Gopher, Vole, and Mole Control in the Garden

Sally Painter
gopher in lawn

Underground rodents are the bane of many gardener's existence. In one afternoon, a few gophers, voles or moles can easily ruin weeks of hard work in the garden and are notoriously difficult to stop.

How to Get Rid of Moles, Voles, and Gophers in the Yard

You'll use the same gardening techniques and methods when you tackle getting rid of moles, voles and gophers in the yard. The first thing you need to do is identify which critter is causing the problems. Other than visual observation of the creature, you can determine the infestation by examining the ground.

Sign of Gopher Problem

The visible sign of a gopher is a sudden fresh mound of dirt in your garden or yard. A fresh mound is a horseshoe shape with no opening. Older mounds sink into a round or elliptical shape.

Sign of Vole Problem

A vole pest problem can be seen in your garden or yard as snaking tunnels. These are close to the surface shallow tunnels that are no more than a couple of inches wide.

Sign of Mole Problem

Moles also make tunnels, but theirs are much deeper. They leave little mounds of dirt behind that look like mini volcanoes. You can often see surface ridges running through your garden or yard. Many of these tunnels travel 10" deep and nesting tunnels can be much deeper.

Steps to Get Rid of a Gopher Problem

Gophers are considered long dwellers, but according to UCIPM (University of California Integrated Pest Management Program), as many as 60 gophers can live under a one-acre vineyard or alfalfa field. If you decide it's time to solve your garden or yard gopher issue, you can choose from are specific gopher controls, such as repellents, baskets, chicken wire, or traps.

Gopher Repellents

The first method many gardeners try in an effort not to kill their gopher pests is to use a repellent. This comes in several forms with varying degrees of success. There is little scientific evidence to support their efficacy, with the exception of castor oil-based products.

Castor Oil Works to Repel Gophers

According to the University of California's Integrated Pest Management Program, castor oil has been shown to work effectively on moles in the eastern states. Of course, repellents mean the gophers are driven to another part of the yard or to a neighbor's yard, which doesn't completely solve the gopher problem.

Castor Oil Pellets

Castor oil pellets are available at most feed or hardware stores. Wear gloves, even if using a product that comes in its own shaker bag. You will spread the pellets around your garden or yard.

  1. Spread the castor oil pellet evenly across one section of your garden or yard
  2. Use a garden hose to saturate the pellets with water.
  3. The wet pellets will release the castor oil into the ground.
  4. Castor oil is an unpleasant taste to gophers.
  5. You can move gophers out of your garden or yard by tackling them in stages, Apply one area and allow the gophers to evacuate into another section of your garden or yard. Repeat until you've driven the gophers out of your garden.
  6. Apply another round of pellets into the next area and continue to work in stages until the gophers are gone.

Peppermint Essential Oil

It's believed that gophers despise the smell of peppermint. Some gardeners plant peppermint to repel gophers or use peppermint essential oil. Essential oils are highly potent and can cause skin irritation, so be sure to wear gloves when using this method.

  1. Purchase 100% pure peppermint essential oil and cotton balls.
  2. Locate a gopher hole in your garden or yard.
  3. Apply 3-5 drops of oil onto two or three cotton balls.
  4. Place the saturated cotton balls just inside the gopher hole.
  5. Repeat for each gopher hole you can locate.

Dryer Fabric Softener Sheets

You can place dryer fabric softener sheets in gopher holes. The sheets can be placed just inside the holes. Keep in mind that burrowing animals can always create new escape tunnels to avoid these scented sheets of fabric softener so you may need to continue adding sheets. Due to the chemicals in dryer sheets don't place these in a vegetable garden.

Physical Barriers for Gopher Control

Trapping is not for everyone, as it involves killing the animals and disposing of the bodies. Creating an underground barrier is the most popular alternative. It is easiest to do this during the installation of new landscaping, rather than retro-fitting existing plantings. Chicken wire is often used, but is less effective than wires made specifically for gopher control.

Gopher Baskets

Gopher baskets come in all shapes and sizes. You will dig a hole to bury the basket and fill with dirt and your plants, bulbs or vegetable seeds. The wire baskets usually last for five to ten years. The wire is similar to chicken wire and prevents gophers from having access to your plants or bulbs. Pre-fabricated baskets are commercially available.

Hardware Cloth

Hardware cloth with 1/2-inch hexagon shaped holes is suitable for gopher control. This wire can only be cut with wire cutters.

Gopher Wire

Gopher Wire is often chosen over hardware cloth. It has slightly smaller holes than chicken wire and is made to last longer than chicken wire when in contact with the soil.

wire mesh cage

Make Your Own Gopher Baskets

You may create your own gopher baskets to fit your plantings. This may prove more cost effective and give you a wider choice of sizes and shapes.

  1. You'll need a roll of hardware cloth or Gopher wire.
  2. Cut the lengths you need for a raised bed or the root ball for an individual plant.
  3. Fold the cut cloth or wire pieces together to form a basket shape.
  4. Make sure you overlap the seams to ensure there are no gaps.
  5. Line the planting area at least six to eight inches below the soil surface.
  6. The mesh needs to extend about six inches above the soil level.

Gopher Removal and Traps

Trapping is generally considered the most effective gopher control method. The key is to place the trap in a gopher tunnel that is currently in use, which is indicated by a fresh mound of dirt.

  1. Wear gloves to mask your scent.
  2. Excavate a small area of the tunnel, just big enough to place the trap.
  3. Place a piece of wood, cardboard or any other object to block the light over the exposed hole.
  4. You don't need to use bait since the traps are designed to kill the animals when they traverse the tunnel.

Types of Lethal Gopher Traps

There are several types of lethal Gopher traps available. The famous Macabee gopher trap has earned a nearly cult-like reputation among farmers and gardener for its effectiveness. It's a bit tricky to set, however, but The Garden Counselor provides a very detailed step-by-step guide for first-timers and advises them to bait the trap with tomato leaves.

Gopher Poisons

Gopher poison typically consists of strychnine-laced grain. Moles typically eat bugs and grubs and require a different type of poison to be effective. Look for the products labeled for the animal in question.

  1. Place the poison in an active tunnel.
  2. Cover the opening to exclude light.
  3. Gopher poisons are toxic to people and other animals, so they are not an appropriate solution in a yard where children and pets play.
  4. Follow the directions and safety precautions for poison products carefully, such as Martin's Gopher Bait 50 (Strychnine).

Steps to Get Rid of a Mole Problem

Moles are less harmful than gophers and voles, but can create problems in your garden and yard when left unchecked. Moles are loners. You can take steps to prevent other moles from moving in. Just like the repellents used for gopher control, you can use repellents for moles. You can use physical barriers, noise, plants, or castor oil to repel moles.

mole tunnels

DIY Castor Oil Repellent

You can make a castor oil repellent to spray in your garden or yard. You will first create a castor oil and liquid dish washing soap mixture that will need to be diluted. Ingredients include:

  • 1/4 cup castor oil
  • 1/4 cup liquid dish soap
  • Small jar
  • Spoon
  • 1-gallon garden sprayer
  • Water

Instructions:

  1. Mix the two liquids in a small jar and stir with a spoon until thoroughly mixed. Set aside.
  2. Fill the garden sprayer with water.
  3. Add the mixed liquids to the water in the sprayer.
  4. Screw on lid and shake well.
  5. Spray over area of mole activity.
  6. Repeat every week until mole activity stops.

Noise Repels Moles

Moles find noise disruptive and will run in the opposite direction. You can create whatever kind of noise you wish. You may decide to play music or run a piece of machinery on a regular basis to make the area unpleasant for moles.

Plants That Repel Moles

There are a few plants that moles don't like to be around. These plants include, castor bean plants, narcissus (daffodil family) and crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis of the lily family). Plant these around your garden and/or yard to repel moles.

Scents That Moles Hate

There are a few scents you can use in your garden or yard that moles detest. There are three very strong scents moles despise. You can spread coffee grounds around the areas where moles have set up camp, especially in a tunnel or tunnel opening. Moles dislike fish smells. You can mix fish emulsion (natural fertilizer) in your garden sprayer and spray the ground and plants every week or two.

Create a Physical Barrier to Moles

You can bury hardware cloth two - three feet deep. The lower 8 inches of the barrier should angle up at a 90° angle to guide moles away from your vegetables or shrubbery/flowers. You need to leave about five to six inches of the cloth exposed above the ground. This will prevent moles from accessing the area from the ground surface.

Get Rid of Mole Food Supply

Some gardeners focus on getting rid of the mole's food supply. This includes grubs and other insects. However, beneficial soil aerating earthworms are also part of a mole's healthy diet and you should never kill earthworms. Methods for killing grubs and other insects may sound like a good idea, but will only provide a temporary pause until the mole turns to digging up more earthworms.

  • There are some insecticides that kill grubs, but you run the risk of introducing harmful chemicals into your yard or garden.
  • Nematodes (microscopic worms) are a good natural choice to use against grubs. These ninja killers attack cutworms, flea larvae and other mole insect delicacies.
  • Some people use milky spore to infect the grubs with milky spore disease.

Traps for Offending Moles

Some states have outlawed lethal mole traps. You should check to see what types of mole traps are allowed where you live. Home Depot sells the Out-of-Sight mole trap; it is a scissor-jaw trap, which is placed in a tunnel and is triggered by the mole as they scurry through. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for use.

mole trap

Steps to Get Rid of a Vole Problem

Some of the the suggested ways to get rid of gophers and moles will also work for voles, such as castor oil and hardware cloth. There are a few other methods and repellents that will help with a vole infestation problem since voles live in groups.

Get Rid of Brush Piles

Voles eat vegetation, so any brush pile is a buffet meal for voles. If you have fruit trees, fallen fruit on the ground is an open invitation to a vole invasion.

Urine As a Repellent

One of the repellents often used to get rid of voles is to spread predator urine in the tunnels and around the openings. You can purchase urine from a fox or coyote. Human urine also said to work as a vole repellent.

Noise Repellent

Voles don't like noise. Some people swear by ultrasonic vibration devices that are placed in the ground. You can also try machinery or music to drive voles away.

Pet Excrement

Voles are repelled by the scent of pet excrement. This could be a dog or cat, since both are vole predators. You'd need to place in the voles tunnel or opening.

Mix a Vole Repellent

You can make your own vole repellent using the above recipe for a castor oil repellent for moles. Some gardeners add other repelling ingredients, such as garlic and cayenne pepper.

Physical Barriers

As with gophers or moles, you can fence in your garden area with hardware cloth to prevent voles from munching on your plants and root crops. Bury the cloth at least 10 inches deep. You can also leave the cloth exposed above the gardening area for an effective physical barrier.

Natural Predators

Cats, owls and dogs are natural predators of voles and will keep the population down. If you have a yard dog or an outside cat, your battle with voles will be won by these champions. If you have trees around your garden or yard, you can install owl nesting boxes and let nature take its course.

Vole Traps and Relocation

Many gardeners turn to traps to control vole populations. However, in some states it's illegal to relocate trapped voles, so check before attempting to relocate a trapped vole.

Finding the Right Gopher, Vole, and Mole Control in the Garden

It's very difficult to achieve complete eradication of gophers, voles or moles by just one method, especially since new animals can always arrive from off-site. The good news is that all rodent populations follow cyclical boom and bust cycles. Within a few years, the majority of these worrisome critters will disappear on their own accord.

Gopher, Vole, and Mole Control in the Garden