The winter snowpack is melting and we are left with a mess covering our lawns. Voles have enjoyed had a nice long winter under a protective snow layer. Tunnels, dirt piles, grass clippings and droppings are all unsightly remains of vole damage. Voles do not hibernate but are active year-round, living between the soil surface and snow during the winter. They feed on bark, roots and grass. The damage has been done, now what?
Control the population:
There is no magic bullet here, but a combination of tactics seems work the best.
-Traps: Cheap and very effective, simple mouse traps placed perpendicular to active tunnels can do a lot to control the population. They work well without bait as the voles are habituated to run along their tunnels. Keep trapping (and emptying your traps-yuck!) until you notice fewer voles being caught.
-Habitat Reduction: Mow tall grasses or weedy areas in the fall. These areas are perfect cover for voles.
-Baits: A few are available to the homeowner. Always follow instructions carefully and be cautious when using in areas with kids or pets.
-Repellents: There are many commercially available repellents with varying formulas. They can be helpful, but need to be applied in intervals. Be sure to do a final application late fall for a longer effect through the winter.
Fix the damage:
It may be overwhelming at first, but lawns and grassy areas can bounce back from vole damage quite well. Once the snow has melted and the damaged area is no longer sodden, begin with raking up dead grass. Tamp down any raised dirt tunneling and reseed bare dirt with a lawn mix. Feed with lawn food and keep any newly-seeded areas damp. As the days lengthen and warm, existing grass will spread into damaged areas and new seed will germinate.
Vole populations are always changing. Natural predators such as hawks, skunks, foxes and owls are our allies against voles. Domestic dogs and cats can also help control vole populations. Our beautiful western landscape with its fields and meadows is home to voles. They will continue to be the bane of the rural homeowner and gardener, but it's better than living in the city, right?