VFindMe-Home Garden-Home Search

On voles and moles

Living with burrows and tracks

by : Feb 8, 2016

From a gardener's point of view, moles and voles may be constructive or destructive. Assessing whether action is needed or not is important - there is always something else we could be doing, after all. Are those vole tracks in the turf really meaningful? So a mole disturbed your seedbed, time to call the Police?

Generally we spot the presence of voles by damaged trees and runs revealed by melting snow in the grass above ground; moles we notice due to molehills and runs pushed up from below soil surface.

One of the bad things about moles is that they feed on earthworms. Gardeners tend to encourage earthworms since they aerate the soil and mix the soil particles thoroughly. Reducing the worm population is not a good thing. One of the reasons moles build tunnels is to encourage worms to fall into them, then the mole rushes at speed to get to the worm before it can escape into undisturbed soil again. Persistent frustration of the moles efforts to get the worms may discourage them from operating in your garden and might just eliminate the need to actually seek their destruction.

On the other hand, it might just be handy to have moles around since they throw up useful hills of good loosened soil suitable for using in pots.

One of the bad things about voles is that they will not hesitate to strip the bark from the base of trees, effectively killing the tree. This is particularly damaging for specimen trees and orchards. The voles will, in winter and when food is scarce, chew into the bark to get at the cambium layer, along with closely associated xylem and phloem cells. In a snowy, cold winter I have seen the bark stripped from an apple tree from ground level to about three feet above the ground. With the channels from the canopy to the roots cut, the root system eventually exhausts its reserves of food and is unable to generate new root hairs, in turn starving the canopy, with the result that the tree dies a slow but inevitable death.

In the warmer weather voles will go for succulent roots and shoots. In addition they will chew into potato tubers and attack tomato fruits, at least the ones they can reach.

The presence of a thick mat of grass roots such as couch or quack grass close to the surface of the soil forces the vole to operate above the root mat or below it. Dens are below ground, but moving from one place to another usually involves above ground runs. They don't much relish the idea of being picked off by foxes or owls, so they travel at speed from one patch of cover to the next.

I have tried hard to think of a positive aspect to voles. All I have been able to come up with so far is that cats love to hunt and eat them. But then in turn the cats are hunted by owls, other raptors and bigger animals such as fishers.

When they can, gardeners discourage voles by keeping the grass in orchards short. Then if a vole attempts to cross the ground to get to a tree, likely a raptor will see the opportunity for a meal.

Copyright © 2016