Pests and Diseases: Moles and Voles

The mole and vole population is booming here in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region…I’ve spoken to three people about control measures within the last 24 hours. There seems to be much confusion about moles and voles so let’s talk about the differences between the two.

MOLES

moles and voles
Photo courtesy of TermiGuard Pest Services

 

Moles have a face that only a mother could love. They are beastly looking little creatures even though they are only 6″ or so long (and that’s a big one…the ones that my kitty brings home are usually in the 3″ to 4″ range). You’ll notice their large front feet that are adapted to moving a lot of soil. They dig with their front feet and then push the soil behind them with their back feet. The tunnels that they leave behind in your lawn are a sure sign that trouble lies underfoot. It’s interesting to note that the tunnels that you witness aboveground are their temporary tunnels. The main source of the action lies farther underground where the moles have their permanent residence. The temporary tunnels are used for gathering food and once the mole has had a nice dinner, the tunnels aren’t usually used again by the moles. So what’s for dinner? Grubs, snails, earthworms, insects, spiders, that sort of thing. The moles are NOT eating your plant roots but that leads us to our next suspect…voles.

VOLES

moles and voles

These mousey-looking creatures are the bane of many gardeners’ existence. Generally speaking, voles are lazy and they use the mole tunnels to get to your plants’ roots. I all but gave up gardening here at my home several years ago. I had beautiful, 3′ diameter hostas when I put the garden to bed in the winter. When the garden awoke from its winter slumber in spring, I had 3 leaved hostas…literally. Those little monsters ate almost all of my hostas in a single winter. The tell-tale sign of voles is a hole where your plants used to be. Not a large hole…the hole is usually 1″ or so in diameter but that’s all that it takes for them to decimate your plants. Plants aren’t the only things that voles eat but it’s the only thing that matters to gardeners. They can eat all of the fruits and nuts they want without any complaints from me…just leave my plants alone!

CONTROL OPTIONS

moles and volesHere is my best defense against moles and voles. My kitty Bilbo (about the name: we thought that her and her sister were boys so we named them Bilbo and Frodo from the Lord of the Rings. Turns out they were both girls so Bilbo is now known as Bobo and Frodo was better known as Frodie). Back to control options…You just can’t beat a good mouser for vole control. I have to thank Bobo and Frodie and Kiki for knocking out the vole population at my house. The hostas that the voles didn’t eat that fateful winter owe a debt of gratitude to these girls.

Another option for controlling voles is peanut butter baited mouse traps. I know a local landscaper that caught over 100 voles in a single season using this method. A word of caution: cover the traps with a pot that your pets and birds can’t readily flip over or you’ll have another set of issues to contend with. Put the traps near the holes that you find and you’ll likely have great success.

There are all sorts of poisons that are touted to kill moles. If you choose to go this route, understand the repercussions of your pets getting hold of the dead voles. Consult your local garden center if you decide that this an option for you.

To control moles, you really need to focus on controlling their food supply. Now that doesn’t mean that you go out and kill every living insect on your property. Hopefully you know that I would never recommend something like that. But you should make an effort to control the grubs. Japanese beetle and June bug grubs seem to the creme-de-la-creme to moles. If you want to treat for grubs, spring is NOT the time to do it. As with most insects, it is much more effective to kill them when they are young. At this time of the year, the grubs are large and you just won’t get the same effect as you will if you treat them in the fall when they are smaller. I don’t give chemical recommendations but I can refer you to the Virginia Cooperative Extension Pest Management Guide which has treatments for virtually any problem you may have. In fact, download the free pdf before you read any further. You won’t be sorry. A more environmentally friendly treatment is milky spore but it takes awhile to be effective. Milky spore is a soil dwelling bacteria that kills the grubs and then reproduces in the soil. There are lots of products that contain milky spore…again consult your local garden center for product recommendations.

I hope that I’ve helped you determine if you have moles or voles and what you can do about them. I know that other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have suggestions for how they’ve dealt with moles and voles. Leave your comments below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy mole and vole-free gardening!