Spring brings buds and blooms, but it also brings moles, voles and gophers.
The small mammals take gardeners to their knees to peer down tunnels, set traps and toss in everything from cat litter to gum. They often wage war against the critters before they know what they’re fighting, which can lead to frustration.
“How you deal with them depends on what you have,” says Dana Sanchez, a wildlife specialist for Oregon State University’s Extension Service. “The traps are different and so are the baits you would use.”
Moles, voles and gophers create tunnels and are active underground, but what they eat and the damage they cause varies. They all improve the soil by aerating it and mixing nutrients, but sometimes their habits get them in trouble with gardeners.
Gophers favor bulbs and roots. Voles go for grass, but also gnaw on shrubs and stems near their holes and runways. Moles, which are rarely seen, prefer nonplant food.
“People say, ‘Moles are eating my garden,’ but moles are adapted for swimming through the soil to hunt prey,” Dana says. “They just tunnel through looking for worms, grubs and insects.”
Mole tunnels can damage plants when their runways create paths around roots. The mounds of dirt can interfere with mowing.
Gophers—about the size of ground squirrels—will eat whole plants.
“If you see a plant disappear, it’s a gopher,” Dana says. “They’re famous for pulling things below ground.”
Though voles live in little tunnels, they spend time above ground eating grass and nibbling on other plants. The mouse-size voles leave a lot of small holes and connecting runways through the damaged grass they have been dining on.
You have a mole if the mounds in your yard or garden take on a volcanic, rounded shape. Gopher mounds are flatter on top and fan-shaped with a hole off to the side.
“The important part is for people to assess the level of damage with the level of control,” Dana says. “Is having a few holes in the lawn enough of a problem that you need to take action?”
Those who choose combat should stick to research-based controls. Gadgets and homemade recipes have not been shown scientifically to work.
One way to control voles is with mousetraps, which can be set at the entrance to their tunnels. But because of their high rate of reproduction, it can be difficult to control them.
Scissor-jaw traps are recommended for moles, while two-pronged pincher traps are effective for gophers. In states other than Oregon, check if traps are legal.
To determine where to set traps, find an active tunnel by probing about 6 inches down near a fresh mound. You can push down on mounds to close them and wait to see where a fresh one appears. Set traps in a tunnel near a new mound.
In raised beds, repel moles and gophers by using a barrier of welded wire on the bottom. Tilling in rows between crops may help.
Using baits is an option but can be dangerous to pets and other animals. As with all pesticides, read labels carefully. n
Learn more about moles in the Extension guide Controlling Moles at https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec987. More information on voles and gophers is available in the publication Meadow Voles and Pocket Gophers: Management in Lawns, Gardens, and Croplands at https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/pnw627.