Last November we discussed the topic of controlling insects and diseases from attacking our gardens as part of Busch Gardens’ Integrated Pest Management program. Now I want to take a look at some other pests that are trying to take control of our yards. Virginia whitetail deer are running out of food sources and are turning to our manicured lawns for help, while those dreaded voles are wreaking havoc underneath our feet.
Deer are one of North America’s largest destructive mammals. They are known to jump over, or crawl underneath, an 8-foot fence. They dine on some of our most exotic foods: azaleas, hostas and all types of annuals. There are some controls available that can be used to deter them, including environmentally friendly chemicals that can be sprayed on the foliage of your favorite plants. Most of these have a rotten egg base and are not very tasty for the deer’s palate.
Here at Busch Gardens, we use a black netting fence around our flower beds through the winter and early spring. The netting is one-half-inch mesh and is only about 4 feet high. We haven’t had any major problems with deer jumping the fence. They graze around the fenced area, but don’t bother going over it. Voles can be a real nuisance. A vole looks similar to a small mouse with a short tail. Some people confuse them with moles. The major difference is that moles are carnivores, eating worms and grubs. (Some of those grubs are the larval stage of the Japanese beetle, which is a good thing.)
Voles are herbivores that dine on annuals, bulbs and remove bark from our shrubs and trees. Voles do not hibernate and find food by using tunnels dug by moles. During the winter months, they really enjoy munching on tulip bulbs. Don’t worry about your daffodils — they contain an alkaloid that’s toxic to voles. Generally you can find vole entrance holes near the base of the plant material they are feeding on.
Some gardeners will hide a mouse trap baited with a mix of peanut butter and oatmeal near the entrance under a 10-inch pot. This gives the vole the illusion that they are still underground. I prefer using about a teaspoon of gently used kitty litter deposited in the entrance holes. This will deter voles for a period of time due to the scent of a predator. By all means, a cat is the best control. If you’re lucky enough, your cat will even leave you a ‘special surprise’ at your door step.
Some gardeners prefer planting in raised beds. This is excellent for controlling voles because before you fill a raised bed, you can lay hardware cloth on the bottom. If you use a one-quarter-inch mesh, the voles cannot tunnel through it. Remember, we can only control these pests. We will never fully eradicate them. When it comes to the environment, NEVER try to control these animals with poison or poisonous materials. When lacing their food source with poison, it will work its way up through the food chain.