Moles dig those slithering garden pests

Published 1:42 pm Saturday, December 15, 2018

by Kristi Hendricks

You may think you’re operating an underground subway station in your lawn. The subterranean railroad activity seems to be at an all-time high, perhaps because of the ample moisture. Areas in the landscape seem to be as squishy as a kitchen sink sponge. Lots of comings and goings. But what’s moving about and to where?

Now comes the introduction of one of the most misunderstood creatures in Southside, that being the mole: vile villain or garden guest? The first characteristic to better understand is that the mole is not the culprit eating the roots and tubers of your cherished plants. That is likely a vole, vegetarian by nature. Nor do they eat your pansies to ground base. That miscreant may be a hungry rabbit on the prowl.

While the mole may shove aside or uproot a few small plants when tunneling about in search of a tasty morsel, the mole is a meat eater. I’m not talking pork and venison, but rather earthworms (unfortunately,) snails and slugs. Yes, moles are carnivorous.

VCE publication 420-201 describes how moles with their short, powerful forefeet with broad, outward-turned palms and prominent digging claws construct two types of tunnels. The pooched up, interconnecting trails visible from above ground are feeding tunnels. Moles also forge deeper tunnels for moving between feeding areas and to serve as nesting sites and protective burrows secure from predators.

It’s convenient to blame the mole for every sinister deed in the garden. Yet, the underground highways created by moles provide easy, quick and free transit for other small animals such as shrews and voles who actually are to blame for much of the plant damage. Moles aren’t even rodents, but belong to a group of mammals called insectivores meaning insect eater.

Tidewater attracts both the eastern and odd-looking star-nosed mole. Contrary to popular belief, moles are beneficial. And here’s why. They love to dine on both the larvae and adults of harmful insects, e.g., the Japanese beetle. Moles journey to gobble the grubs before the adult beetles destroy buds, blossoms and foliage during feeding frenzies.

A mole’s tunneling activity also breaks up soil compaction and improves aeration. Creating the passageways churns deeper soils with surface organic material thus enhancing the quality of your soil.

A mole is choosy about environment. The type of soil, moisture content and food availability matter. Wish they loved clay and gravelly conditions, but moles don’t. If your soil is too dry or wet, a mole can’t maintain tunnel conditions, so they avoid such areas. Mole conductors prefer digging in sandy loam. If only their ticket prices could keep out the guilty parties.

Look to other VCE articles ( for information about managing wildlife damage to your habitat.

KRISTI HENDRICKS is a member of the Western Tidewater Master Gardeners. Contact her at