Moles, Holes, and Flower Bulbs

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buddy the bulldog garden helper
"Uh Tom, why are you digging holes?"

As a child, I watched a cartoon where a beatnik cat named Jinx would spend his days chasing two irascible rodents, Pixie and Dixie, while spouting “I hate meeces to pieces!” And much like other carton rivalries (e.g. Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner) never the twain would meet—always close, but only within arms (or falling anvil’s) reach.

Years later, I am wiser, surely older, and more importantly a man who knows grudges get you nowhere, especially where nature is concerned. Simply put, nature always wins. Raccoons will break into chicken yards, deer will dine on trees, coddling moths will riddle apples, and voles will chomp through a tree root like a kid with a licorice whip.

For the most part, I deal with annoying critters through tactics of prevention and acceptance. Basically, since I couldn’t beat them, I have joined them.

For example, measures of prevention and acceptance include:

  • Deer: fencing the orchard.
  • Hawks and Eagles: netting the chicken yard
  • Raccoons: installing electrical wires around the chicken yard.
  • Voles: mowing and weeding regularly around young trees to eliminate cover and tunneling.
  • Weeds: mulching heavily around garden beds.
  • Blackberries: weed-whack the young canes, eat berries, make pies.
  • Birds: Accepting that they will eat half of the cherry crop.

I take exception with moles, those seldom-seen, grub-eating, mountain-makers tunneling under my lawn. They are garden helpers. While vegetarian voles can handily kill a tree by girdling its trunk and roots, moles, the Mr. Magoos of nature, blindly blaze their subterranean trails in search of insects, grubs and worms; and in the process aerate soil and rid the area of damaging insects. Moles are actually good for your garden.

So rather than kill these gentle, unassuming creatures, I enlist them to my advantage as they provide excellent planting sites for naturalizing bulbs like alliums, scilla and daffodils (bulbs ignored by deer and vole). Moles create mini-planting pads for me to use in spreading spring blooming bulbs throughout the lawn and garden, and creating random patterns for natural and uncontrived floral drifts.

Here’s how I turn molehills into no-maintenance lawn gardens.

Step 1: First, I or my trusty lawn scout Buddy identify areas of mole activity. (Well, that was easy.)

Moleholes aside, man do I need to paint my house!

Step 2: Dig one hole for each molehill. I like to use a three-inch diameter bulb auger on my cordless drill.

Step 2, continued: Because the moles have done all the work, the digging is easy.

Step Three: Seek supervisor approval.

Buddy giving me his nod of acceptance. Carry on!

Step 4: Fill the hole with some surrounding soil to create a proper bulb planting depth. Place one bulb in each hole, then cover with soil. Press firmly.

Buddy wishing this bulb was a bone…

Step 5: Once bulb is covered with soil, rake lightly to smooth and flatten lawn surface.

Step 6: Check with supervisor, then move on to next molehill mountain range to plant remaining bulbs.

bulldog flowers
Buddy’s scrutiny: apparently I missed a spot this time.

Step 7: Sit back, relax, and wait for spring and a patch of posies to appear.

naturalizing bulbs
Virtual made-up flowers, if I may project my anticipated results. 😉

Step 8: For spring bulbs, after blooming, let them die back naturally before mowing. Next years flowers will be produced by the energy stored from the leaves in the previous season.

Considerations:

  • Plant deer and vole-proof spring-flowering bulbs: daffodils, alliums, camassia, and frittilaria. Full list here.
  • Plant in fall/winter for spring bloom
  • After blooming season, let leaves die back naturally before mowing lawn.
  • Scatter seeds over lightly-raked soil for summer lawn flowers: yarrows, english daisy, clovers, California poppies, creeping thyme, and alyssum.

Extra Credit: What Varmint Obsessions Can Lead To

16 COMMENTS

  1. Tom thanks for triggering my memory about Jinx the cat and Dixie and Pixie. I too liked to watch them but now in my dotage and had forgotten all about them..lol
    I think every mole in my county has moved to my front yard which is about an acre. I would love to follow your planting advise but where I live, even though in a rural area, everyone likes a lovely nicely trimmed green lawn. I envy the way you can go with nature where you live.

    Always look forward to reading your e-mails and enjoy seeing what you and Buddy are up to.. Keep up the good work. I know Buddy is in charge and he does run a tight ship.. lol.

    Teddi (my buddy) says arf arf. He does enjoy running around and sniffing the mole holes. I tamp them down but they soon reappear somewhere else. Such is nature. I do love living in the country just wish mine was as rural as yours where I could go more natural.

    Your friend, Janet and Teddi says arf, arf to you and Buddy

    • Hi Janet and Teddi, I feel very fortunate that I can use my land as a creative or functional palette and try new things without worrying about the conformity of a less rural setting. Though the funny thing is Janet, I get all sorts of queries and feedback around town so there is that, but it’s usually in an amusing way.
      “So Tom, what’s the deal with that stick fence of yours? What’s if for?”
      “Oh, I just built it for its atheistic value. You know, because it’s pretty.”
      “You mean it doesn’t keep anything in or anything out?
      “Yep.”
      [Chuckling ensues…]

  2. Only you could interject humor into the subject of wildlife vs gardener, Tom (smiling widely as I read this mole-ridden blog post.) Nice photo in step #3 – Buddy’s idea of being ‘on point’. He must have been talking to a retriever friend about how-to.
    I liked your virtual flower photo and hope it becomes reality soon. I predict your entire lawn will be a flower field in a few years if you continue this seek & hide activity. I just hope it doesn’t drive those moles into your vegetable garden 😮

    • Hi Susan, the little moles have been working overtime, and now I’ve got more molehills than bulbs. I think I’ll just rake out the remaining mounds and sprinkle some English daisy and creeping thyme seeds in the lawn. So far the moles have stayed out of the greenhouse. The soil may be too dry for them in there. Happy baking and gardening!

  3. what a great idea tom! can’t wit to see it in the spring. though, the virtual flowers made me chuckle! it’s so cold here right now that any kind of digging is very far away! hello to cute buddy!

  4. Many years ago, when i thought i had some control over my world, i battled the moles for my lawn- Tom Ray even entered into the fray -laying in builders hardware under a patch of lawn to foil the little buggers. (I am still finding pieces of it!)It didn’t take lonG to understand their superior skills and adaptability. These are amazing little tunnelers, making the Norwegians look like amateurs- i too now revel in the sight of more evidence of frisky behavior underground and just bask in the glow of how much wildlife can be right there under our noses, doing their jobs.

    • See how smart we are now Chris, we just don’t sweat it. And if Mr. Ray can’t solve the problem, well it is time to roll with the punches! 😉

  5. An added benefit of planting bulb flowers, according to John Bunker of Fedco fame, is that the bulbs emanate a certain something that voles don’t like. We’re experimenting with this theory in our orchard. Wish us luck as the vole varmints are voracious. Thanks for the good sanitation tips Tom, and for your joyful approach to growing beauty and deliciousness.

    • Emily I still have some alliums to plant around my apple trees as a Little experiment in seeing if such a practice can deter voles from congregating around the apple tree’s root network for snack time.

  6. my experience with moles is just the opposite. I planted tons of bulbs one fall and next spring nothing came up hardly due to being I think by moles. Curse them anyway!

    • Hi Dale, I don’t think moles were the culprits as they only eat insects and worms. I suspect the problem was voles, which are rabid root and bulb eaters. And who knows you may have gophers too.

  7. What a creative natural solution to this pesky problem – I plant take a photo for proof and then the next morning- all is gone. I have been battling those critters along with groundhogs and skunks- it is a matter of go with the flow. For the most part I accept it- but when deer broke my peach tree that I had finally got my first crop from I must admit I cried. Love your blog and love your determination – you are as always an inspiration. Thank you for what you do on that valorous Vashon.!!

    • Thanks Elizabeth, I so appreciate your kind words. I totally feel your pain when a deer damaged your peach tree. Mine are now fenced and away from the deer, so that surely helps, but last year the deer went after my young chestnut trees, scraping antlers on the trunks. I don’t know why but this bark damage takes years for the tree to recover.

  8. Buddy,

    That is a good way to deal with moles. I have a bunch of them right now in my back yard in Cary, NC. Usually the foxes and owls take care of most of them as the population rises but I will use the already dug holes to plant bulbs.

    Please tell Tom I said Hello!

    Tad

    • Tad, Buddy sends his love between early-morning snores–his sign of absolute fondness for a kind soul. Stay warm on the other coast, I hear things are quite chilly.

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