A few weeks ago, I received a question from Cindy who had a major problem with voles in her garden last year. The voles did significant damage to her perennials, and she asked what she could do to control these pests.
Many people will lump moles and voles into one group. They are different. If you look at a vole, it resembles a mouse more than a mole. A common name for voles is meadow mouse. Voles are dark colored with a blunt nose and a short tail. They usually have a thick body. They also will spend time above ground foraging, as opposed to moles, which usually spend the majority of their lives digging tunnels underground.
Voles will live in plant debris along the edge of the garden or woods. They do sometimes live in underground nests. The hole that goes into the nest is about an inch to 2 inches wide.
Much of the damage is caused by voles eating plant bark or plant stems during the winter months. If you remember last winter, we had a lot of snow. The ground under the snow was not frozen. This layer of snow allowed mice, moles and voles to travel under the snow and feed all winter. When any garden pest has access to lots of food, they tend to reproduce in record numbers.
The feeding last winter was probably the start of Cindy's problem with the voles in her garden. The voles were a problem in our garden, too. We had one vole that was constantly running along the edge of the porch. It would feed and then run back to its hole. This went on for many weeks. At first we thought it was a mouse. Yet, a closer look allowed us to see that it was a vole.
Early on in the season, when we thought it was a mouse, we set a mousetrap. One day we found a dead vole in it. It hadn't eaten the peanut butter in the trap — it was caught by running over the trap and tripping it. This trick worked repeatedly, and we finally got the vole population under control.
There are many types of repellents you can use in the garden.
Cindy said that she had dogs and was worried about using any poison. I can tell you that mothballs don't work, and it is not good to have them breaking down in the soil and releasing their active ingredients. As far as which one to recommend, it is hard to say because what works for one yard may not work as well in another.
In Cindy's case, it sounds as though the voles tunneled into the perennial bed.
The best cure, although not the easiest thing to do, is to dig around the outside edge of the bed and put down hardware cloth. This wire has one-quarter-inch mesh that prevents the voles or moles from tunneling into the perennial bed.
Probably, the best news is that the vole population will rise and fall due to available food.
If you keep the leaves and litter cleaned up around the yard, there will be fewer places for the voles to live. Mousetraps will catch many of them if you set the traps up where you see the voles. You can spray plants with repellents, but it may take repeat applications to be effective. All in all, they can be a major pest that will require many different control methods to minimize their damage. Ultimately, Mother Nature will decrease their numbers, and the problem will subside.
Well, that's all for this week. I'll talk to you again next week.
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Tim Lamprey is the owner of Harbor Garden Center on Route 1 in Salisbury. His website is www.Harborgardens.com. Do you have questions for Tim? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and he will answer them in upcoming columns.