Q: I recently discovered that I have voles instead of what I thought were moles. Each spring when I plant my flowers, they seem to eat the roots right off my plants, and of course, they die. How can I get rid of these pests? What exactly is the difference between moles and voles, and how can I tell which one is doing the damage?
A: These are excellent questions because I don't think the average homeowner knows the difference between moles and voles.Let me start by describing the different physical characteristics of these mammals. The common or Eastern mole can be identified by its long, pointed snout; inconspicuous eyes and ears; short tail; rounded front paws that turn outward; and stout claws.
Pine voles, also known as orchard mice, are small, brown, blunt-nosed, short tailed rodents.
Moles often get blamed for vole damage. Moles make the pushed-up tunnels you might find all over your yard. They are tunneling, looking for insects to eat. They can make a mess of your lawn, but they don't eat roots.
Voles often use mole runs to get to where they want to go, but they can also make their own underground tunnels, about the size of a half dollar.
Moles are often blamed for vole damage. My next-door neighbor asked me to come over and look at what the moles had done to his dwarf nandina. I walked over, and sure enough there was a mole tunnel circling around his shrub.
I rocked the shrub back and forth, and it pulled out of the ground very easily because all the roots had been chewed off. I explained to my neighbor that voles had gotten into the mole run and chewed off the roots of his nandina.
I've seen voles eat the roots on all kinds of plants. I've also seen small tomato plants disappear overnight into holes in the ground.
What can you do to get rid of pine voles? Unfortunately, they are one of the most difficult rodents we have to deal with. In flower beds, remove the mulch and till the soil. Kill weeds with herbicides or keep them pulled up. Water your plants during the summer drought periods to give them extra strength.
One of the most effective deterrents is a cat. They are one of the best deterrents for keeping unwanted varmints away from your yard. If you have a fat cat that stays inside 90 percent of the time, I'm not sure it would do a lot of good.
I know cats love to catch voles because a few years ago when I lived in woods at the 4-H camp I had a cat that would leave a dead vole on my front porch almost every morning. I guess my cat wasn't hungry enough to eat the vole, but she at least wanted me to see her prize catch.
You might also try putting some poison pellets down in the mole or vole tunnels. Make sure you put the baits a few inches into the ground so birds won't get them.
Q: What's the best way to get rid of fire ants? We have tried several products.
A: This is a never-ending question. Unfortunately, with our mild winter we'll probably have major problems with fire ants this year. A cold winter can kill up to 80 percent of the colonies. This recent cold spell may help a little.
Baits combined with contact insecticides provide good control of fire ants. Amdro or Award baits can be broadcast at the rate of 1-1.5 pounds per acre in the spring and fall.
As you can see, you would not need very much, if, say, you have a half-acre lot.
Both should be put out late in the afternoon when ants are actively foraging for food. Wait until late April or early May. Broadcast from late September through October in the fall.
Several products can be used for individual mound treatment. Dursban, Diazinon, Orthene, Sevin or Malathion all work well.
Organic gardeners can use boiling water, but remember it will kill the grass where it is poured out.
Any county extension office has an excellent brochure giving details on the subject.
Sid Mullis is an agent with the University of Georgia Extension Service office in Richmond County. Mail questions concerning gardening to Gardening Advice, The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30903-1928.