March 31, 2019 GMT

While we are enjoying the beautiful azaleas and other spring flowers, the Clemson Extension office has been busy identifying lawn weeds and pests. Several homeowners have called us about those pesky “ground moles” making molehills in their lawns, as well as voles causing damage to our dear ornamental plants.

So, what can we do about moles and voles in the home lawn and landscape? First, we need to know how to tell the difference between the two. In other words “know thy enemy!” For more information on how to tell the difference between moles and voles, please see our fact sheet at the Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-moles-voles/

Moles and voles are both small mammals with soft gray fur. The mole has no visible eyes or ears, while the vole has beady little eyes like a mouse and small ears and short tail. We don’t usually see either one (unless our dog or cat is a good hunter), but we commonly see the damage they cause.

The mole is carnivorous, whereas the vole is a vegetarian. The mole lives and hunts for food under the soil, digging tunnels through the lawn in search of a nice meal of grubs, earthworms or other invertebrates. Using its paddle-like feet and claws, a mole will dig tunnels that radiate out from its home, usually at the base of a tree trunk.

To get rid of moles, use a harpoon-style trap, which must be set a certain way over the mole run to be effective. This process is described in detail in the Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage handbook at pcwd.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/1994_Moles.pdf

These traps are available from most mass merchandisers, garden centers and home improvement stores. If you have a severe problem, professional wildlife control operators can do the job for a fee. A list is available from the SC Department of Natural Resources at dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/nuisance.html

There are several bait products labeled for mole control listed in the HGIC fact sheet. Please follow all label directions carefully to avoid poisoning pets and other non-target animals. Castor oil is a good repellant for moles (see product list in fact sheet) but must be reapplied often to be effective.

The most common vole in our area is the pine vole, which is at home under the pine straw or other mulch (not under the soil) in your yard. Voles chew at the base of garden perennials, as well as some trees and shrubs. One of their favorites is the hosta or plantain-lily, a.k.a “vole lettuce.” Some folks grow their hostas in containers for protection from the munching voles.

To manage voles, modify their habitat by r emoving weeds, heavy mulch or dense vegetation. Mulches, including pine straw, are beneficial but should only be about three to four inches thick. Snap traps, baited with apples or peanut butter and oatmeal, are an excellent way to catch voles but must be covered with a box or tilted bucket because voles do not like to feed in the open .

More information on setting vole traps and using baits is in the HGIC fact sheet, with detailed additional information at pcwd.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/1994Voles.pdf

In next week’s column, we will talk about lawn weeds and how to manage them, particularly the winter annuals that are going to seed and the summer annuals that are germinating now.

Barbara H. Smith (HGIC horticulture extension agent, Clemson University) contributed to this article.

Trish DeHond is the home horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator for Clemson Extension in Florence and Darlington counties. She can be reached at pdehond@clemson.edu. Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.