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How to get rid of molehills

Tiffany Daneff / 23 January 2018

Moles can wreak havoc on pristine lawns, flower borders and vegetable patches on the quest for worms. Find out what you can do to get rid of molehills and what steps you can take to prevent moles digging in your garden.

Mole emerging from hole
Moles are tiny animals but their burrowing for worms creates a lot of excavated soil that sits in mounds on the surface

There are few things more dispiriting to the gardener than drawing back the curtains on a misty morning when the air’s still damp and the soil is moist and easy to work, and discovering bang slap in the middle of your bright green lawn is a mound of freshly tunneled earth. So what should you do?

Step 1 – Clear the molehill

Molehills on the lawn

Clearing the molehill is important for owners of terriers (and dogs that like digging, i.e. pretty much all of them).

Using a spade either lift off the soil and tip it in the flower beds or use it as potting compost as this will be lovely friable stuff just perfect for growing plants.

Next try to find the actual hole (a mole’s diameter wide) and back fill with some of the earth then brush away any remain soil from the grass. If you don’t do this most dogs will head straight for the hill and dig at it furiously compounding all your problems. Now, instead of just a molehill with a small hole in it you will have a much larger hole that needs reseeding.

Molehills in beds and borders

What’s worse than a molehill on your lawn? Mole heaps in the beds. Tunnels in flower and vegetable beds leave plant roots hanging in air, something plants do not like. Moles aren’t fussy. It makes no odds to them whether it’s a flower or a vegetable bed. They are simply looking for where there are most worms and this is going to be in the nice, loose cultivated soil in your beds.

Don’t try catching moles in cultivated beds. You’ll only make a mess and much harder work for yourself.

Step 2 – Using deterrents or setting traps

Whether you want to try deterrents or set traps the first thing to do is identify the main tunnels. These are often close to the surface. Don’t set deterrents or traps in side tunnels as they are only used to clear soil from main tunnels and won’t have regular mole traffic.

To find the tunnels look for fresh hills that are close together and feel for soft ground that gives underfoot. Feel with your hand or even use a straightened coat hanger to prod. Once you get the idea it is quite easy to work out where the tunnels are.

The further apart the hills the deeper the tunnel and, conversely, the closer together they are the shallower the tunnel.

Once you have found the tunnel use a trowel or small spade to cut out a short length of turf. You want to make clean cuts, large enough to take your deterrent or trap and no larger.

The idea is to avoid damaging the tunnel and to replace the turf ensuring no telltale daylight is let through to the tunnel below. If in doubt backfill the edges with soil. If using traps or deterrents that don’t require sunlight or wind then it is a good idea to cover the area with an inverted black plastic bucket. This also keeps off pets and other animals.

The closer molehills are the shallower the tunnels.

Mole deterrents

There are plenty of mole deterrents that you can buy. These include smoke fumes and sonic deterrence. If you are lucky they may work or they may simply divert the mole into another part of the garden. If they do work there is the danger that empty tunnels may be taken over by an enterprising newcomer.

Some people swear by placing of these homemade deterrents in the tunnel:
Cat or fox poo
“Singing” birthday etc cards
Smelly sardines
Toy windmills
Repellent plants eg caper spurge whose roots are supposed to put off moles. But be warned: they are invasive so by introducing this plant you could simply be adding to your troubles.

However, none of these is scientifically proven to be effective according to the RSPCA and their use might just send the offended mole off to tunnel in another part of the garden.

Mole traps

If you cannot live with your moles and your deterrents fail you may want to resort to traps. There are two options:

Live catch traps

Many people think they are being kinder by catching a live mole in a trap and disposing of it away from their garden. The RHS and RSPCA say that live traps are not kind because terrified moles can be left in them for hours. So do not use these.


The use of properly set good quality traps that are regularly checked are considered humane, says the Royal Horticultural Society.

The RSPCA does not approve of “scissor” traps as they do not always kill outright. Barrel or tunnel traps are simpler designs for home gardeners but if you are not confident about using them it is advisable to get in a professional, which could cost in the region of £65 depending on location.

Just watch out for cheats: one experienced head gardener warned against unscrupulous mole catchers who bring along a dead mole in their bag and pretend that they have just caught it.

Tricks of the trade

Ensure that any mole deterrents or traps and any equipment is not tainted by human scent. Use soiled garden gloves and leave things out doors before use.

Anatomy of a mole’s burrow

Individual moles live alone in their underground burrows. These consist of:

1. Nests – large chambers where the mole sleeps
2. Feeding chambers – where decapitated worms are stored
3. Tunnels – linking the above
4. Side tunnels – used to clear the excavated soil. This soil is pushed to the surface producing mole hills.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.