Thwarting gophers and voles

I have a large perennial bed out front that is just brimming with all sorts of cool plants. But something happens to that bed during the winter that I'm not too crazy about.

Since we live in a rural area, there are a lot of animals we have to deal with. The big ones like moose and deer are definitely challenging but there are small rodents that do even more damage than the big guys: pocket gophers and voles.

What happens during the winter -- especially when there's a good layer of snow on the ground for a few months -- is that voles will run along the surface of the grass, making little tunnels through it, chew on the grass creating bare spots, and nibble on many of the perennials. Because of the snow on the ground, I can't see what they're up to so I tend to go blissfully through the winter unaware of the damage they're causing. Voles and gophers love that cover of snow because they can move about on the ground without any predators seeing them.

But once the snow melts in late winter, I am always horrified to see what's been going on: holes and tunnels throughout the lawn and plenty of damage to the plants in the perennial bed. Very frustrating! The photo to the left is of vole damage and the bottom photo shows gopher mounds. If you're trying to determine which type of rodent you have, click on these 2 photos to get a close-up view because this is very typical damage.

This fall, I decided to try an experiment with the hope I can avoid this annual problem. Several years ago, while trying to establish a large lavender patch in an area where gophers were abundant (we called the area "Gopher Town"), I learned about an interesting repellent.

While there are different brand names on the market, the product is essentially. It is comprised of granules that have been coated with castor oil, which is something voles and gophers don't like. I decided to distribute the granules all over that area before we planted our lavender. And it worked! We didn't see a single new gopher mound (that's the most recognizable sign of gophers -- a pile of soil that they've pushed out of their tunnels) for months after the application.

So this year, I bought a bag of MoleMax at Northwest Seed & Pet, and spread it over the entire perennial bed and the lawn around it. I'll let you know what happens but I'm hoping those nasty little rodents will keep away from those areas. And just to clarify, the granules don't kill them, it just acts as a repellent. Also, you'll notice the product I used is called MoleMax, as in being a repellent for moles. In the Inland Northwest, we don't have moles, but if you live in an area where they do exist, this would be a great product to repel them as well.