Question: I have a hard time controlling moles and voles in my landscape. Can you give me some tips for getting rid of them?
Answer: Nuisance wildlife can be very destructive in home lawns and vegetable gardens. They are also difficult or even impossible to completely get rid of. After all, as urban development has entered undeveloped areas, these animals are looking for new sources of food, shelter and water. They have also adapted to home lawns, making control more difficult.
To control them, you first need to determine which animal you are dealing with. Moles and voles are often mistaken for each other. Moles and voles are both small mammals with soft gray fur. The mole has no visible eyes or ears, while the vole has beady little eyes like a mouse and small ears and short tail. Moles live underground and tunnel in loose, moist soils for earthworms, beetles, grubs and other soil insects. Moles are carnivorous; voles are vegetarians. Moles may disturb plant roots in search of food, but they are not responsible for damage to roots, seeds and bulbs. Their surface tunneling may make mowing difficult for homeowners because of the raised areas and ridges they leave, and grass may turn brown where roots have been disturbed and damaged. Voles often live in and move through mole runways and eat plant roots, bark and tubers. If you planted your spring-flowering bulbs and they were eaten as fast as you planted, that is a vole issue.
To control your vole population, you need to disrupt their habitat. Keep mulch to a minimum, no more than an inch thick. Avoid the use of landscape fabrics, mow weedy areas and remove brush and dense vegetation that provides cover for them. You can also increase spacing among your plants to reduce cover. Their natural predators are cats, hawks, owls, crows, and snakes. They avoid these predators by not feeding in the open. Keep this in mind if you decide to set traps. You can use snap traps with apples or peanut butter, but the trap must be covered with a box or bucket.
There are a few ways you can try to control your mole population. The first is coexistence. Moles will move on when their food source is gone or their habitat changes. You can tamp down their surface roadways when the soil is not wet if they do not collapse on their own. Sometimes moles can be excluded from flowerbeds or home gardens by installing barriers of sheet metal or hardware cloth. The barrier needs to extend below the surface at least 12 inches. Vibrational devices, mole plants, poison baits or home remedies have not been proven effective in controlling moles and repellents have a limited success rate. Trapping may be the most effective way of controlling them. However, success may be temporary if you have an excellent habitat and the mole population nearby is heavy. Trapping will take patience and persistence.
Unfortunately, there is no single guaranteed solution to prevent or control moles and voles in the lawn. A variety of strategies and devices may be needed. A combination of exclusion, modifying habitat, repellents, scare tactics and peaceful coexistence are your best bet.
For more information on controlling moles and voles in your garden, you can contact your local extension office. Atlantic County residents can contact 609-625-0056. Cape May County Residents can call 609-465-5115, ext.3607.
Atlantic County Master Gardeners will be available to answer gardening questions and take samples for plant identification or diagnoses throughout the county the fall. We will also be available at the following Atlantic County Library System branches from 5:30 to 8 p.m.: Egg Harbor City on Nov. 5; Hammonton on Nov. 6; Galloway Township on Nov. 7; Brigantine on Nov. 13; Mays Landing on Nov. 14; Ventnor on Nov. 14; Pleasantville on Nov. 18; Somers Point on Nov. 19; and Egg Harbor Township on Nov. 20.
Interested in becoming a Master Gardener? Classes in Atlantic County are forming now. Please call 609-625-0056 for more information.
Do you have a gardening related question you would like answered here? Please forward your questions to Belinda Chester, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. You can also submit questions at Rutgers-atlantic.org/garden or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org; please include “garden question” in the subject line.