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Work Those Vole Trails


The paths left by these mouse-sized creatures can destroy your lawn

You may have noticed areas in your lawn that look like something snaked its way through the top of the soil, shredding the grass along the way. Usually open, sometimes slightly elevated, these narrow empty “riverbeds” can destroy your lawn. Who’s at work here? Most likely, it’s voles, more sweetly called “meadow mice.”

These voracious diggers can dig pathways through the lawn that resemble an interstate road map. Worse yet, you won’t notice them if you have a constant snow cover, as voles work right under the snow. The roads all lead back to their nests, where they’re busy making more voles. (Chipmunks, moles, rats, and other critters can wreak havoc, too, but usually just dig a burrow. Voles, on the other hand, do both.)

Voles are low on the food chain, so they work hard to stay out of sight. Taller lawns are their heaven. The runways they build are paths to eat and collect roots, grass, and plant bulbs. If they’re especially hungry, they’ll also eat bark.

When the snow melts, in addition to the many pathways, you may find large areas of dead grass, where the little critters were feeding.  While your grass may grow back over these pathways in the spring, it’s not ideal. The ruts may remain, and the grass growth may be deterred by leftover vole excrement, which upsets the proper nutrient balance. What do you do?

Start by gently raking the soil to remove excrement and to smooth over the ruts to gain back your level lawn surface. Rake away the patches of dead grass, and then reseed the area to promote growth.

Remove any clutter areas where voles may spend the summer in hiding, like woodpiles, unused mulch, and dead leaves.

At the last mowing of the season, mow a little shorter than normal, but not less than 2 inches. We realize this sounds contradictory, as an overly short lawn won’t thrive, but the lower grass height is less attractive to voles, who want to stay out of sight.

When winter’s about to arrive, place tree guards around your bushes and trees to discourage voles from eating the bark and roots. A tree guard is a barrier, such as wire (they can chew through plastic) that is set two to three inches deep into the ground. The barrier should extend up the tree approximately 18 inches. Note: Tree guards can also be installed to stop other animals, but the height and depth in the ground vary with the critter.

Making your home unfriendly to voles is about the only way to convince them to find new digs.

Posted on November 18, 2020

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