Documents: Special Interest: Wildlife Gardening:

Moles, Voles & a Non-Flowering Hydrangea!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at http://www.artdrysdale.com


April 22, 2007

Above, mole damage in a lawn, photo from Lawrence Journal-World by Todd Olson; and below, ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea

The real outdoor gardening season is obviously getting much closer, judging by the number of questions which are definitely on the increase! For example, Bev Dubois in Edmonton had the first inquiry about moles this year: “We live in a 5-year old area, Terwilliger Gardens in a Brass III townhouse community. This past winter we are over-whelmed at the damage done in our common back yards (about 2 blocks in length). It seems worse at the lower lying areas. We know it is moles, as we found a dead one. The tunnels seem closer to the surface than I would have thought. I do not see any mounds of dirt. Is there anything to rid us of these pesky critters and how do we prevent another infestation in the future? We had our place built and have not had any problems until this year. Thanks in advance for any help you can give.”

In years gone by, even as recently as four or five years ago, I considered questions about moles and voles to be some of the most difficult questions that I hear and see. Currently, I would have to change that to problems with otters and possibly also mink in regard to their killing of koi and goldfish in home ponds, at least here in B.C., as being the most difficult.

Many people have difficulty knowing and/or recognizing the difference between moles and voles. Voles are rodents, in many ways like mice or rats, with rounded muzzle and head. They also have smaller ears and shorter tails than their cousins, the mice. Their control is similar to that for mice.

Moles look quite different with pointed face, likely slightly larger and with large broad front feet for major digging. Moles dig both shallow and deep channels, the latter for living quarters. The shallow ones are often used only once or twice and just cause raised channels of grass, whereas the deep ones are actually excavated causing what are generally known as mole hills. Control of these is more difficult. I think some of the best solutions are now offered in the U.S. by a company known as Yardiac. They have a range of products that many users say are excellent, from Whole Control which leaves a terrible taste to the soil in which they dig to traps and to Milky Spore which kills grubs etc. thus depriving the moles of a food supply. There is even a solar ground rodent repeller and a mole and vole repellent! If you wish to find out more about these products as well as at least a half-dozen others, check this site: http://www2.yardiac.com/show_category.asp?category=54&AID=7299347&PID=1276391. They make little mention of shipping to Canada, but you can call them toll-free at 1-866-927-3422.

If you are looking for a reasonable commentary and description of not just moles and voles but also various ways of controlling them (including trapping) then check the Government of Canada site: http://www.pmra-arla.gc.ca/english/consum/molesandvoles-e.html. Also, one method worth trying is the acquisition of a cat. As long as the cat stays around your own garden (!), control of moles/voles may be simple.

This next question came from Susan Schneider who lives just north of Lake Erie. “Hello Art. I am hoping you can help me. I have a Hydrangea, I believe it is a Nikko Blue, that was given to my mother 35 years ago when my father passed away. I planted it in my garden and have moved three times since then and taken it with me each time. About nine years ago I split it and gave part of it to my sister. Seven years ago we moved again and since coming here it has only bloomed twice and with one bloom each time. The plant my sister has flowers beautifully.

“I have tried amending the soil with compost and sheep manure. The plant looks to be sturdy and healthy so I wonder if you can offer any recommendations as to what I can do. The plant means a lot to me and I would love to see blossoms on it again if possible. I understand that you receive a lot of emails so I will understand if you can’t help me.”

If you had not told me that you are as far south as you are in Ontario, I would have been absolutely certain that the problem with your ‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangea is that the flower buds, which are formed in the fall, are being killed by the winters. These hydrangeas are only barely hardy in southern Ontario, but should be all right ‘just north of Lake Erie’ unless your home happens to be located in a cold, wind-swept area that is more severe than where you sister has her hydrangea planted. That would certainly explain the performance of your plant as you describe it.

I obviously don’t know how large your plant is but if it isn’t too large, you could try one of two easy solutions: covering the plant with a large bushel basket or with burlap. This should not be done until the ground is frozen (very important) and it can easily be removed at least by early April.

For those in colder hardiness zones, the alternative is the newer Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’ which will have blue flowers as long as the soil is acidic (pink if the soil is alkaline) even in areas as cold as Ottawa.

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