As the snow melts, homeowners may begin to notice a network of ‘runways’ wreaking havoc on their lawns and flowerbeds. Some will blame moles for the damage, but an entirely different species is likely the culprit.
Moles are fossorial (digging and living underground) and their activity forms raised tunnels. Voles (Microtus spp.) are semi-fossorial rodents that create mole-like runways in your yard, but rather than looking like tunnels they are open on the top. The Centre region’s prolonged winter snow cover benefitted their population last year. The ‘subnivean layer’ (the air space between the snowpack and the ground) provides cozy quarters as voles go about their business feeding–and breeding!-- all winter long. They eat seeds and nibble on the stems and leaves of grass–and possibly, your young native trees and shrubs! Although voles are an important part of the food web, you may draw the line at this level of destruction. What’s the eco-aware gardener to do?
The good news is, February is an excellent time to get a head start on controlling their population.
Habitat modification practices: Remove thatch or mulch in areas that support voles, and clear mulch from flowerbeds or around the base of trees to a 3-foot radius. (Another good reason to ditch the mulch!)
Exclusion: Hardware cloth can be used to exclude voles from seedlings, trees and shrubs. The mesh size should not be any larger than ¼ inch and it may need to be buried about 6 inches to prevent voles from burrowing under. The same practice can help to protect vegetable gardens.
Trapping: Trapping can be effective in areas of small vole populations, and late winter is a good time to begin. Place mouse snap traps perpendicular to runways with the trap pan in the runway. Pieces of apple or peanut butter and oatmeal can be used as bait for voles, but a non-baited trap will also work if properly positioned in a high-traffic area.
As is often the case, observation of your garden–in all seasons– is the key to nipping problems in the bud. Take a walk around your garden, take note, and take action!