Moles and Voles Oh My!

Winter weather can certainly take its toll on our ornamental plants, flower bud killing temperatures, heaving our plants out of the soil, maybe even killing our plants down to the ground to start over and the needle desiccation of our evergreens. Another unwelcome surprise many gardeners are finding is the damage from Voles that hid under all our snow this winter.

Voles are active year round and in the summer, their feeding goes unnoticed as they are able to forage over a large area. During the winter, Voles are limited to range and snow cover. As the snow melted, gardeners have seen those trails made on the top of the soil and through the lawn under the cover of snow. With all the snow we had this winter, feeding went unnoticed. Damage to trees and shrubs will always be below the snow line and the bark will be eaten off the trunks and the tops of any exposed roots at the crown of the plants. If you closely look at the damage you can actually see the teeth marks made as slanted or v shaped marks.

In the home lawn, a vole will also eat the grass, the grass plant crowns, and any roots that exposed leaving a path of bare soil. Vole damage to the lawn will likely be more extensive near their permanent winter cover in beds and borders that will provide protection during the winter. The trails will radiate out from there as the Voles search out additional food sources. The damage to trees and shrubs is not unlike what gardeners experience from rabbit damage and should be handled the same way. Best to wait and see what plants or branches survive before doing any pruning. Lawn repair will be taking a leaf rake and raking up the loose grass and thatch left behind. If the trails are not large in size, the lawn will naturally fill in with spring growth. If the trails are wide or are deep enough to require our help, then topdressing the trails with a quality soil and reseeding may be in order.

Most often gardeners think of Mole damage as a summer to late summer event as Moles are very active then looking for food. Moles feed underground, consuming insects. Moles favor earthworms but will eat other soil borne insects too. The summer damage is the result of their foraging and tunnel making just below the soil surface. Moles will make new runs daily so very quickly just a couple of Moles can do a lot of damage. In the spring of the year, Moles will be rearing young having mated in late winter and in doing so create mounds of soil at the soil surface having created deep tunnels in the soil. The majority of those summer runs are from the young having left the parents. Management strategies now include trapping and baiting. Controlling grubs no longer seems to as effective as it was in the past, as our current soil insecticides use active ingredients that very different from those in the past. So use a grub control product if you have sufficient grubs to warrant treatment, but don't expect Mole control.