them out. This strategy can be quite effective, but it takes a lot of work.
If you have a huge garden (like ours), don’t try this, as it will end up being very pricey in the long run.
Our garden, which is behind the woodpile here is pretty large. You can see where all the sunflowers are sticking up. It wouldn’t be totally worth it for us to build a mole repellent fence due to the cost and time it would take.
However, if you have an actual normal garden, you should definitely look into building a mole repellent fence.
Here’s what you’ll need to build a mole repellent fence:
- Measure the perimeter of your garden
- Use 1/4 in. of galvanized metal hardware cloth or mesh wire around the perimeter
- Dig a trench about 12 inches wide and 2 – 3 feet deep
- Place the fence material inside of the trench
- Bend the buried part of the material, so it is parallel to the ground and face it away from the plants.
- Fill in the trench and leave at least 1 ft. of fence protruding from the ground.
Really, a lot of this is something that you can eyeball but will be more accurate with specific measurements. Just make sure you measure at least 2 feet deep!
Anything shorter and moles will most likely just dig right under the fence because they’ll still be in the topsoil, which is easier to dig through.
When fencing, make sure to get all the sides because moles might find a way to dig around them. If you don’t, the moles will simply just find alternative routes into your garden.
If this method still doesn’t work, a raised bed with mesh wire bases are a great deterrent (though you’re going to have to do some excavating on this one). It all just depends on the size of your garden. If you have a smaller garden or want a smaller one, this will be an excellent method for you.
Build a Raised Garden Bed to Deter Moles and Wildlife
A raised garden bed is a pretty simple concept. Instead of planting your garden in the ground, you plant it on the top of the soil inside of a wooden barrier. This method protects everything in your garden by keeping it off the ground.
To build one, you have two options
First, you can build a raised garden bed from scratch. In my opinion, this will take more time than fencing because you’ll have to go to your local lumber store and give them measurements for how much wood you need.
Then, you’ll likely need to apply stain or some protectant to keep the wood at peak quality.
It takes a good amount of time but can be worth it depending on the size of your garden. However, time is precious, and you don’t want to waste too much of it building a fence for your garden.
As for the second option, you can purchase a raised garden bed that’s already premade.
These garden beds come in already measured and cut pieces, and more often than not, you just need a screwdriver to put them together. Some of the more quality ones are engineered so you can put them together even without the use of tools.
In the future, I plan on getting a raised garden bed for certain crops and plants that I want to grow. I don’t want to build one as huge as our family garden is, but I’d like to have my own personal one.
If you have an interest in doing this, then the only things you’ll are a good drill and a premade kit with everything you need to build the raised garden bed.
I recently wrote a guide on some of my favorite DIY projects that includes a great pre-made garden bed that doesn’t even require screws to hold together.
You can view that helpful guide here.
Don’t get me wrong, building something custom can be a good idea if you’ve done it before. If it’s your first time, it may take you quite a while. I don’t like wasting time and using premade kit saves you a ton of time that you can instead spend on putting together your ACTUAL garden.
Get a Dog to Help Deter Moles and Other Wildlife from Your Garden
Dogs absolutely love to chase things. They really do. Take my dog Vito, for instance.
Vito absolutely loves to chase geese, and he’ll do so any chance he sees them land on our property. When I was at home more often, I had the time to train Vito actually to chase geese when they landed on our property.
If your interested in training your dog to chase any animal, the concept I applied to Vito chasing geese can be found here (link to article).
It’s definitely more challenging to train an animal to chase moles since they’re underground most of the time. If you have a dog that loves the outdoors, you may be able to pique its curiosity by letting it loose around your garden.
The dog will go search around and likely find the mole hole. Additionally, you can place treats around the molehill to entice your dog to go over and inspect it.
While Vito hasn’t actually gone a dugout a molehill, he loves to dig at anything in the ground if he thinks there’s something underneath. I wouldn’t have ant doubt that he would go and dig out a mole tunnel if he sensed that there was something inside of it.
The great thing is that dogs can help to deter a variety of wildlife and not just moles. Animals like birds, snakes, squirrels, and chipmunks can be easily scared away by dogs.
Alternative Methods to Prevent Moles From Digging in your Garden:
If you can’t try the methods above, then go ahead and give these a whirl. You may find that these methods work better for your situation (although I prefer the ones above).
Spray Cayenne Pepper in Molehills
If you see molehills, another way of getting rid of the moles inside is to spray a small amount of cayenne pepper and water into the entrance.
By mixing 2-3 tsp of cayenne pepper with 1-2 cups of water, you can then go ahead and generously spray all of the molehills you see around your garden.
Moles dislike cayenne pepper because of how spicy it is. It’s a good alternative solution if you don’t want to try the steps above.
Improve Your Garden’s Water Drainage to Deter Moles
Since moles don’t like dry soil, you can try to improve your garden’s drainage to reduce moisture.
The best way to do this is to watering less frequently or to go with a raised garden bed, as I talked about above.
Moles don’t like dry soil because it’s harder to dig through. Additionally, fewer grubs are likely to appear as a result of the dry soil, further discouraging moles from coming to your garden.
The downside to this method is pretty glaring, as you’ll need to water your plants less. If you currently have a mole problem, make sure that you are not overwatering your plants. Otherwise, this solution may not be for you.
Lastly, Moles are Still Active in Winter
Even if you don’t see it, moles are still digging during the winter because they don’t hibernate. They actually can’t store fat, so they have to eat constantly and cannot hibernate.
When the weather is cold, the ground tends to freeze up, making it harder for them to survive. What moles do is dig deeper underground to where the soil is still moist and not frozen. They’ll eventually dig back up once the ground defrosts.
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- Scheffer, T. H. (1910). The common mole (Vol. 159). Kansas State Agricultural College, Experiment Station.
- Hamilton, W. J. (1939). Activity of Brewer’s mole (Parascalops breweri). Journal of Mammalogy, 20(3), 307-310.
- Kasongo, R. K., Verdoodt, A., Kanyankagote, P., Baert, G., & Ranst, E. V. (2011). Coffee waste as an alternative fertilizer with soil improving properties for sandy soils in humid tropical environments. Soil use and Management, 27(1), 94-102.
- Scheffer, T. H., & Garlough, F. E. (1936). Rodents and moles as pests in bulb plantings (No. 381). US Dept. of Agriculture.
- Wells, C., Bertsch, W., & Perich, M. (1993). Insecticidal volatiles from the marigold plant (genustagetes). Effect of species and sample manipulation. Chromatographia, 35(3-4), 209-215.