Tracks in the snow, are these moles/voles?

prairiemoon2 z6 MADecember 30, 2013

I saw a mole or a vole in the garden in the spring, but I didn't see it again all season. Now I see these tracks that were evidently under the snow until the rain washed a lot of it away. I can't think of any other explanation for it.

So, what can I do if they are? And how do you tell the difference between a mole and a vole and do they do different kinds of damage?

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spedigrees z4VT

It looks like pathways made by some kind of rodent. It could just be mice travelling under the snow. Moles are carnivorous and live on earthworms and other invertebrates, maybe insects too. I think voles are herbivores. In any event they eat bulbs, tubers, roots, etc. If your lawn erupts in hills of freshly dug dirt, you will know you have moles or voles.

I just coexist with mine, although not always happily. Cats keep their numbers down, but never eradicate them. I think the mole and vole populations vary a lot from year to year depending on food sources.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 1:15PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Those are vole tracks. They tunnel under the snow to stay away from predators. You don't see these tunnels until the snow is melting. Spedigrees is right that you can't eliminate these guys. They reproduce at a remarkable level. Their main function seems to be to serve as a major food source for predators. Cats are good at catching them, but cats don't work 24/7. Repellants, especially those that use Castor Oil, will keep them away from your most valuable plants.


Here is a link that might be useful: NH Hostas Video on Vole repellants

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 7:08PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

PM2, I had vole damage in the gardens this year (in general we always have tracks from them in the lawn every spring when the snow melts), but for some reason never much in the beds.
However, this year it was pretty bad. Everywhere I stepped in my "expensive" shade border there were tunnels! I used the good old fashioned mouse traps baited with peanut butter. On a side note it was disastrous after baiting and setting about 8 of those snap traps while walking towards my kitchen door to head out, one went off and they all snapped and flew all over the kitchen! I put out a bunch of traps near their holes. I only got 2 voles and figured I'd still be dealing with lots of damage. Much to my surprise, there was no further damage. I'm not sure if there's a way to "gauge" how many you have based on tracks/damage. If you can find their holes, now may be a good time to set out some traps while food is scarce. Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 8:53PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Aw gee, I was afraid you were all going to say they were voles. I probably helped them out by putting down a nice thick layer of chopped leaves this Fall. I guess I will have to get busy trying to find any tunnels or holes out there. Our ground is saturated from all the rain we had but it's also really frozen. I guess that doesn't keep them out of the garden.

Thanks, Spedigrees for the explanation of the difference between the moles/voles. I rarely see a cat in our neighborhood, so I guess that's out. I wonder if dogs deter them? And thank you, Steve for the link and the castor oil suggestion. That is a treatment I can accept and especially for particular plants. I've just started increasing the amount of Hostas in the garden, too.

Thyme2dig, Mouse traps with peanut butter? OMGosh, I can just imagine the mess they made in your kitchen! That sounds worth a try too, not the splattering all over the kitchen part, though. (g) It would be nice to get ahead of it before there is a lot of damage.

Thanks, all. :-)

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 9:19PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Spedigrees mentioned they eat bulbs, do they eat daffodil, leucojum, crocus or lily bulbs? I just added a bunch of some of those in the Fall. They can't eat the roots and bulbs during the winter when the ground is frozen can they?

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 4:44AM
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In my garden voles do their tunneling right near ground's surface, in the winter under snow, in the summer under grasses, and year round under unfrozen mulch or soil. Unless your soil is hard frozen and you stomped all their tunnels flat just before freeze up, I wouldn't count on anything being safe based on my unhappy experiences. I don't try to control populations since all my gardens are surrounded by acres of rough field which has an endless supply of voles. I do put down repellent made from castor oil, urine, and water, posted by Terrene, who says she found it on the hosta forum. See link below to a discussion here on the New England forum from last summer. I find it works better than castor oil alone.

Yes, they will eat your tulips, leucojum, lily, and crocus bulbs. I now plant all those in hardware cloth cages that come out of the ground a couple of inches and are topped with gravel, along with my clematis and any other expensive plants. Daffodils may need refirming into the soil come spring with gentle pressure since the voles may have tunneled under them, but they haven't eaten them in my garden. Alliums also seem unpalatable to the voles.

Here is a link that might be useful: vole repellent

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 10:47AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Well, we are getting more snow on Thursday. I am going to get out there tomorrow and take a good look around and see if I see any little homes these critters are hiding in. I did see a very fat Hawk on a tree nearby, today. :-) Except we'll have plenty of snow for them to hide in a few days.

They eat all those bulbs?! Oh joy. Well, if I add more in the Fall, I guess I'll have to use the hardware cloth cages too. I just hope I don't lose the 25 leucojum I just added in the Fall. I have noticed a few crocus didn't come back last spring and I thought I was imagining it.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 5:25PM
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If you get some castor oil at the drugstore (yes it is expensive, but it doesn't take much in the recipe,) mix yourself up some of the repellent, and apply it on the bulbs before the snow, you may prevent munching, even if the ground is frozen. I used it on one bed last summer that had been infested, and it was fine last winter. This year I used it on a second bed and found only one plant eaten, despite the fact that it was surrounded by areas with tons of vole tunnels. I'll be adding the rest of my beds this coming season, but I ran out of time and castor oil, and we have too much snow for me to find plants that I want to preserve right now.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 2:04PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I just found some tunnels in the back yard today that look exactly like yours PM2. They are running through the veggie garden and a holding bed with some small shrubs growing along the veggie garden. I assume that these are mostly moles, but maybe voles running through them too.

I am not too alarmed yet because there are always a few every winter.

I just told the cat today that she needs to get back on duty and catch some moles and voles. She's getting older and slowing down, but she should still be able to catch some because these rodents aren't exactly the fastest moving creatures on the planet.

Last fall I sprinkled the castor oil/urine solution on many of the perennials in the gardens in the front yard. The voles hit really hard there a few years ago, and the castor oil solution has worked great to prevent vole damage so far.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 9:16PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Oh and voles absolutely LOVE bulbs and wiped out nice patches of numerous crocus, Muscari, hyacinthus, Lilium, and Hyacinthoides in the front garden, so whatever if left get sprinkled with castor oil too.

I never bother sprinkling the Daffs and Foxglovel, because no critters seem to eat these in the garden. They are immune!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 9:30PM
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spedigrees z4VT

I agree Terrene, that crocus bulbs are always on the menu for voles. I've given up growing them outdoors, and planted some indoors in a pot to enjoy this winter instead. In spring I'll toss the bulbs into the weeds for the voles to feast on.

I also agree that daffodil bulbs are totally safe from rodent damage. Mine come up year after year and have spread, unlike the poor crocus whose numbers dwindled until they were gone.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 3:36PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Babs, thanks for the suggestion, but getting the tree down and the decorations put away and shoveling were about all we had energy for yesterday, so IâÂÂm going to just have to keep my fingers crossed that I donâÂÂt have too many voles this year. If we get another thaw and the snow melts, IâÂÂll definitely try to get some castor oil treatment applied. I think there are areas, they would have no interest in, so I can stick to the few areas where they would find a lot to interest them.

Hi Terrene, my sympathies for your tunnels. You're lucky to have an outdoor cat to help out. No pets here. My son has cats and a dog, but the cats are indoor cats only, or IâÂÂd borrow them. :-)

And I think it will be worth my while, to start putting down that castor oil combo treatment in the Fall from now on and use hardware cloth boxes when I plant bulbs and then I wonâÂÂt have to worry about it. Definitely more work, but protection, not just for one year, but for year after year.

Spedigrees, Luckily the majority of bulbs I have are daffodils. :-) But just this Fall, I decided to start adding more of everything else. I didnâÂÂt make a big investment this year, just leucojum and 50 more crocus for the lawn. So before I add more of those bulbs, IâÂÂm going to make up a lot of those hardware cloth boxes. Sad that you lost so many crocus. Maybe you could add some crocus to your property with the hardware boxes? Making them up could be a good winter project, so they are all ready to go next fall.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 7:28AM
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A stick of Jujyfruit gum is delicious to a vole, unfortunately, it kills him.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 2:15AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Interesting Seb99, hadn't heard that one before. :-)

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 8:55AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Ok, time to get serious about the voles/moles. DH said he saw a critter last year that looked like it had no eyes, so I showed him a photo of a mole and he said that was it. I guess it doesnâÂÂt matter because I was reading that it starts with moles and then the voles use the mole tunnels. I havenâÂÂt seen any tunnels in the lawn. As others have pointed out theyâÂÂre most likely eating the crocus and the leucojum I just planted, the buggers.

I still have a thick layer of leaves on the perennial beds and I'm avoiding walking in them still. This weekend I'll get the rake out and see what's going on under the leaves and look for any kind of home they are living in.

I just read that itâÂÂs $50. for a roll of hardware cloth that is 4ft x 25ft and suggestions are that I staple it to the bottom of all my vegetable beds. That will take about 3 rolls to accomplish. And another roll in the fall to make baskets to plant bulbs in. Good thing we are just now building new beds anyway, but what an added expense.

I found a link that discusses moles in detail and all the different solutions. Link below. From reading it, IâÂÂm getting the impression that IâÂÂm always going to have issues with these critters, because my gardening practices are exactly what they are attracted to. I probably will be able to get rid of them but others will probably move in over time attracted to my property. So I guess itâÂÂs just vigilance.

IâÂÂm wondering about the castor oil. According to the article, the earthworms get coated with it and they become distasteful and the moles leave, but what about the earthworms, is that killing off the earthworms in the process?

I read the thread on the repellant, and do I understand correctly that you only add the ingredients into a watering can, stir and pour around the plants you are trying to protect and any tunnels you find? What about the perimeter of your beds or along the property lines or is that overkill? Is it only certain perennials that they all bother?

Here is a link that might be useful: Moles - Living with Wildlife

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 7:08AM
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I've been drenching my beds with the antivole mixture, not just the individual plants.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 2:16PM
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