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Vermont Garden Journal: Moles and Voles

AP/WCS, Julie Larsen Maher

Friday, September 20, 2013 at 5:57 p.m. and Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 9:35 a.m. What's eating your lawn? Got holes? If your lawn looks like a war zone, there are many possible causes.

Certainly skunks could be digging for grubs or your neighbor's dog digging for fun, but if you see tunnels too, it's time to talk voles and moles. Although they sound alike, these are two very different creatures.

Moles are completely subterranean and are carnivores. They feed on earthworms and other soil creatures, not your plants.  Other than forming tunnels that make walking difficult, moles don't really do much damage on the lawn or garden.

It's the voles that we should be more concerned with. Voles live above and below ground. Not only do they tunnel in the lawn and feed on plant roots and bulbs, they also chew the bark of young trees. Voles form those shallow tunnels you see after the snow melts in spring. Another way to tell the difference is moles will leave mounds of soil at the tunnel entrance or exit. Voles don't leave any mounds of soil.

So, now what? You certainly can kill moles and voles with traps. It isn't pretty, but works. A safer and more human way to rid yourself of moles and voles is castor oil. Michigan State University studies have shown that the smell of raw castor oil is irritating to their senses. Simply spray the lawn area and watch them run. Actually don't be surprised if they will get more agitated before they leave for less smelly ground. You can also mow low to the ground and remove areas where voles will hide such as piles of stone, brush or wood. An exposed vole is easy prey for a hungry hawk.

And now for this week's tip, once you remove those spent veggie plants, plant some winter rye or winter wheat cover crops. These grasses will grow now, survive the winter and be tilled in next spring. They add organic matter to the soil, building up the garden's fertility.

Next week on The Vermont Garden Journal I'll be talking about cool composting methods. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Moles or Voles
Moles in the Yard

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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