While moles and voles may not be a huge problem in Northern Virginia yards and gardens, a Virginia Cooperative Extension master gardener offers some advice.
Each year, the extension service gets a handful of inquiries about the furry animals. Both are brown and between 4 and 7 inches long, Moles are fossorial in nature, meaning they live almost entirely underground, while voles are semi-fossorial and spend time both above and below. Telltale signs of their presence: raised mounds of dirt in your yard or a raised tunnel snaking across the lawn.
Sharie Stegeman, a Virginia Cooperative Extension master gardener, says if damage is evident and a mole or vole is suspected, it is important to address the situation quickly.
“The first action is to see if there is something about your property that is attractive to the animal that can be changed. Otherwise, if you eliminate one, more will probably continue to come,” says Stegeman.
Unfortunately, what is often attractive to a mole also provides the best conditions for a thick, healthy lawn or flower bed. Nutrient-rich soil with a healthy population of earthworms, a favorite dietary staple, is very appealing to a mole. While Virginia’s red clay is less hospitable, homeowners who aerate or supplement the soil to create more favorable growing conditions for grasses and other plants make the environment more inviting. Voles, on the other hand, tend to nest in areas left wild such as fields, or where piles of yard waste or mulch have accumulated.
“Moles dig two types of tunnels: surface tunnels, which are visibly noticeable, and deep tunnels 6 to 20 inches deep which are highways used to get to various feeding areas and living chambers,” says Stegeman.
Since moles do not prefer dense clay or stoney soil and voles seek out wilder areas, it is unlikely they would burrow around or under a home. The meadow vole is common in much of Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. It lives in sedge meadows, marshes, cropland, and orchards. Voles are often referred to as field mice or meadow mice, the extension service said.
Each of these animals does offer some benefits. As insectivores, the mole’s diet includes grubs, beetle larvae, and slugs, which are destructive to lawns and landscaping. As they forage for these pests, their burrowing also serves as natural aeration for the soil, improving turf health and providing natural channels for water to reach roots.
Voles, on the other hand, are beneficial to the natural ecosystem and spread nutrients throughout the soil as they tunnel, but they are also voracious herbivores and can damage tender roots, bulbs, and saplings in short order. The first line of defense, if you have a problem, should be to use of natural deterrents. Solar-powered sonic spikes, which emit pulses underground, have proven to be successful with moles. There are repellents for both that use ingredients, such as castor oil, capsaicin, and peppermint oil, and are safe for use around children, dogs, and wildlife. It is also beneficial to keep yard waste to a minimum. If you are working with a smaller area, you may want to surround your bed or lawn with mesh mole and vole barriers that garden centers sell.
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