Ridding your lawn of moles: What really works (© Hans Reinhard/zefa)

© Hans Reinhard/zefa

Each spring, millions of proud American lawn owners will begin their annual battle against the lowly mole.

The little bugger is a formidable enemy. An average mole, though weighing just 5 or 6 ounces, can dig up to 18 feet per hour through the less-dense upper soil of a lawn, studies have shown. And while moles don't actually eat plant bulbs, as many homeowners think, the damage they can do is very real: Their tunneling in pursuit of insects and worms detaches the roots of grass, exposes soil so that weeds can root and, of course, creates the infamous molehills and lumpy lawns. All those tunnels in your lawn are likely caused by only one or maybe two moles because they're unsociable creatures who don't share space. (Bing Cube: What does a mole look like?)

Dealing with moles is "the No. 1 question that I probably get from homeowners across the Midwest," says Trey Rogers, a professor of crop and soil sciences at Michigan State University, author of "Lawn Geek: Tips and Tricks for the Ultimate Turf From the Guru of Grass," and host of the website YardDoctor.

What's a homeowner to do? We've queried the experts to get their take on the most popular methods of mole management.

But wait, why am I getting them?
Why are you getting moles in the first place? A big reason is that they're getting crowded out by construction elsewhere, explains Rogers. Moles are naturally woodland creatures, but more development of their habitat keeps pushing them into ours. "They don't necessarily want to be there. It's a heckuva lot easier for them to dig in a cornfield that's been tilled, I'll tell you that."

What's your home worth?

The other big reason? "Most customers overwater their yards and they don't understand why they have a mole and their neighbors don't," says Terry Siedelman, a longtime mole-catcher and the owner of The Mole Works in Portland, Ore. "Moles are a water animal. They're attracted to the wet soil," Siedelman explains."It's easier to dig, and then they discover, wow, there's a lot of worms here."

The number of wild remedies is a testament to the frustration moles cause. "There are hundreds of wives' tales: poison, human hair, razor blades, hooking up your car exhaust to tunnels, putting chewing gum in the tunnels," says Brooks Owen, publisher of "Grandpa's Pest Solutions," an e-book about battling moles. Owen says he has a neighbor who puts rose branches into the mounds, and those are supposed to scratch the moles until they bleed to death. "I look over at his lawn and he's got molehills everywhere."

A mole brings real benefit to a lawn, if you can stand it; a typical animal eats 45 to 50 pounds of insects and worms annually, according to one study. And the grasses and excrement it leaves underground are good for the soil, says Dave Pehling, assistant extension agent in Snohomish County, Wash., and a zoologist. "I have a mole in my yard all the time. I think he's cool."

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The strategies
Here's a look at popular anti-mole tactics and how effective they are.

Poison bait
How it works:
A variety of poisons are marketed for use on moles, to be placed in the tunnels where the animals can find and eat them. Some newer ones are made to resemble gummy worms, which presumably appeal to a worm-loving mole. Others rely on poison-coated peanuts or grain.

Pros: Some studies have shown that moles in captivity have eaten moistened grain, Pehling says. But that's not the same as eating it in your yard. "The problem with those (poisons) is that all of them that I'm aware of have grain or peanut as the carrier, the bait. And moles love insects," says Pehling.  

Cons: Moles "don't have lower incisors. They can't gnaw. So they can't eat poison peanuts," says Cincinnati-based Tom Schmidt, the Mole Man. "Everything a mole has is geared for earthworms," says the longtime mole-catcher. Of gummy worms, Rogers says he's looked into them and there's no indication they work: "There's no data to support it, from my point of view." Also, the trouble with poisons is that you may never know if you got your mole or not.

Cost: Poison peanuts: $5 and up; gummy worms: about $20 for box of eight.

The ick factor: Moderate – some handling of pesticide-laden products. And you may have a smelly dead mole to find.

Vibration devices
How they work: From tiny windmills to sonic "ringers" jammed in the soil, these devices are supposed to create sound waves that repel moles.

Pros:  It's clean. It's humane.

Cons:  It simply doesn't work, say those who battle moles. Siedelman, of The Mole Works, says he got a call from a weary customer who told him, "I've got moles dancing in my yard to these things."   

Cost:   Windmills: about $20;ultrasonic devices: $20-$50.

The ick factor: Zilch, save for that queasy feeling you get from paying for something that doesn't work.