Moles and Voles, what’s a gardener to do?

Here’s the scenario: The snow melts and reveals the horror: moles and voles have had a ruckus frat party in your garden over the winter. Maybe they chewed the bark off your fruit trees, dug tunnels all through your lawn or ripped up the roots of your rose bushes. Whatever the havoc, mothballs are not the answer—and are in fact highly toxic and really, really bad for garden use.

You might be surprised to read that. I often hear from many customers who’ve read about using mothballs as an animal control, even for deer. Sometimes it’s a “tip” they got online from someone who claims to have spread them in a vole or mole damaged flower bed. I’ve had customers ask me if it’s true that moth balls can be a good deterrent for chipmunks in stone walls, deer grazing along a property line or even for snakes in the vegetable garden.


Mothballs DO NOT belong in your garden. Beyond the basic fact that any use not specifically listed on the package violates Federal law, mothballs are toxic to you, your pets, birds and other animals in the environment and can also contaminate soil and water. Moth balls (and flakes) contain either napthalene or paradichlorobenzene. No, just no, keep that crap away from your pets and your yard.

However now we are right back to the frat party in your yard scenario. Moles and Voles can cause huge amounts of damage to your yard and landscape. So what should you do instead? The best place to start is knowing your enemy. I found this great information on moles and voles from the University of Massachusetts Extension Service. I’ve included a lot of specific information here, and I know it’s a bit of a long read – but it’s the first week of March and it’s still too early to plant anything so I know you’ve got the time!

Voles (also known as meadow voles, or meadow mice) are rodents that are exceedingly common in the New England landscape. They are especially prevalent on properties located in proximity to suitable cover, such as those adjacent to brushy, wooded or tall grass areas. Two or three different vole species may occur in an area at any given time.

Voles are herbivorous, meaning that they feed on plants and related materials such as tubers and seeds. Voles have three chief priorities: to reproduce, to consume vast amounts of plant material, and to avoid being consumed by an array of predators including hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and house cats. Thus, voles are stealthy and seldom seen. They seek shelter and protection in burrows in the ground, mulch, tall grass areas, brush piles, wood piles, beneath rocks, upturned flower pots, etc.

Voles are frequently confused with another common landscape pest, moles. These two species are in fact completely unrelated. Moles spend nearly all of their time beneath the surface of the soil, excavating and navigating a network of tunnels which can be very disruptive to the turf surface. Aside from time spent in underground burrows, voles accomplish much of their scavenging and feeding above ground. Voles eat plants as noted above, while carnivorous moles ignore plants and seek out protein sources such as insects, worms and grubs.

Winters with lasting snow cover provide relative protection from predators, and moles and voles enjoy the freedom to construct elaborate and frequently-used ‘runway’ systems within the turf canopy. Damage from vole ‘runways’ is an un-welcome sight as snow melts in the spring.

Vole Control
Due to the sheer number of voles present in many areas, chemical or trapping approaches can be prohibitively labor intensive and are often futile. For these reasons and the fact that any vole damage to turf is normally short-lived, such methods are rarely indicated for residential lawns.

Chemical baits are available, but must be used with caution due to potential toxicity to certain birds and other small mammals such as chipmunks and squirrels. Traditional mouse ‘snap traps’ baited with items such as peanut butter and placed at right angles to runways can be effective at catching some voles (along other ‘non-target’ critters), but do not often serve to reduce population numbers significantly.

So what’s a gardener to do? There is a natural solution available and it really does work! Bonide makes a castor oil product called MoleMax. The formulated castor oil in MoleMax repels through the animal’s sense of touch, smell, and taste. It will repel moles, voles, skunks and chipmunks for several weeks.

One common misconception about mole control is that if your lawn has grubs in it, eliminating the grubs will eliminate the mole problem. In reality, 80% of a mole’s diet is earthworms. While eliminating grubs is a good thing for lawns, it does not guarantee that moles will also go away.

Voles are rodents which feed on plant materials. They are often confused with moles, but their damage is usually to the bark of trees and shrubs as well as to perennial bulbs like crocus, daffodils and tulips. MoleMax is the only effective natural control I’ve found. MoleMax is an all natural product. It does not harm animals; it simply makes them go away. MoleMax is the exact opposite of Mothballs – it works and it is safe!

And why are some of you trying to repel snakes anyway? Snakes are one of your best allies in garden pest control! Some snake species consume not only rodents, but also those garden-damaging pests, slugs. A healthy garden includes snakes, so suck it up and work around them – share your garden space!

Your yard is part of a food chain; don’t poison it with mothballs or any other chemical.

Oh, and want to keep deer out? Get a fence. No kidding.

We hope you all are enjoying a wonderful early summer gardening season!

Michelle and the Plant Geeks at Lakeview