A problem with moles in the garden

Tiffany Daneff / 14 January 2016

With increasing amounts of mole hills on her lawn and moles now burrowing under her flowerbed, Tiffany Daneff looks at ways of controlling the moles in her garden.



Every day Daisy, our working cocker spaniel, and I follow a strange route as we progress through the fields on our walks. To an outsider it might look as though we were pursuing some pagan ritual. Which, in a way, I suppose we are. We are checking molehills, moving from one to the next, joining the dots. 

Daisy’s after moles and I stand at what I reckon is far enough off not to alert the mole but near enough for my diminishing eyesight to be able to detect movement. I am longing to see the tip of an earthy pink snout, the broad digging paws, and the dark velvety coat of Moley.

Daisy stands, frozen with intense interest, eyes fixed on the hill waiting for a smell or a sound and, when luck strikes, she pounces. Twice now I have actually seen the earth in the hill crack with the movement of a mole underneath but Daisy is always on it too quickly for me to catch sight of the mole itself.

Over the last few years we have seen an eruption of mini volcanos. Warm, wet spring weather has encourages them, and not just in the fields. There’s been way too much mole action in the garden too, and I’m fed up. One hill I could cope with. Two, even. But now there are three - as well as plenty of signs that he/she/they are digging under the flower beds. Which is not good. Not least because once they begin to breed there could be loads more. So leaving well alone was not an option. I wanted the mole/s out.

Related: find out how to deter cats from your garden

Mole deterrents

Deterrents fall into two categories: scent and sound. The problem with the latter is that we have a dog who will hate the high pitched emissions. That leaves finding things that moles don’t like the smell of and either sticking them into the tunnel or sprinkling them around the garden and watering them in.

I started by ordering some mole deterrent granules which cost about £7, sprinkled them over the lawn and the edge of the beds where the worst of the digging was going on, and, you know, even as I was doing this I shook my head. No way was this puny stand of mine going to stop anything in its tracks and certainly not a tough little mole with nostrils ringed with soil.

A friend who has lived round these parts a long time said she knew a mole catcher who swore by fox oil. Apparently he soaked a cloth with the oil and stuffed that down the hole. Now the pong of a fox is more like it. I wouldn’t want that stench in my tunnel, thank you. You’d never get rid of it. But, there again, might you not just start tunneling a little farther off? Before long I could end up with tunnels at the other end of the lawn. Which would be no help at all. Still, my interest was piqued.

I searched for fox oil online but all I could find in the mole deterring line was fox urine, which seems to be popular for deterring all sorts of nuisance critters in America.

On one of the sites someone had commented that they favoured tipping cat poo into the tunnel. Someone else suggested old fashioned moth balls. So, in the name of research, I ordered some camphor moth balls which were made in China and arrived only three days later. The cat, I know, would have no trouble providing a sample or two. But then, I thought, the ruddy cat poos all over the flower beds, under the impression that this soft loam is teased and tickled to perfection solely for her benefit. So if there’s poo in the beds, why doesn’t the mole keep off them?

Several days after applying the deterrent granules I went to examine the lawn and immediately spotted a new spoil heap so the mole/s is/are still very happy thank you, despite the deterrent granules. I flattened the hill again, replaced the wire cloche (to stop the dog digging) and went and stared at the packets of moth balls.

I stopped short of putting them down for the simple reason that I am worried that doing so will only encourage new tunneling. Reluctantly, I decided it was time to investigate other options. With warmer winters, moles have been breeding not just in spring, as they used to, and maybe again in the autumn, but all year around. Which really is a worry. I decided I couldn’t put off doing anything any longer.

Mole traps

Humane traps sound like they must be humane. But the trouble with these is that, unless you are prepared to check them every ten minutes or so, you are effectively going to end up leaving the mole trapped in a tiny space which would be terrifying for it. 

I didn’t like the sound of those at all. I also didn’t like the look of the traditional metal traps which I remember from my childhood. One false move and they have your fingers off. So, very much not recommended, except for professionals. 

And then I came across the Beagle, which was designed by a hobby inventor who was so distraught by the damage caused by moles in his garden and so fed up with the existing trapping technology that he invented a new one.

The Beagle is designed to be used by ordinary gardeners. It has no finger trapping parts, simply a bright red plunger, that anyone can use as it requires no particular strength. I love moles and have waited two years in the hope that they might tunnel under the garden wall and back into the field where no one very much minds them at all. 

The dog has tried digging them up. I have tried deterrents with no success. I have, I am afraid to say, run out of other credible options.

In short I ordered the Beagle along with a book that explains the workings of moles. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Once I unpacked the mole trap I immediately wished I’d gone and ordered the special prodder they recommend on the Beagle website. This has a bulbous end that helps with probing the lawn to identify the tunnels. The idea is to set the trap in a tunnel, not in a hill. I had thought, poo poo with that I can just use a piece of straightened coat hanger to prod the grass. But that was no use at all. I found it impossible to tell whether the end had broken into a tunnel or not.

Giving up on that I went back to consider the trap itself. After reading the instructions I cautiously pressed the red plunger that sets the trap. This took some force but nothing overly demanding. All very clear and simple, thank goodness. With the plunger depressed two ridged metal bars appear at the base of the trap. When triggered these bars clamped shut with a terrifying force.

Getting an expert in

So the trap was ready to go but without being able to identify a tunnel I could do nothing. So I rang a friend who reckons he’s got a bit of a knack with catching moles. And then I sighed with relief.

Ted has a pair of metal traps which he leaves outdoors for a couple of weeks before use so that they don’t smell of humans. He also brought a couple of black plastic buckets with him.

“Don’t you need a prodder, then?” I asked. But Ted was well versed. He showed me how to feel the grass, pressing down on the lawn with his hand. Immediately it was possible to see where the ground gave slightly.

“That’s the tunnel,” said Ted.

Easy when you know how.

He cut a neat hole above the tunnel, set the trap, sank it down, leaving the two handles above ground and carefully filled in the gaps with soil so that no light shone down to the tunnel below. Just to make sure he inverted a black bucket over the top and secured it with a brick. He then repeated the whole procedure in another tunnel.

The next morning I went to investigate, half hoping not to find anything.

Here’s what I found. One trap had been triggered and I am very sorry to say that there was one dead mole inside. On the upside there has been no further activity. No more hills, no nothing for a month.

Verdict

So, what’s the verdict?

On the downside I am very sorry about the mole.

On the upside there are hundreds more in the fields all around us and I have to say I am hugely relieved to have got rid of it. It had already dug more than 10 hills and who knows how many tunnels, several in the flower beds. I’d given it my best shot with deterrence and honestly I don’t know what more I could have done other than let it take over the garden.

Would I do it again if needed? Yes. And this time I would use the Beagle.

They also produce a fascinating booklet with all you could wish to know about moles. Well worth reading.

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