How to Identify and Get Rid of Moles in Your Yard

By Marilyn Syarto

If you ever wondered how the “molehill” got its name, it’s because moles love to make little hills of dirt and grass. It’s no wonder you want to know how to get rid of moles. Those little molehills, though made by these somewhat cute and nearly blind-as-a-bat animals (they have teeny-tiny eyes), may have made a mess of your garden and yard. If you’ve caught moles in your yard and don’t know what to do about it, we’ve got the guide for you.

how to get rid of moles

Photo via Shutterstock

What Are Moles?

There are probably plenty of different types of animals scurrying around in or under your yard—from chipmunks to mice to moles and voles. So what is a mole and what makes this animal different from other rodents? For one, moles are actually mammals, and not rodents, though these little earth throwers are often mistaken for rats. Moles live their entire lives underground digging and burrowing using their clawed paws and long snouts. If you have ever spotted a mole, which is very rare, you’ll see its fur sticking straight up—it’s by design so dirt doesn’t get trapped in its coat.

If you ever do spot the rare mole, do not touch it. Moles bite, and they also can carry rabies and other parasites that cause infection, according to MedicineNet.

Are Moles Beneficial?

Moles can be very beneficial in a yard. Although these poor little creatures are blamed for eating bulbs and flowers, they aren’t the culprits, though they may have uprooted your garden to find their grub—literally grubs—for dinner. While moles won’t necessarily damage your yard, the activity will make it look unattractive.

But if you have a mole (and we’ll discuss why you probably only have one mole) in your yard, don’t think of it as a burden quite yet. According to the animal removal experts at Westchester Wildlife, a mole in your yard means you have healthy, rich, and fertile soil. Here are other advantages to having a mole:

  • They eat grass-killing grubs.
  • They eat plant-killing beetles.
  • They also feast on termites, ants, and snails.
  • They are natural aerators that let water, nutrients, and air move freely and mix through your soil.
signs of moles in your yard

Photo via Deborah

Signs of Moles in Your Yard

Besides molehills, here are a few surefire signs of mole activity: 

  • There are large patches of dead grass (the roots of the grass were dug up and died).
  • Molehills are typically spaced six feet apart.
  • Mounds are made from thrown clumps of dirt, not pulverized dirt.
  • Holes in the lawn are large enough that you can trip into them.
  • The ground underneath your feet feels soft and squishy.
  • There are tunnels zig-zagging around your yard.

Moles are highly territorial, antisocial, and solitary animals. That means if you are successful in eliminating one mole, you probably got rid of your problem. They might live with one other mole, but they do not live or work in a pack. But, if your one mole has moved on, another one is likely to take up residence in abandoned tunnels. 

Do You Have a Mole, Vole, or Gopher Problem?

Moles, voles, and gophers can all do damage to lawns and gardens. Each look pretty different from one another:

  • Moles have unmistakably large paws, claws, and long pink snouts. 
  • Voles look like mice (they are also called field mice). 
  • Gophers look almost like small otters with stocky bodies. 

These creatures all burrow but they have different tunneling behaviors that help these pest control experts know what they’re dealing with. For example:

  • Moles dig deep tunnels beneath the surface of your yard to reach earthworms and grubs. 
  • Voles make shallow tunnels, which look more like runways on the surface of your lawn, to reach and eat entire plant and tree root systems, bulbs, and flowers, according to Critter Control Triad. However, voles do use mole tunnels to get around.
  • Gophers create large mounds of fine dirt in the spring and fall. (You may actually see a gopher above ground for a second or two to fill its pouches, which is unlikely to happen with a mole or vole.) A gopher hole is 10 to 20 inches in diameter and a mole hole is two inches in diameter, according to Terminix.

What Attracts Moles to Your Yard?

Your rich soil is one reason you have moles. But they are also attracted to these other environmental factors, according to Smith Pest Management:

  • Your soil is filled with delicious insects.
  • Your soil is cool and comfortable to dig around in.
  • You have lines of fences, paths, or hedges that moles can easily use as guides when making burrows.

Mole-proof your garden by making a raised garden bed that a mole can’t burrow through.

how to get rid of moles with castor oil

How to Get Rid of Moles and Keep Moles Away

There are three distinct DIY ways to eliminate the mole in your life and keep it away. Although it would be easy to place the often-prescribed method of placing mothballs into a mole’s system of tunnels, that doesn’t work long-term because the odor just isn’t strong enough to infiltrate the ground to deter moles. It takes labor and patience to put these tried-and-true methods into motion, but you will likely see results from either using castor oil, removing grubs, or setting up barriers. 

Moles hate the smell of certain flowers. Plant lots of daffodils, marigolds, and anything from the allium family in your garden and around your fences and pathways to deter moles.

Method 1: Deter Moles With Castor Oil

Your best bet is...castor oil! According to Cardinal Lawns pest experts, use store-bought castor oil-based pest repellents. Moles hate the smell (as do humans). Liquid or granular forms of the repellent will dissolve into the soil and release a scent that repulses moles. The store-bought repellents are safe for pets and lawns and are effective for a few weeks. All you need to do is add it wherever you see holes, tunnels, or mounds. This method won’t harm moles, it just makes them want to move away. As a bonus, castor oil works to deter gophers, too.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Jar with lid
  • Castor oil
  • Dish soap
  • Gallon of water in a jug
  • Watering can (optional)

Step 1: Mix Oil and Soap

Mix three parts castor oil and one part dish soap in a large jar with a lid. Blend well. (Some people prefer to whip this mixture up in a blender.)

Step 2: Add to Water

Put four tablespoons of the oil and soap mixture into a full gallon of water. 

Step 3: Soak Tunnels

Pour the mixture into tunnels and entrances to make the moles scurry away. If the mixture is too creamy or thick, add it into your normal watering can, then add fill with warm water and pour over holes.

Method 2: Eliminate Grubs

The second best way to get rid of moles is to eliminate their favorite food source from your lawn: grubs. Instead of inflicting toxins into your lawn, use a more safe and natural method of milky spore and beneficial nematodes to get rid of grubs. These ingredients will eliminate a couple of common species of grubs.

  • Milky spores: Japanese beetle larvae (which are grubs) will eat milky spores that fatally harm their bodily fluids. According to Arbico Organics, suppliers of milky spores, once a spore is ingested, it multiplies inside the grub to create billions of new spores that are released back into the soil once the dead grub decomposes. Over time, Japanese beetles will not be able to survive in your lawn.
  • Beneficial nematodes: These microscopic worms occur naturally in soil around the world. They feed on over 200 types of pests living in the soil.

Tools and Materials Needed:

Step 1: Apply Milky Spore

Follow the directions on the package, but in general, fill the drop spreader with the granular milky spore. Apply uniformly over your lawn. Water the treated area. Do not mow your lawn until the milky spores have adequately watered into the soil. Apply milky spore to your lawn in the spring, summer, and fall for two consecutive years to keep grubs under control.

Step 2: Apply Nematodes

Follow the directions on the package, but in general, water your lawn before application or apply after a light rain. Mix nematodes per the package directions and spray them onto the wet soil and grass (make sure to mix and apply quickly so the worms can have a chance to dig into the soil before they expire). Apply beneficial nematodes to your lawn in the fall and spring.

Method 3: Build Barriers

A third way to protect a small garden is to dig a trench around the perimeter. This will block a mole’s digging activity.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Shovel
  • Bags of gravel or small- to medium-size rocks
  • Wire mesh or hardware cloth (optional)
  • Cutting tool for mesh or cloth (optional)

Step 1: Dig the Trench

Dig a trench that’s two to three feet deep and six inches wide around your garden.

Step 2: Fill It Up

Fill the trench with rocks to block moles from digging, or line the trench with wire mesh or hardware cloth cut to size. Make sure the holes in the mesh or cloth are no larger than 3/4 inches wide.

There are plenty of ultrasonic devices on the market for deterring moles. The devices are placed on your lawn and send low-frequency ultrasonic waves into the ground to scare off moles. However, most pest control experts say this is a temporary fix because moles become used to the sound.

Tips and Hacks for Difficult Cases

Moles stay underground, making it difficult to get rid of them. You may need help from pest control professionals who know how to handle the problem quickly, effectively, and humanely if you choose. 

Were you able to successfully get rid of a mole, vole, or gopher that was tearing up your backyard? Let us know how you did it below. We’d love to hear!

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  • Andrew Andrew on Nov 30, 2021

    Great article, have nicely detailed all the ways, thank u

  • Kingdom Connection Kingdom Connection on Apr 02, 2023

    This little suckers rip my whole front yard last summer & back yard. I try everything. Now it’s getting warm out again, I see some activity. I need help.