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Moles & Voles


Menaces to the Lawn & Landscape

Mole Information & Control Options / Vole Information & Control Options



Picture of a Mole                      Picture of a Vole


Moles In Lawn & Landscapes:


There are 12 genera of Moles in the world and the United States has at least 5 of them. The most common is the eastern or garden mole. This mammal has a pointed snout, rudimentary eyes, soft velvety fur, broad feet and long powerful claws on it's front pair of legs. Moles are a nuisance around the home and garden because they dig tunnels just below the surface of the ground. These tunnels seem never ending and will cause damage to grass and shrubs. They are on a never ending quest to find food and this will lead them to yards where insect and worm populations are high.

Homeowners will become frustrated and infuriated with the damage these small yet persistent creatures will do. It is not uncommon for them to cause damage to all types of turf including Bermuda and Fescue. In the garden, they will tear root systems of plants and flowers which can cause them to die. Although they are insectivores, moles have been found to like certain root systems common plants in the garden have to offer. I believe that many plants are killed by moles which are feeding on insects nesting and living around plants and shrubs.

This article will address how to control the grub population moles feed on and then offer suggestions on how to control the moles. First, take away some of the mole food......Since moles are attracted to yards that have an abundant supply of insects, keeping grub populations of insects reduced should reduce mole activity. In some cases this will work. Make sure to treat your yard once or twice a year. Granular insecticides can be used to applied to the lawn for control of common grub producing insects. Evergreen of Johnson City offers Hy-Yield Kill-A-Grub, a granular insecticide that provides 4 months of grub control killing two stages of the grubs being when they emerge from the lawn in the spring and when they return to the lawn in the later portion of summer.

Although I have not seen any data to substantiate this observation, I have noticed over the years that homeowners with pets seem less likely to get moles. Initially I thought their pets must be killing any that come in the yard. However, the one thing these people all had in common that might be keeping moles out is that they treat for fleas. Spraying their grass for flea control has kept many grub insects from being able to live which reduces the chances of getting moles. I don't know if this is true, but I have seen this pattern over the years of dealing with the problem. I have also seen people who have pets and also have moles but they always seem to be people who don't do much of the flea problem. Regardless, treatment for many pests in and around the yard will keep grub populations down which in turn will keep moles looking for food in someone else's yard.

NOW TO GET RID OF THE MOLES.... many customers who have tried different home remedies with out much success. These remedies include flooding their tunnels with water, using smoke bombs and treating with rat bait. All such attempts using these methods prove to be useless. Since moles only use their main tunnel for nesting, flooding will not work. Even if you know the main tunnel they are nesting in, moles are strong and can easily escape the rush of water. Smoke bombs prove to be equally useless because the moles will exit the treated tunnels to areas the smoke is not reaching. Rat bait will not work because moles primarily feed on live insects. Most of the mole bait currently available won't work. In fact, most of the labels are being taken off the market since they have been found to be ineffective.

One product on the market is is MOLE BAIT uses insects as the main attractant which means moles will readily find it. The attractant also has ground worms in the mix. They seem to like it's taste because we have seen good acceptance. Once moles feed on the product they will die. The one key we have learned is that you must use a lot of the material placed out to insure they find it. Since moles only use tunnels once except for the main den, bait placements made too far apart will be missed. Don't make your placements more than 10 feet apart and try to make the placements as close to the den or main tunnels that you can.   If you are getting some of the material listed above to kill the grubs, apply the bait at least one day after the treatment. This will allow the chemical to dry and not impact the bait. If you spray over the bait you will contaminate it and the moles will ignore your placements. On the other hand, if you only bait, expect to have more moles replace the ones you kill. This is due to the fact that you haven't dealt with the food supply. As long as the grubs are allowed to live moles will want to live there. Kill the grubs and controlling the moles becomes easy.

Though tunnels are usually easy to find, some will be hard as they dip back down in the ground. If your turf is dense or excessively dry, poking holes through it with a long narrow rod to located tunneling patterns and locations. Once tunnels are found, just place the bait through a hole that you have created. If you don't have much of an insect population and believe the moles are targeting your earthworm population, you may want to opt for the more expensive TALPIRID BAIT. This is the latest and greatest for moles. First, it uses an active which is particularly effective against moles. In other words, they only need to feed once or twice and they will almost assuredly get exposed to a lethal dose. Secondly, the bait is in the form of a worm. It has the length, shape and feel of a real worm so when found by a mole, they won't let it go. If you aren't getting bait acceptance using the insect based Mole Bait, the Talpirid will assuredly work. Yes it is pricey but the ease of use, the quick results it will yield and the fact that it's a very safe bait to employ all make it a smart choice. If all else has failed, give this a chance. It will work.

Trapping moles is an option, but not commonly used for mole control. These traps located on the ground surface and are most effective when placed on active tunnels which can be hard to identify. Furthermore, they will be visible. This visibility could be a problem because they are both unsightly and present an attractive nuisance to children and non-target animals.

To use any of these traps, you must first identify where the main den or tunnel is in your yard. These main tunnels are usually straight and around 8' to 15' long. From these main tunnels moles will travel looking for food. Most of the tunnels will run continuously and don't seem to connect any where. This is because moles do not reuse their tunnels. Since moles have a high metabolism, they must constantly seek food which is why so many tunnels can appear so quickly and without notice. Their nesting den is where you will find many tunnels all connecting and coming together. Another way to locate the nesting den is to push sections of tunnels down flat and marking them with some type of flag or other stable object. Monitor these locations over the next few days. Moles will push their den tunnels back up when they return home. If you find any of the tunnels pushed back up within two days, you probably have located where you need to set some traps. Traps must be set where moles are nesting so identifying den areas is critical to successful trapping. Though trapping moles is usually the fastest and surest way to control unwanted activity, it is not always easy.

However, once you identify where a nest or den may be located, your chances of success will be greatly improved. If you are unsure where the main den tunnel is located or if you don't want to use the kill trap or bait, you can spray a repellent material which will make the ground taste terrible. Once the ground is treated with this material, it will taste bad to foraging moles. This bad taste will chase the moles to other areas.  It is easy to apply and usually will last several months following an application. These are small granules which are first spread out over the turf you are wanting to protect. Use one of the spreaders we detail above to insure the coverage is uniform and complete. Once applied, the Repellent needs to be watered down to activate them which and the use of the Whole Control sprayed over the top will both activate the Granules as well as add to the overall performance of either product being used by itself.

One other type of repellent which needs to be discussed is the use of sound. There are many devices on the market which reportedly emit some type of ultra sound which is thought to irritate moles. In general such devices do not have a practical application in or around the yard. This is due to the fact that very infrequently do moles reuse the same tunnels over and over. Any type of Ultra Sound would have no way of traveling far because such sound cannot transmit well through soil or dirt. This would severely limit its range. However, the true "sounding" devices, the kind that make an annoying noise, will work. If by chance you are able to find and identify the main living den, the use of a sound device at that location will assuredly chase them but all that will happen is that they will move to another part of your yard! This obviously is not a valid solution. However, such devices can be used effectively if implemented throughout the entire property. In other words, don't just set one out where the mole tunnels are clearly seen; instead set out units around the property borders so that moles won't be able to penetrate. These units are low lying and can be completely hidden so a protection "grid" can be set in place that can be quite effective at keeping active moles at bay. The key is having enough out and having them properly spaced. There are generally two times when these sound devices should be considered as valid options for resolving conflict and getting moles off your property.

The first is when you have moles or voles targeting a specific plant or tree under which to live. It is not uncommon for moles or voles to focus in one plant. Many times this is a prized plant or flower or shrub and damage to their vital root system is not acceptable. Using sound for such limited applications is valid and if there aren't other plants for them to focus in on, they will many times simply leave. The second type of application these devices are useful for is when you have a lot or adjacent land which has mole activity and you want to keep them out of your yard. If a neighbor reports having a mole problem, setting up some of these as a barrier between your property and the neighbor will most likely keep them off your land. Since the device will serve as a deterrent, it is entirely possible to set up a "sound wall" around the perimeter of your property that can work all the time at keeping moles away.

The best way is to first apply some an insecticide granule such as Hy-Yield Kill-A-Grub and then spray over the top with a liquid insecticide labeled for grubs. At this time you should also push down tunnels to try and learn which ones pop back up indicating main dens. At least a day following the spraying you can apply some Mole Bait no further than 10 feet intervals down into the tunnels trying to make these placements where you have seen tunnels pushed back up. You should also set out some traps. If you don't get them quickly with the traps you should be able to kill them off with the bait. Within a growing season or two you should have killed off enough of the grub population so that local moles will have to go elsewhere to find food.


Voles In Lawn & Landscapes:


Voles are small rodents which look a lot like a large mouse and are commonly referred to as a field mouse or meadow mouse. They are short and compact with small eyes and mostly hidden ears. Though most are brown or gray, colors vary since there are over 20 species here in the United States. Voles can be found in every state and though they reside outside, the damage they can in the yard is extensive.

Unlike most small rodents, voles will be active day or night. They won't hibernate and it's not uncommon to find their burrows through freshly fallen snow. This article will provide some basic biology about voles, explain why they are a problem around the home and then explain all options available at this time for vole management.

JUST WHAT IS A VOLE?........... Voles are small rodents that grow to 4-8 inches depending on species. They can have 5-10 litters per year. Gestation takes for 3 weeks and the young voles reach sexual maturity in a month. Needless to say, vole populations can rapidly grow from one or two to many within a very short period of time. Since litters average 5-10 young, a single vole in the yard can become 50 or more in less then a year.

Voles are commonly mistaken for other small animals. Moles, gophers, mice, rats and even shrews have similar characteristics and behavioral tendencies. Since voles will commonly use burrows with many exit holes, they can be mistaken for gophers or some kind of ground squirrel. Voles can create and will often times utilize old abandoned mole tunnels thus confusing the land owner into thinking that moles are active. When voles find their way into the home, they are readily identified as mice or young rats. In fact, voles are unique and best described as being a little bit like all the other animals they are so commonly thought to be.

Like moles, they will readily thrive on small insects. Like shrews they will eat dead animals and like mice or rats, they can live on most any nut or fruit. Additionally, voles will target plants more then most other small animals. It is here where there presence is mostly evident. Voles will readily "girdle" or eat the bark of small trees and ground cover much like a porcupine. This girdling can easily kill small, young plants and is not healthy for trees or other shrubs.

Voles love to eat succulent root systems and will burrow under plants or ground cover they are particularly fond of and literally eat away till the plant is dead. Bulbs in the ground are another favorite target for voles; their excellent burrowing and tunneling will give them access to sensitive areas without clear or early warning. It is far too common to learn you have a vole problem only after the extent of their damage and feeding is mapped out on your landscaping in the form of dead plants!

WHAT KIND OF DAMAGE CAN A VOLE DO AROUND THE HOME? Voles can do all kinds of damage. Girdling is the more obvious; bark which is eaten is readily visible and apparent even as it is happening. Vole damage to plants is sometimes not so obvious. As voles consume the roots or bulbs of plants in the yard, this below top soil activity is not so easy to see or acknowledge. Sometimes one does not know that their beautiful tulips have been eaten until they wonder why they aren't growing anymore.

Above ground damage in gardens is sometimes written off as insect activity or some other animal but since voles like just about any vegetable, they will readily prey upon most anything grown in the average garden. Flower beds and mulch piles are other areas voles will find an abundance of food and just because you have a large yard with a lot growing, don't think the local voles won't have an impact. Since they multiply so rapidly, small initial activity can quickly become out of hand. In fact, their trademark tunneling is one of the more common landscape problems they create. Vole tunnels and dens will become well structured and dispersed if left to their own. The main dens will be similar to gophers; several entrances and exits leading to water and run off issues. The tunnels they create as they forage for food will indirectly kill grass and other plants as roots are chewed or severed. Leaving burrowing and tunneling voles to do as they wish is not a good idea. If you see activity, confront it sooner rather then later. Dealing with a few voles will make the task a lot more manageable; waiting till the local population is well established will cost more in time, energy and equipment.

HOW TO CONTROL VOLE POPULATIONS........ Voles are easy to control. There are several treatment options. Adapt the one which you feel both fits the situation the best and is the one you are most comfortable implementing. In most cases, there won't be one magic cure. Like most integrated pest management, the more tools employed the better the results. Vole control could involve trapping, baiting and repelling.

One of the oldest methods of killing voles is to "gas" them. with a sulfur based smoke bomb. It has a fuse and looks like a fire cracker. Set it in the burrow or tunnel, light the fuse and force it in attempting to cover the hole most of the way so as to keep the sulfur smoke in the ground. Be sure not too cover it so much that the fuse goes out and the "bomb" won't burn. When burrows and tunnels are short and minimal, this approach can work. However, large infestations will have created too many escape hatches and passage ways so it's not likely such an effort will prove to be totally effective if you have a large infestations.

The next easiest way to control an active situation is the use of some type of rodent bait. There are limited products available specifically for voles because most active vole populations will readily feed upon any one of several rodenticides commonly found in the professional pest control market. The trick is using one which best fits the situation. If you aren't 100% sure you have voles, there are many options that could be better to try. This decision will be based on where you are seeing the activity and the region of the country where you reside. For example, if you are in a part of the country where gophers are a problem, the use of a gopher bait could make sense. Voles will readily feed on such a bait so you could get success one way or the other. If you think the problem could be moles or voles, mole bait would be the way to go. If you are 100% sure it's voles, ZP bait  would probably be the best route. Voles like this formulation and will readily accept the offering. If you have a lot of baiting to do, the use of a Bait Applicator will make the task a lot easier. Use the  gopher bait applicator for applying the Gopher Bait. It can handle this material well. Since the Mole Bait is larger, you will need the mole bait applicator if you are applying either the Mole Bait or the ZP bait.

If you don't want to use any type of bait for fear of non-target animals getting injured, the use of traps should be considered. There are several types and most will effectively trap voles. If you have a large species active, the expanded trigger traps are very effective device. Use them if you have many entrance and exit holes. Place these just outside the holes and bait with either pecan paste or loganberry paste depending on what the voles are most likely feeding upon. If non-target animals are present, use some steel trap covers which will both prevent non-target animals from ruining your set as well as keep the bait fresh and protected from the rain and sun. If you don't have any such holes visibly apparent and aren't sure if you have voles or moles, tunnel traps could be employed. These are set in the tunnels and work great for both moles and voles. Another common in the ground trap to use is the spear trap or cinch traps.  All are very effective when used right and it's more a matter of preference when deciding which model to use.

NOW IF THERE WAS A WAY TO KEEP THEM AWAY FOR GOOD.... If you have voles on your property nesting and feeding, chances are others will be coming around. This is due to the odors and pheromones left behind by the once active voles. These odors will attract new ones for a year or more. Furthermore, if you have good food supplies combined with good nesting soil in which to burrow, it only makes sense that others will come around. To keep new activity minimal and unwanted voles off your property and out of the yard, you may want to set out some type of vole repellent. There are many available and most will help.

The key is using the right one which will vary from situation to situation. If coyotes are present, applying some coyote urine along property borders may keep any foraging voles away. Coyotes are natural predators of voles and the odor of coyote urine may be enough to alarm the and make them forage elsewhere.

Barn owls will readily feed on gophers or voles so placing a  barn owl box out could get some to nest on your property. This will indirectly keep the population down because the owls will need to eat and by having them live on your land the odds are high they will eat many types of small rodents around your property thus keeping local vermin populations in check.

A more direct approach to using repellents is to target something the voles want and treat it with an agent they find offensive. There are many such agents available.  ropel liquid works great at stopping voles from chewing plants or bulbs. If you about to plant some new bulbs, first spray the open ground and then treat the bulbs directly with the Ropel. Voles will not be able to feed upon any which are sprayed this way; the taste is intolerable by them. 

As an added protection, use some  tree wrap which will work as both a band aid and deterrent. Damaged bark can easily lead to tree mortality if left unattended. A more generalized approach is to broadcastiing a form of granular vole repellent over any turf where voles are thought to be tunneling. This bad tasting product will leech into the soil and keep them from both tunneling and burrowing where it's applied.