Got voles? Bait them with peanut butter

garden q&a

August 30, 2008|By Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld | Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld,Special to The Baltimore Sun

The roots are missing on my young weeping cherry. The tree is dead as a door nail, with tunnels and holes where the roots used to be. Are these caused by rats or moles?

Neither. A colony of voles has built up in your landscape. Voles are short-tailed, husky meadow mice that make slanted tunnels with no soil kicked out at the entrance hole. They devour bulbs and gnaw on roots and bark. (Moles usually get the blame, though they only eat insects, grubs and worms.)

To rid yourself of voles, place mousetraps baited with peanut butter or apple pieces at the tunnel entrances. In fall and early spring, voles take the bait especially well. A cat that is a good mouser can earn its keep now.

What can you tell me about "no-mow" grass?

No-mow grass is the holy grail of lawn care. Tall fescue is normally recommended for Maryland because of its drought and disease tolerance, but there is no tall fescue that does not require mowing. Some do have slow growth rates, though.

Successful "no mow" fescues are in the fine fescue family. Red fescue is a species often found in shade mixes. Sheep fescue and hard fescue can handle full sun. Chewings fescue takes some sun.

Fine fescues need much less fertilizer than regular fescues. Even better, they should not be mown in the summer at all. In the first year of their growth, mow them two to three times in spring and fall, but afterward as little as once in the spring and fall. Weeds may need mowing, though.

The growth will not look exactly like that on a typical lawn. You can let fine fescue grow to about 5 inches, and it may lay over a bit. Hard fescue is the shortest. These fescues will retain their green color in droughts without watering.

Fine fescues do not tolerate heavy traffic, so if you have kids or pets that are hard on turf, these grasses may not be for you. For homeowners who can use them, the "no-mow" fescues can aid in cutting down on the pollution, cost and time involved in lawn care.

For more information, see our publication Establishing and Maintaining Fescues for a Low Maintenance Site.

Ellen Nibali, a horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and Jon Traunfeld is the director of the Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's help line at 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at

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