Voles or moles – which one is damaging your lawn and garden? They can be tricky to get rid of but before you do anything, figure out which you have and understand these interesting animals better.
Once you understand the problem you can look for the right solution. I’ll discuss some options in this post.
Identifying the Culprit
Voles eat plants and therefore damage your garden. Moles are insectivores that eat mainly earthworms, grubs and insects. Except for their tunnels they do limited damage in a garden. It is therefore important for you to identify the animal you have.
Neither moles or voles are easy to spot in the garden as both stay mostly hidden during the day. If you do spot a small rodent running around and it is not a mouse, it is probably a vole since moles spend almost all of their time under ground. The presence of these animals is usually noticed by the damage they cause.
If your spring lawn has numerous above ground tunnels as shown in the picture above, you have voles. This is the most likely damage you will see, but in winter they will also chew on small tree trunks. If the bark is girdled all the way around the trunk it will likely kill the tree.
Moles on the other hand dig deeper in the soil and excavate tunnels. The excavated soil results in piles of soil on the lawn; the so-called molehills.
Voles are small mouse-like rodents that appear chubbier than a mouse and have a shorter tail. Kids would love having them as pets because they are cute. They are surface dwellers and when they dig they make very shallow tunnels that are easily visible. They are herbivorous, meaning that they feed on plants, tubers and seeds.
They are also known as meadow voles, or meadow mice.
In summer they spend most of the time in garden beds where they find lots of places to hide. In winter, they have a tendency to tunnel under the snow across lawns. These tunnels become runways that are used all winter long. The grass along the tunnels is eaten and damaged by repeated travel of little feet. In spring the snow melts and revels their shallow tunnels.
Dealing with Voles
Protection of Trees
Young trees are easily protected from girdling by cover the trunk with hardware cloth, or heavy plastic. Ideally this should cover the trunk both below and above the ground level by 6″.
Simple mouse traps baited with peanut butter, oatmeal or apple slices work well. Use a dozen traps for a small garden and up to 50 for a large one. Place them at right angles in the most used (ie the widest ones) runways so the voles find them easily. Examine the traps daily and remove dead animals. Bury them without touching them since they can carry diseases. The traps can be reused.
Keep pets and children away.
Rodent baits work well provided that the voles consume the bait for a period of at least 5 days. It is a slow acting poison. Place the bait in a runway next to a burrow so voles find it easily. Add more every other day for at least three applications.
Commercial repellents are available but they have not been shown to be very effective and they need to be re-applied frequently. Voles will eat sprayed plants by digging a bit under the surface of the soil to reach the part of the plant that was not sprayed.
Many predators including coyotes, foxes, badgers, weasels, cats, gulls, hawks and owls eat voles but in back yard gardens they rarely provide complete control.
Because tunnels are very shallow and open, fumigants are rarely effective.
Change the Environment
Voles like the protection of weeds, mulch and dense vegetation. Removing these makes it more difficult for them to escape natural predators and populations will decline. The problem is that mulch is very important for gardens and the growth of plants. Removing it may solve the vole problem but it creates other gardening problems.
Keeping lawns and wild areas cut short will also help control voles. In summer they are less likely to wonder across the lawn from one area to another if the grass is mowed regularly.
A wire fence that is placed 8″ below ground and 4″ above ground is effective at keeping voles out of a garden area.
Moles are mammals that are adapted to living underground. They have cylindrical bodies with very small, inconspicuous ears and eyes. Their webbed toes are perfect for digging. Although they look like a rodent they are more closely related to bats.
They spend their time underground where they form intricate tunnels. This tunnel building can damage plants, but their real goal is to find worms and insects. They are larger than a vole, reaching four to six inches in length, not including the tail.
Sometimes the tunnels are more shallow which results in raised soil in the shape of a tunnel, not unlike the tunnel of a vole.
Dealing with Moles
It is difficult to get rid of moles in the garden and most claimed remedies do not work.
Control the Environment
Moles prefer lose, moist soil – the same kind of soil we want for our gardens. Keeping gardens drier may encourage moles to move to another area. Maybe to your neighbor who waters more?
Moles do eat grubs, but having moles does not mean you have grubs and having grubs does not mean you have moles. If you have both moles and grubs, getting rid of the grubs will probably not get rid of moles since they will just eat something else.
Installing 1/4″ steel mesh will keep moles out of garden beds.The whole bed would need to be surrounded to a depth of 12″. Bend the bottom 6″ at a 90° angle to prevent them from digging under the wire.
Mole repellents derived from caster beans are somewhat effective. When the repellent is dissolved or washed away the protection stops. It is not a very good long term solution unless you are prepared to reapply frequently.
Mole traps are available and they do work. They are placed in the main tunnel where the mole spends most of the time. The problem with this solution is that once you get rid of a mole, another from the neighborhood will replace it. You should not trap and release which is against the law in many jurisdictions.
Commercial poisons such as Talpirid is effective. Talpirid looks like an earthworm and is eaten by the mole. This is not a good option around dogs and cats and it can poison other wild animals.
Many home remedies exist, including chewing gum, razor blades, glass and hair, but none of these have been shown to be effective.
Vole and Mole Problems
Usually voles and moles do not do a lot of damage to the garden and small numbers should be tolerated. If numbers become very large resulting in a lot of damage, select a control option that does the least amount of damage to other wild life. Remember, predators rely on these animals for food.
- Photo source for vole; Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors
- Photo source for mole; Kenneth Catania
- Photo source for lawn damage by vole; Beth Jarvis
- Photo source Comparison of lawn damage; Tuff Turf Mole Busters