Have you ever watched with delight as the snow receded off your lawn in the spring, only to discover that some kind of varmint had made trails and tunnels and totally destroyed portions of your lawn? Well now is the time to do something about it. (At least sometime between now and when the snow flies.)
The most common cause of winter damage to lawns in east Idaho is from rodents affectionately called voles… or less affectionately called other four letter words.
Although they sometimes cause damage during the summer months when the lawn is green and growing, most damage occurs during the winter when snow is covering the lawn fairly deeply. And there-in lies the problem. With the snow cover we are totally unaware of the big party these little critters are having under what appears to be untouched snow… until spring when the snow melts and leaves us with a scarred battlefield of trails, tunnels, and dead grass.
According to Wikipedia,
A vole is a small rodent resembling a mouse but with a stouter body, a shorter, hairy tail, a slightly rounder head, smaller ears and eyes, and differently formed molars . (I checked out themolars myself.) … They are sometimes known as meadow mice or field mice.
Voles can have five to 10 litters per year. .. and the young voles reach sexual maturity in a month. As a result of this exponential growth, vole populations can grow very large within a very short period of time. Since litters average five to 10 young, a single pregnant vole can result in a hundred or more active voles in less than a year.
[Voles] are commonly mistaken for other small animals. Moles, gophers, mice, rats and even shrews have similar characteristics and behavioral tendencies. Since voles will commonly use burrows with many exit holes, they can be mistaken for gophers or some kind of ground squirrel.
…Voles will often eat succulent root systems and will burrow under plants or ground cover and eat away until the plant is dead. Bulbs in the ground are another favorite target for voles; their excellent burrowing and tunneling give them access to sensitive areas without clear or early warning. The presence of large numbers of voles is often only identifiable after they have destroyed a number of plants.
Since they are often undetected until substantial damage is done the best course of action is to keep them out of your yard. Your first line of defense is to apply granular repellants such as Fertilome Mole-Go to your lawn in late fall. After you have made your last mowing of the season spread the granules evenly over any areas of your lawn that have been damaged in the past. Usually the areas most prone to damage are lawn areas next to fields or vacant lots. Mole-Go is a repellant, not a poison. It is harmless to people and pets, but the voles don’t like it so they stay outside your yard where they belong. Mole-Go is also available in a liquid that is sprayed on with a garden hose.
Lawns aren’t the only thing damaged by voles. As mentioned above, flower bulbs, perennials, and even trees can also be damaged. You can prevent this damage by putting a physical barrier between the vole and the plant. Rodents are particularly attracted to apple trees. The bark must be especially tasty! Crab apples and other fruit trees are also susceptible to rodent damage. For smaller trees you can put plastic tree guards around the base of the trunks to keep rodents from eating the bark. Put them on around Halloween and take them off in early April.
Rodents don’t often damage daffodil bulbs, but they do seem to enjoy tulips and crocus. If you have had a problem with damage in the past you can place hardware cloth or some form of chicken wire (with openings no larger than 1/2 inch) around the clump of bulbs extending 6 inches into the ground and 6 inches above ground. That should keep the voles out over the winter. Some people even go to the extreme of putting the bulbs in buried wire cages to keep the critters out of them, but I can’t find them available anymore so you might have to make them yourself.
Another option, though less desirable, is to use a zinc phosphide bait such as Hi Yield Mole & Gopher Bait. This is generally not done to prevent voles, but to eradicate them after they have taken up residence in your yard. Apply the bait where voles will eat it and be poisoned by it. So you obviously want to be very careful with this product. Follow label directions and don’t put it where there is any chance that children, dogs or pets might eat it.