Excavation Experts: Are Moles or Voles Ruining your Lawn? (Part 2)

By Marcia Anderson

These paddle-like paws can do serious damage to your landscaping.  Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University

These paddle-like paws can do serious damage to your landscaping.
Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University

We hoped you learned about the differences between moles and voles in Part 1. Now that you know how to tell them apart, how do you discourage them from living in your yard and convince them to take up residence elsewhere?

To deter these landscape pests, be prepared to alter their environment. Preventing pest problems through foresight, is the #1 rule of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is beneficial to both your health and the environment. IPM is smart, sensible and sustainable – addressing the root causes of pest problems to provide a sustainable solution.

Mole Control

Regulating some of a mole’s food supply may help. Since moles are fond of beetle grubs in the lawn, you can begin by controlling the grubs. The three primary natural solutions are milky spore, beneficial nematodes and neem oil products. An annual lawn-grub treatment application of bacterial-based milky spore disease granules can definitely help, but it takes two-three years to become established in the soil and it doesn’t work in cold climates (colder than Zone 5).

Beneficial nematodes can be applied and will move through the soil to infect and kill the grubs. Neem has been used as an insecticide for centuries and acts as a repellent for grubs. However, as long as there are plenty of worms or ants in your lawn, you may still have a mole problem and may wish to resort to “Plan B.”

“Plan B” for moles utilizes their keen sense of smell that finds some plants offensive. You can use this knowledge as a natural way to control moles. Several bulb plants are known to repel moles such as daffodils, Siberian squill, and crown imperial, whose flowers give off a fox-like scent. Garlic, onions, leeks, chives, shallots and giant allium are living mole repellents as are the mole plant, or caper spurge and Mexican marigold.

Vole Controls

 Here are some helpful cultural controls you can use to prevent voles.

  • Do not apply mulch too close to trees and shrubs. It provides voles with an easily tunneled, insulated pathway under snow, ice and frozen ground in the winter.
  • Get rid of autumn leaves, twigs and debris that can make inviting pathways and remove ground cover that can hide voles. Bare soil makes them more vulnerable to predators.
  • Place wire cages around individual plants: While impractical on a large-scale it is very effective for your favorite plants.
  • Use ¼-inch hardware cloth or plastic cylinders to protect individual young trees and shrubs. Bury them slightly and extend at least two feet plus 18 inches above the snow depth to deter other gnawing pests
  • Keep your garden weeded and avoid planting dense ground covers.
  • Keep your lawn mowed short.

Repellents

Castor oil is the most widely used mole and gopher repellent. Whether homemade treatment or a commercial product, it is made from ground-up corn cobs and castor oil. Other commercial vole repellents, are formulated with capsacian (the ingredient that makes peppers hot), repulsive smelling predator (coyote, fox or wolf) urine, or bitter testing chemicals. While these repellants are effective at keeping voles from eating live plants and bulbs, they need to be re-applied frequently because most dissipate with the rain. Voles may also become acclimated. Therefore, a varied approach works best with repellants. Fumigants, ultrasonic devices, and noise or vibration makers are not effective in repelling voles or moles.

Final Actions

Trapping moles or voles is an effective long-term control. Snap traps manufactured for mice are also effective at catching voles. Several EPA registered pesticides are also available for mole and vole control. Remember to read and follow the label directions on all pesticides carefully.

Visit the University of Nebraska website for more information on moles and voles. 

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Excavation Experts: Are Moles or Voles Ruining your Lawn? (Part 1)

By Marcia Anderson

It’s Summertime! Time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors.

Imagine you are strolling across your lawn on a beautiful day assessing your maintenance routines, when you notice something amiss. It appears as if someone – something! – has created a maze of tunnels under your once-beautiful turf. Voles and moles are the most common culprits. But which is which and how do you tell the difference?

Moles are not the only animal pests responsible for tunneling lawn and garden areas. In reality, it’s really voles causing much of the damage chalked up to moles. Other than names that rhyme, voles and moles are entirely different pests with little in common. Once you understand their differences, it becomes rather easy to tell them apart and to develop a control strategy. The biggest differences between moles and voles is their diet and the damage they cause.

Voles are also known as the meadow or field mouse. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark (www.ipm.ucdavis.edu)

Voles are also known as the meadow or field mouse. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark (www.ipm.ucdavis.edu)

Voles

Voles are rodents, as are mice, rats, gophers and squirrels. They look much like mice, only with shorter tails. Voles, of which there are 23 species, usually do not invade homes and should not be confused with the common house mouse. Voles are plant-eaters, feeding on the stems and blades of grass, and the roots, seeds and bulbs of flowering and garden crops. If that is not enough, in winter when other foods are scarce, they’ll even chew the bark off trees and shrubs.

When voles make tunnels while searching for roots to eat, they do not create raised ridges. Voles create golf-ball-sized entry holes into their tunnels along walls and in mulched beds. Their above ground grassy runways connect to multiple, clustered burrow openings. Their surface tunnels are most noticeable in early spring, just after the snow melts.

Moles

Moles are built for tunneling with paddle-like paws. Photo: Stanislaw Szyalo (a-z-animals.com)

Moles are built for tunneling with paddle-like paws. Photo: Stanislaw Szyalo
(a-z-animals.com)

Unlike voles, moles are not rodents, and they don’t eat plants. Their primary diet is earthworms with a few insects – beetle larvae and adults, ants, wasps, and flies tossed in as appetizers. According to Ohio State University, a five-ounce mole will consume 45-50 pounds of worms and insects each year.

Landscape demolition from moles comes in the form of tunnels, runways and raised burrows in your lawn, ground cover, and shrub areas while on their never-ending search for food. Moles, are built for tunneling, with paddle-like paws that make quick work of moving even the most dense clay soils. Moles can dig surface tunnels at a rate of 18 feet/hour.  The word “mole” is from the Middle English molle which is derived from mold-warpe, meaning “earth-thrower.”

Moles prefer well-drained, loose, sandy soil, and they avoid heavy clay, gravelly soils, and very dry or very wet soils. Because moles prefer moist soil, human environs such as manicured suburban lawns, parks and golf courses often provide beneficial habitat due to higher quality soils and adequate moisture.

Moles are constantly tunneling in search of meals, pushing up mini mountain ranges all over lawns, and creating volcanoes of soil in random spots. Moles produce two types of elaborate tunnels. The tunnels just beneath the surface, are feeding tunnels and appear as raised ridges running across your lawn. The second type of runway runs deeper and enables the moles to unite the feeding tunnels in a network. As the weather cools, moles will retreat into their deeper tunnels, often up to five feet beneath the surface. It is the soil excavated from the deep tunnels that resemble little volcanoes.

Management

Pest identification is a fundamental step in an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan. IPM is a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to controlling pests. IPM is smart because it addresses the root causes of pest problems. It is sensible because it provides a healthier environment, and it is a sustainable approach that provides effective, long-term pest control. Specific knowledge about your pest will give you key clues for their management.

Preventing pest problems through foresight, is the first rule of IPM. Taking preventive steps to preclude a pest problem is preferable to waiting for pests to arrive, then having to eradicate them. To deter these landscape pests, be prepared to alter their environment.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Excavation Experts to learn how to prevent and control moles and voles. In the meantime visit the University of Nebraska website for more information on moles and voles.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.