The Dastardly Duo: Moles & Voles

Mole in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Digging Mole

Moles and voles and bears, oh my!  Yes, I’m exaggerating about bears, but moles and voles pose a serious problem in my gardens.  With the recent warmer spell, I noticed lots of heaved plants and holes throughout the yard, and wondered exactly what damage is caused by moles and voles; who is the culprit behind each disturbance?  To figure out the responsible felon for each offense, you need to understand the differences between the two creatures.  In fact, the only similarity in these varmints is their name.

Mole 2 in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Close up of Mole

A mole, the larger of the critters (up to 9″) is an insectivore.  With its webbed, paddle feet and a protruding snout, this consumer of earthworms, grubs and insects can eat its weight in food each day.  Which explains why one mole can dig up to 1′ per minute, and up to 100′ per day in its constant search for sustenance.  (What is important to note is that earthworms, not grubs, are the moles primary food source.  So, treating for grubs probably won’t eliminate your mole problem.) This is the offender that tunnels all over your lawn and garden, heaving plants and leaving piles of dirt in its wake.  Moles are solitary and territorial, so only a few are doing the extensive damage to your property.  Fortunately, they have small litters (2 – 5 babies) and live for only a few years.

Vole 2 in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Vole wondering what to chew up next

Voles, on the other hand, are smaller (up to 5″) mouse-like rodents, with shorter tails and sharp teeth.  These pests are herbivores, and they love to chomp on bulbs, tasty roots and the trunks of your plants and shrubs, which is a good reason to keep mulch away from the base of your trees and shrubs.  They will often travel in the vacated mole holes, searching for fresh delicacies to consume.  Because voles dislike warmer weather, they are more active during cooler months and winter time.  These are the miniature monsters to watch out for when we think our gardens are safely covered in snow!  Sadly, these unwanted visitors can breed several times a year, and although they don’t live as long as moles (16 months), they can easily produce dozens of hungry offspring annually.

Vole in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Roaming Vole

So, what can we do as responsible property owners to minimize damages to our landscape, while humanely ridding ourselves of these invaders? I found lots of suggested remedies from herbs, such as garlic, to bitter vegetables like onion and red pepper, animal or human hair, gum, castor oil, cat litter, vibration and noise devices and Havahart traps.  Thankfully, mother nature assists us with snakes that pursue them underground, and hawks and owls that prey from above.

Laughing mole in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Laughing Mole

What do I do?  Why I just came in from stomping on some heaved up sections of lawn (almost as good an exercise as jumping jacks) and more gently patting my plants and shrubs back into the ground.  Whatever method you choose, remember to be diligent and check your yard and gardens regularly for damage from these miniature thugs . . .  and, however tempting, no dynamite!


  1. During that heavy snow winter two years ago, voles decimated my garden. I lost two japanese maples (including a specimen ‘Shishigashira), most of a large Crepe Myrtle, a couple of junipers and few smaller shrubs. All the damage occurred below the snow line so I didn’t notice any of it until the snow melted.

    The following June a stray kitten arrived on my doorstep. Although I did not want a cat, I was unable to find anyone to take him so I ended up with him. I take care of his needs but he lives mostly outside with 24/7 access to a cushy bed in my garage. Since he arrived I have no more rodent damage. I understand outdoor cat ownership is a no-no for most people but this guy is happy and healthy and probably would have been dead had I not intervened.

    • Thanks for the cat tip, sounds like a win-win situation! Hopefully other readers will have some suggestions to help us rid our yards of these destructive pests!~

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A Garden for All