Q: How do I protect my garden from rodents? — Sean Capelli, San Luis Obispo
A: Rodents make up a large portion of the mammalian population. Characterized by gnawing teeth and continually growing incisors, animals such as gophers, voles (also called meadow mice), and rats fall under the order Rodentia.
Rodents are known less for their dental capabilities, however, and more for the nuisance that ensues when they and their brethren converge upon your garden. While many a garden vegetable has been left damaged or appropriated by these fuzzy pilferers, it is their reputation as disease carriers that necessitates some form of control.
Rats and voles are the most diabolical of the rodents. Rats alone are known to pass on 35 separate diseases, including Lyme disease. Keeping your residence free of these pests is necessary to maintain sanitary conditions. Trapping is the best method of eradication. Use snap traps and a small, pea-sized amount of peanut butter. Rodents prefer to dart sneakily around edges, so place traps horizontally against walls, cabinets and furniture. Be sure to keep traps safely away from children and pets.
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Voles, or meadow mice, are small and compact, with a short, furry tail. While they look like the house mouse, they are a different species. The vole lives in extensive burrows, but can be seen scuttling about the garden. Notorious for quick proliferation, the vole population should be kept low to prevent major damage.
The vole is interested in almost all you have to offer as a gardener, but gnawing on tree bark is one of its most peculiar pastimes. Vole overachievers are capable of girdling or completely chewing the bark from roots or trunks, which can eventually destroy the tree. Vole control is relatively simple. A 12 inch-high wire fence with 1/4-inch mesh surrounding the garden will prevent entrance, as will protective cylinders around tree trunks. When necessary, use large mouse traps baited with a dab of peanut butter. Prevent further problems by creating unfriendly habitat. Do away with thick weeds, heavy mulch and dense cover.
Fresh mounds of crescentshaped soil are indicative of a gopher. Not to be outdone when it comes to home size, gophers have burrow systems that cover up to 2,000 square feet, and are capable of pulling plants directly into their burrows and single-handedly destroying entire garden beds. Gopher control should not be left up to nature. Cinch traps are considered a highly effective and relatively humane way of handling this powerful pest.
Moles, though not rodents, can also significantly impose on your garden plan. Moles are insect feeders, seldom feeding on plant roots or bulbs. Generally the greatest problem caused by moles is their burrowing, which dislodges plants and dries out their roots. Volcano-shaped mounds of fresh soil are the hallmark of the mole. Trapping, especially the cinch trap, is considered the best solution for eradication.
Observation is your ally when identifying a rodent problem. Mounds of soil, feces and plant loss should be a tipoff that something furry has taken over. Early control can help protect both your landscape and your health. For more information visit us online at www.ipm.ucdavis.edu .