Moles and voles are two garden pests that wreak havoc on your landscape. Tearing up lawns, gnawing through the roots of new and established plants, eating the bark on trees, upending newly planted bulbs—these are two pests that can destroy a garden faster than you can plant one. Don’t dismay. There are ways to get them out of your garden and on their way.
First: Know Your Enemy. What’s a Mole?
Moles are insectivores whose diet consists of earthworms, grubs, insect and larvae. They measure 4”-8” long, have paddle-like feet with extended claws for easier digging and can be grey, brown or black. They have elongated heads and snouts, but short necks. They have tiny eyes and no external ears. They are almost blind except for the ability to see light and dark. They breed once a year in late winter or early spring. Litters are typically four to six babies that leave the nest after four weeks. The life span of a mole is six years. They are solitary creatures except when breeding annually.
Moles live in dens underground—under trees, sidewalks, and buildings—with a network of tunnels connected to them. A mole can dig up to 15 feet an hour, and tunnels aren’t used repeatedly, sometimes only once. The surface tunnel ridges are for hunting. The molehills are created by excavated dirt as they build their burrows. Moles hunt both day and night. Moles are always underground, so the evidence they exist is the tunnels and hills.
Moles do eat their fair share of Japanese beetles so for the rose lovers they may not be the worst thing to happen to a garden, but for lawn lovers they are a nightmare.
What’s a Vole?
Voles are rodents in the same family as mice and rats. They are prolific breeders, producing four to six litters a year with two to five voles per litter. Their life span is two years. They measure 3”-4” and can live above ground or below ground. They’re called meadow mice, pine mice, and field mice. They eat grasses, roots and tubers, and fruits, seeds, and bark. They spend most of their time in tunnels foraging and often in tunnels left by the moles. They prefer the underbrush of shrubbery and tall grasses to avoid predators.
Voles live in underground burrows that are identified by a small hole generally at the base of a tree or in a lawn, but they won’t have the pile of dirt next to it as mole holes do. They also produce runways in the lawn or flower beds that are a few inches wide. But mostly, you’ll know you have them by the damage done to your plants. When a tree or shrubs start dying, and there appears to be no reason why pulling up the plant and examining the roots almost always shows vole damage. Often there is no root structure left.
Voles eat all year but luckily are considered cyclical reaching peak population in three to six years and then leveling off to lower numbers.
You may have heard it all when it comes to repelling moles and voles. The solutions range from chewed chewing gum placed in the molehill to used kitty litter placed in random spots inside tunnels. And just FYI, if you were thinking mothballs, don’t. Using mothballs is illegal and can harm people, pets and the environment. Check out the information here from the National Pesticide Information Center.
An Ounce of Prevention
Start with good gardening practices. Don’t create habitat for voles. Voles need cover from predators and piling on the mulch, leaving leaves and weeds lying around, or mowing sporadically creates a perfect habitat. Mulching is useful in the garden, but no more than 2”-3” and not right against the trees or shrubs. For the best way to mulch, read here. Keep weeds at bay with consistent weeding practices and dispose of weeds immediately after weeding. When mowing set your blade so that grass will be 3”-4” high.
Don’t rid the garden of snakes. Yes, get the poisonous ones far from the house and garden, but non-poisonous snakes can be helpful in the garden. Many eat rodents, and some eat slugs and other pests. Keep a healthy community of garden wildlife.
Traps or Mole and Vole Repellents
There are different styles of traps for catching and killing moles and voles. The store sells them, and they are highly effective. But if you’re squeamish, try mole and vole repellent. We sell several brands including Mole Max, and I MUST GARDEN. Mole Max and I MUST GARDEN contain castor oil as the active ingredient. I MUST GARDEN is 20% castor oil blended with peppermint oil and cedar oil and 80% water. Mole Max uses 10% castor oil with 90% of Fuller’s Earth and water. Both are safe to use around pets, children and the environment. Both come in a liquid or granular application and following the instructions on the bag is easy and effective.
Repellents coat the food of moles and voles with an unpleasant smell causing the rodents to relocate. It is applied every 45-75 days depending on rainfall, and with consistency, it gets the job done.
Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, and blog writer.
B.B.Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Caroline, and Tennessee.