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If your yard has holes, you might have moles or voles

May 01, 2007|by ANNETTE IPSAN

Where did those holes come from? If you are suddenly noticing holes or tunnels in your yard, you are not alone. Many local lawns are revealing damage from moles and voles.

How do you determine which critter is causing the problem and what can be done? Look to the damage for clues.

Are there low ridges and mounds of fresh dirt? Then your culprits are probably moles, which make shallow feeding tunnels and push up fresh soil from below the surface.

Are there lots of holes cut at an angle and ridges one or two inches wide? Then you have voles, which make elaborate surface runways and like plenty of exits and entrances.

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Once you know what type of wildlife is calling your lawn home, you can learn more and explore control options.

Moles are small, furry insectivores (bug-eaters) - not rodents - that measure 4 to 8 inches from tail tip to nose. Velvety black or brownish-gray, they look like mice, but have bare, pointed snouts, tiny eyes and large clawed front feet for digging.

Moles live underground and feed on worms, beetles and grubs - not plants. They eat an impressive 70 to 100 percent of their body weight daily, helping to control grubs in lawns. That's good news for those of us who curse Japanese beetles.

Moles dig two types of runways: a feeding runway just below the surface of the soil and deeper burrows where they live. It's their shallow feeding tunnels that cause those bumps in your lawn.

Should you control moles? Some folks embrace their moles as a form of organic grub control and natural soil aerator. I'm in that camp. I also know that the snakes and foxes that frequent my yard offer a form of natural mole control.

If you can't tolerate moles, consider traps. Understand that they are a hit or miss proposition; however, requiring careful placement, daily checks and the stomach to remove skewered catches. To find active tunnels, tamp down a few tunnels and place the traps in tunnels that reappear.

Steer clear of home remedies and vibration traps. Most simply do not work and some can be harmful to other wildlife, you, your pets, and children. For safety's sake, keep kids and pets away from standard traps, too.

Voles are a whole different animal. Also called meadow mice, voles are brown or gray and 4 to 7 inches long with tiny legs, tails, ears and beady eyes. Cute, but destructive.

Unlike moles, voles spend much of their time above ground. These furry rodents feed intensively on plants, roots and bulbs and often kill trees and shrubs by nibbling their bark at ground level in winter.

Voles create a complex surface runway system and often use mole tunnels to feed on roots. Their many, varied and angled holes are a dead giveaway.

You can control voles several ways. Mow your lawn regularly and mulch lightly around trees and shrubs to reduce their favorite hiding and feeding places. Set snap-type mousetraps baited with apples or peanut butter in the grass on top of their runways.

Avoid chemical baits. You'll find them at your neighborhood stores, but they are potentially harmful to pets, children and other animals.

Natural predators can be your best friends when battling voles. Black snakes, owls, hawks, crows and a good mouser (an eager cat) can consume large numbers of voles.

If you know voles are a problem in your yard, take measures to protect your plants. Avoid deep mulch. Use one-quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth cylinders buried several inches into the ground to protect seedlings and young trees. And pile pea gravel around the base of fruit trees to keep voles from eating their bark, a favorite food.

That's the whole truth about holes. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.) Voles and moles are both good opportunists that make your backyard their home if you have the right habitat and food sources.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at aipsan@umd.edu

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