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Lawn & Garden

What to do about moles, chipmunks in your yard

5/2/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Dayle Davis

Chipmunks can wreak havoc on gardens, tunneling under them and digging up tender annuals to eat their roots.
Photo courtesy of MetroCreativeConnection
GREATER AKRON — Are moles destroying your lawn? Are chipmunks wreaking havoc on your flower beds, tunneling under and digging up tender annuals to snack on tender roots? Are you looking for information on how to eliminate both of these diminutive beasts?

Well, don’t hold your breath. There is no simple cure to have a mole-free lawn; i.e., it is extremely difficult and/or impossible to get rid of moles. And since chipmunks are here to stay, overall, the following is a bit of background information about moles and chipmunks that may or may not help you to deal with or at least be a bit more tolerant of them:

  • Moles: There are six species of moles in North America. Of these, the eastern mole is most common in Ohio. It is a bit smaller than a chipmunk and weighs about 3 to 6 ounces. Each spring a mole can have one litter of two to six young.

Moles spend the majority of their lives below ground. They depend on a well-established tunnel network to survive, and they can quickly colonize and spread if not controlled. They are insectivores, which means they eat bugs, and can actually be of help in controlling some insect outbreaks. A 5-ounce mole will consume 45 to 50 pounds of worms and insects each year. Although they eat other insects, the preferred meal of choice for moles is the earthworm, which moles seek by tunneling through the lawn and leaving piles of loose dirt here and there. Unfortunately, this tunneling also causes considerable damage to lawns and makes mowing a nightmare.

Moles can dig surface tunnels at approximately 18 feet per hour. They travel through existing tunnels at about 80 feet per minute. Mole activity is affected by climate, ground moisture and which bugs are active when. Moles may temporarily leave an area if you annoy them, but they’ll be back. Conversely, mole activity may last only a week or two in a particular area.

Overwatering your lawn can bring insects, earthworms and moles closer to the ground surface, which makes tunnels more prominent. Reducing the amount of watering may be a short-term help. But dedicating a greater portion of your lawn to gardens, paths and other natural habitats reduces the visible signs of mole damage.

For moles, the most effective method of control is setting traps in certain tunnels and perhaps cutting back on watering. There are active tunnels and scouting tunnels. Look for main runways that are generally straight or that connect two mounds. Tunnels that appear meandering are usually scouting tunnels and probably won’t be reused. Step heavily on a portion of tunnel and then observe it throughout the next two days to determine if it is active before placing a trap. Deeper, active tunnels will be the most productive trap locations, since these tunnels may be used several times daily. Traps set in scouting tunnels are seldom successful.

In general, trapping is most successful in the spring and fall, especially after rainfall.

In the summer and winter, moles move to deeper soil and are harder to locate.

There are three types of mole traps that are especially effective: harpoon, scissor-jaw and choker loop. Be sure to follow printed instructions. (But: The instructions included with harpoon-style traps don’t provide for consistent results. The run must be collapsed and the trigger pan securely pressed into the run, creating a blockage and allowing the mole to trigger the trap when attempting to reopen the tunnel.)

  • Chipmunks: The Eastern chipmunk is a small, brownish, ground-dwelling squirrel with short, pointy heads marked with two white stripes, one above and one below the eye. They also have five black lines with white striping down the back. They sit upright and hold food with their front feet.

These animals are usually just a nuisance, but they can also wreak havoc in flower and shrub beds and along walls with their burrowing and eating habits. Chipmunks are most active in early morning and late afternoon. They burrow in a way to conceal their tunnel entrances and favor areas with heavy ground cover, rotting logs and stone walls.

Lay down a 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth to discourage chipmunks from infiltrating gardens and flower beds.

Chipmunks are omnivores, which means they eat grains, nuts, berries, seeds, mushrooms, insects and more. They also prey on young birds and their eggs. They collect food by carrying it in special cheek pouches and store it in their burrows for winter. Chipmunks provide a valuable service to forests in that they move seeds around for tree regeneration, and they are an important food source themselves for birds and other mammals.

Chipmunks also eat flower bulbs and the tender roots of young seedlings and annuals. They may also occasionally, in large numbers, cause structural damage by burrowing under patios, stairs, retention walls or foundations.

Trapping is the most practical method to get rid of chipmunks. Use a common box trap or a rat snap trap and lure the chipmunks with a variety of baits, such as peanut butter, nut meats, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, raisins, prune slices or common breakfast cereal grains.

Place small amounts of extra bait around the snap trap to attract the chipmunk’s attention. Set the snap trap perpendicular to the chipmunk’s pathway or in pairs along travel routes with the triggers facing away from each other. Set the trigger arm so the trigger is sensitive and easily sprung. Be sure to conceal snap traps in a way that does not harm or attract songbirds.  

For more information, call The Ohio State University Summit County Extension Hotline Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3, and request Fact Sheet W-11-2002, “Effective Mole Control”; and Fact Sheet HYG-1034-99, “The Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) in the Home, Yard and Garden.”


Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is a master gardener emeritus under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension.

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