Posts Tagged ‘moles’

Mole and Voles in your Landscape

Moles and voles remind me that not all lawn problems are directly related to weed, disease, or insect issues. Moles and voles can be real lawn nuisances and I have not really addressed these varmints in the past. Moles and voles are very different critters and an ounce of prevention can help keep your landscape free of both of these pests.


Field Vole

A common vole
Moles are carnivorous animals that primarily eat earth worms, adult insects, and a variety of grubs in the soil. Voles by contrast are rodents and look much like a mouse. Voles seek to eat grass blades, bulbs, bark, roots, and succulent vegetation on trees and shrubs in and around your home. One is a meat eater and the other is a vegetarian and both cause an eye sore with their tunneling and feeding activities in lawns and beds. Mole and vole activity peak between September and April. Moles aggressively forage for insects in your home landscape.

Neither moles nor voles hibernate, so they can cause damage year round. Moles have two kinds of tunnels, a surface feeding tunnel with the characteristic mound of soil pushed up, as well as a lower “interstate highway” for long distance travel to say the woods or a mulch bed. Voles’ tunnels are similar to the mole surface feeding tunnel, less the mound of dirt. You may have moles or voles but neither has any direct correlation to the other in terms of sharing tunnels or food source. Both varmints make a mess and their tunneling can drive home owners into frenzy much like the groundskeeper in the movie Caddyshack.


Classic "volcano mounds" caused by mole activity in a lawn visible in late October

Classic “volcano mounds” caused by mole activity in October

Now that we have outlined key differences between a mole and vole, what can be done? Regular mowing is very helpful toward discouraging a resident mole or vole but is not the only preventative action available.
To discourage voles, keeping clean gardens, landscape beds, and mulch depth to less than 2”removes potential nesting sites. Overgrown plants, excessive leaf litter, and deep mulch in your gardens or landscape are ideal habitats for voles. Be sure to clean out all the fall leaf litter around your foundation to remove vole nesting sites before winter. Cutting your lawn short to 1.5” in November will help reduce a surface food source under the snow. Since voles are rodents, you can also use mouse traps placed around ornamental shrubs like you would in your home.
Moles meaty food source of worms, grubs, and insects ironically often means you have healthy soil under your lawn. While grub reduction can be helpful, it is not the moles’ main food or only food source. Since moles don’t like a lot of traffic or sound, I have seen sonic devices do a nice job on making a hostile habitat; creating a rock concert atmosphere if you will. I have mole baits which used as a last resort will take out your resident mole(s).
When it comes to controlling moles and voles, a tidy landscape is a healthy landscape. Weekly walks around your lawn and garden beds can help spot a mole or vole infestation before it becomes a big problem. Placing mouse traps for voles is a simple, yet effective means to protecting your valuable landscape.


Spring lawn care issues

As the snow recedes after our snowy winter, snow mold and mice damage may appear on your lawn as common spring lawn care issues.  Snow mold is a common turf disease and can range from visually unappealing to damaging with actual turf loss.  Snow mold can appear on the surface of your lawn even with no snow in some circumstances.  You will either see a pink or gray color, especially in the morning or with cool, moist conditions in March or April.  Once dry, the affected grass becomes matted, kind of like pink eye, all crusty.  I took the picture below of pink snow mold yesterday.  Another area was matted and dry, requiring a light raking to break up the old matted leaf blades so air and sunlight can hit the soil and speed up recovery.  Lawns with a severe case of snow mold should not receive an early crabgrass barrier.  Applying a crabgrass barrier with a severe case of snow mold will place unnecessary stress on your already weakened lawn, often promoting less recovery and/or thinning.  Your best option is to lightly rake a lawn with severe snow mold which will promote new growth.  This can be done in conjunction with a natural or organic fertilizer treatment followed up with crabgrass suppression in May.


snow mold on lawn in spring


Mice damage is another spring issue and is typical if the lawn is left too long going into winter.  Mice will feed on the surface leaves under the snow causing surface tunnels, as illustrated in the picture below.  Some turf damage may result if the base of the lawn is eaten, down at the crown level.  As the soil warms and your lawn starts to green, only then will you know if recovery is possible.  A simple tip to help reduce mouse damage is to mow your lawn short for the final cut of the season, down to 1-1.5”.  Be sure to mow your lawn if it is long in April to 2” and/or rake out the damaged areas to help promote recovery while applying an organic or natural fertilizer.


mice damage on lawn in the spring



Lawn pests include grubs in NH & VT

The Japanese beetle will not only eat foliage, the grubs will eat your lawn!

There are about eight major types of grubs in NH and VT that cause turf damage, ranging from the classic Japanese beetle to a masked chafer.  Grubs will cause lawn damage plus the adults will devour ornamental shrubs and trees in your landscape.  The potential loss of your investment makes controlling the young and adult stage of these beetles a sensible decision.  Luckily, there are organic and new products available to help control these villains plus many others!

As always, the best defense is a good offense.  Healthy turf can withstand root pruning and even minor damage without a pesticide being applied – even an organic one.  Proper cultural practices, such as proper irrigation and a high 3” mowing height, also help keep your lawn cooler and less desirable to adult beetles.  Overseeding with resistant turf varieties makes the grass taste less desirable, not necessarily to grubs but to their buddies above ground like chinch bugs, sod webworm and such.

New and old research shows that compost tea actually helps grass develop its own immune response to reduce damage from both insect and disease activity. Although not an easy turf treatment, beneficial nematodes provide 100% organic control in the spring or fall.  Milky spore disease was developed a long time ago to control only Japanese beetle grubs, not the other seven.  Unfortunately, the spores take years to develop due to the cold New England winters.  As a result, Milky spore is not recommended by professionals as it simply does not work in NH or VT.

New organic pesticides that are ORMI certified contain capcaisin, the active ingredient in hot peppers. To obtain good results, and because the organic treatments are short-lived, multiple visits are required in the spring and fall to obtain predictable results.  Even organic pesticides require extensive licensing and certification in both NH and VT.  If you are considering “professional help,” be sure to ask for the company’s NHPC number in NH or license certification in VT before having any treatment done on your property- organic or otherwise!  The potential damage inflicted by an application remains substantial, even if the material used is 100% organic, with improper rates, training, and equipment.  In today’s economy, everyone with a pickup truck claims he is an organic landscaper but doesn’t have the credentials, insurance, or education to back up the temporary lettering.

For those ‘do-it-yourself’ folks, be careful what you purchase and use this spring.  For instance, “Grubex” is another name for Acelypryn, a great new product for controlling grubs and other harmful insects.  Unfortunately, if used at the wrong time, your application will not work due to the size and life stage of the pest you may desire to eliminate.  This factor underscores the importance of proper training and state certification where turf technicians must learn not only insect but local disease pests.

While the bag you buy at your hardware store may be well labeled for grubs, you may not be applying it at the right time or stage of the pest.  Said another way, just because the bag says it controls pests X, Y, and Z does not mean you are going to control them due to the time of year.  This type of activity would be the definition of a waste of money, time, and chemical.  Without the proper information on the life cycle of the pest you seek to destroy or reduce, applying home products is like shooting in the dark.

In summary, there are lots of ways to help your lawn look great, with the best and least environmental impact being the cultural and day to day upkeep of the turf.  Integrating resistant grasses during lawn overseeding/establishment and implementing organic or natural bacterial and friendly fungi are super tools with no harmful side effects.  In my opinion, pesticides should only be used as a last resort or when there may be a history of continual damage on a scale that would outweigh the omission of such products.  In other words, a $400 treatment outweighs a $5,000 renovation!

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