Take action now to control outside pests

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Thu., Oct. 27, 2011
- Contributed Photo

How well did you treat your lawn last summer and into the fall? And how good do your perennial flower beds look? You may be confidently putting them to bed for the coming winter, but will they be entirely dormant?

This is a good time to evaluate your landscape for the presence of animal pests, specifically moles and voles. Although the animals themselves are not normally visible, they are very common. You may have already seen some telltale signs, but ignored them because they were not readily recognizable to you. If left unchecked, the presence of moles or voles might make for a terrible surprise in the springtime.

Though the names are similar, moles and voles are two unique, though similar pests. According to the Integrated Pest Management unit at the University of Connecticut, “Mice and voles are more common than moles” in this state. Though both can be found here, your infestation is more likely caused by the vole.

The two pests differ principally in their diet. Moles eat insects, earthworms and grubs, while voles feed on the roots, stems and seeds of plants. If you dig up your garden and find a healthy grub population, either you will have nightly visits from skunks, or a mole population will move in to feast on the larvae and beetles. Getting rid of moles means getting rid of their food source - most likely grubs. There are many chemical insecticides on the market, and they are commonly used on lawns. Milky spore powder is an organic solution for ridding your landscape of grubs.

According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, “Many people have vole damage and blame it on moles. Moles seldom cause extensive plant damage. If plants are being eaten, the culprit is a vole, not a mole.” ACES explains that if you don't establish the kind of activity taking place in your yard, you may not take the proper corrective action. You will need to take different steps to get rid of either pest.

There are several things you can do to keep voles away from your plants and gardens. But if what you really want to do is get rid of these pests, then you will be more interested in traps, repellents and poisons instead.

Repellents containing capsaicin, an extract of hot peppers, seem to discourage these critters from bothering your plants over the short term. Thiram is another repellent. Both have some use restrictions, so read the labels carefully. But bear in mind that these will only keep the critters away from plants and areas that you have treated with these repellents.

Chemicals that include zinc phosphide and Rozol baits are effective, but their use as a pesticide is restricted. This might make you want to shy away from this as a final solution to your problem.

Chances are you will never see the voles or moles that invade your property. Voles are active both day and night. But they travel in their burrows and under dense cover to avoid exposure in bare ground.

A female vole will give birth to as many as five litters per year, with three to six offspring in each litter. The good news is that a vole's lifespan is usually less than 16 months.

You will need to be systematic and persistent in determining whether you have moles or voles, as well as which areas are in active use by either creature. Don’t assume just because you see wide areas of tunneling and several entry holes that you have an infestation covering that entire area.

Voles tunnel under ground and also under mulch. You will find several entrances to their burrows measuring an inch or more. Moles, on the other hand, like to burrow just below the surface, and leave a telltale raised ridge wherever they go. It is very common to see these raised ridges along sidewalks and driveways.

If you think you have voles, find an entrance hole, and bait it with a piece of fresh apple, some oatmeal or birdseed. Check every few days. If there have been no takers, either the hole is from a mole or the related tunnel is inactive. Mark it when you test it, and move on to the next area.

Use a common mousetrap to catch the vole. Avoid handling it directly, and leave it, un-baited, near the entrance for several days. Then bait the trap, and partially cover it with a flowerpot or similar container.

Take some action now, and once the winter's snows have melted, you will see how effective your measures have been.

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