Squirrels and voles bothering gardeners

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 26, 2013

SALISBURY — High humidity and above-average temperatures are causing some major problems for homeowners in Rowan County. Insects and diseases and other pests are beginning to come out in force as the summer continues. However, animal pests can also be a problem. Below are samples of questions that may be of interest.
Question: My son has tomato plants and the squirrels are carrying off the fruit before they even get ripe. What can he do to keep the squirrels out of his garden?
Answer: Both home and commercial remedies designed to repel squirrels have mixed results. Taste repellents available from retail outlets can be applied to plants, flowers tree and shrubs in an effort to make the squirrel look elsewhere for food. Other repellents containing capsaicin (hot pepper mix) can also be used as a repellent with mixed results. Some homeowners report that hot pepper works well while others lament that the squirrels regard the hot pepper as a condiment. Homeowners automatically think of using moth balls to ward off marauding squirrels. Unfortunately, this method of control has little or no success.
State wildlife biologists suggest obtaining a deprivation permit if squirrels cause property damage. Contact the state wildlife biologist at 919-707-0050 to obtain the permit. Legally, you have to have this permit to trap and release the animal out of season. Those who release squirrels must have permission from the property owner to release them. Captured squirrels cannot be released on state-owned property. Baited live traps seem to be the best method of control for those that live in urban areas. Traps can effectively be baited with slices of orange, walnuts or pecans removed from the shell and with peanut butter. Live squirrel traps are readily available from hardware and farm supply stores.
Question: I planted some bedding plants in my flower beds and they are apparently being eaten by voles. I thought voles only damaged hostas or nandinas. What is the best control for these pests?
Answer: Voles can be trapped with apple-baited mousetraps placed under the cover of flowerpots or other overhead cover that blocks out all light. Look for the tunnels or runs under the mulch, and place traps cross-wise to the direction of the runways. Continue to check traps at least once a week after the last vole is caught. An alternative control is to use a rodenticide such as Rozol. Be sure to follow instructions when applying any type of pesticide.

Darrell Blackwelder is the county Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 or online at www.rowanextension.com