Previously, we talked about the mole and the damage they can cause to your lawn. Our second of three mammals that can damage your lawn is the vole, often confused with the mole but in actuality very different. However, both of them will give you headaches when you’re trying to keep your lawn in good order.
Voles are burrowing herbivores, which means they can cause problems with your lawn both on the surface and underneath.They are usually dark brown in color, 5 inches long or so, and look like fat mice with short tails. They have visible ears, unlike moles.
Unfortunately for those who find vole infestations, a single vole doesn’t happen. While moles are very much lone critters outside of breeding seasons, voles will colonize an area quickly. They don’t mind sharing areas, and they breed quickly, able to produce up to thirty offspring per year. Thankfully, they naturally have a short lifespan, usually barely making a year from birth to death.
Like the mole, they produce long veins of tunnels underneath the grass and will also dig up through the surface, creating divots. Their tunnels tend not to push up the surface, instead collapsing down when abandoned by the voles. These tunnels can collapse under the weight of a person, leading to twisted ankles, or under a piece of equipment, breaking the equipment and possibly injuring the operator.
More annoyingly, these little guys go after plants around the lawn and garden. They will eat grass roots, flower roots, seeds, bulbs, and even the bark of shrubs and trees. With large amounts of voles living in an area, they can strip trees and decimate gardens in days.
Keeping voles away is quite difficult, usually only doable by introducing predators to an area that will hunt for the voles. Once they’ve made their home, they’re even harder to get rid of and keep out of the flowerbeds. Traps are the easiest method for this, but if you want to use no-kill traps, you’ll need to relocate the critters a solid mile away from your property – they are good at working their way back to their early burrows if you don’t move them far off.
Stopping voles from eating the bark off trees is fairly easy – while they are happy to walk or burrow, they rarely climb. Sinking hardware cloth six or seven inches below the surface and two feet up the trunk will keep most voles off of the trees. They can also be repelled by a number of commercial repellents, as well as hot-pepper sauce. These would need to be reapplied periodically, or any time there was heavy rainfall.
Keeping voles out of gardens and away from young plants is a bit more difficult. Most voles like to eat from the protection of a tunnel or burrow, since their main predators can only catch them in the open. This means that putting in a barrier around gardens that prohibits tunneling is the best option. By mixing gravel with soil, in a 1 to 9 ratio or more, and making a moat around a flower bed with this composition, most voles will be deterred. This makes it impossible to tunnel, forcing the vole to choose going out into the open, or finding other food sources.