Your House is Your Haven: Don't Neglect the Interior

Surprise! While It Snowed, This Pest Mowed Through Your Yard

by Cherly King

As spring finally seems to be making its way around the country, Americans in many cities are, quite literally, digging out from one of the coldest, snowiest winters in years. If you live in an area of the country that experienced this severe winter, you should be prepared to find that while you hibernated, one winter pest was hard at work under the snowpack. Voles (no, not moles) are small rodents, similar to mice, who chomp busily away on the roots of grass, trees, and shrubs. If you find wreckage in your garden when the snow melts, you may just need the help of a pest control company to send these rodents packing.

Voles 101

Voles are often called meadow mice, but they are a distinct species from mice. Smaller and more portly than mice, these rodents make their homes underground. Constructing elaborate subterranean communities, voles' activity is seen above ground in holes and tunnel tracks leading from trees or shrubs out into the lawn. Tunnels are only a few inches in diameter, so, depending on how many varmints decided to winter at your place, you may have dozens of tunnels crisscrossing your property.

Voles are active both day and night and are voracious feeders and breeders. They dislike exposed areas, so winter's snow-covered ground is a delight to them; it hides their industrious destruction. Because voles become sexually mature at just about six weeks old, populations as dense as 250 voles per acre are possible. As you can see, while you were concerned with frozen pipes and snow-covered roads, voles were munching and multiplying below your lawn.

Extreme winter

Extreme cold and snow this winter created ideal conditions for vole activity. Beginning earlier than usual, winter caught many homeowners unprepared. Several long episodes of record-breaking cold and snow afflicted much of the country. For instance,

  • Pensacola, Florida saw a low of 28 degrees (F).

  • Denver, Colorado dipped to -14 degrees.

  • Boston, Massachusetts experienced an average daily temperature in January of just 2.9 degrees.

In February alone, 898 record low temperatures around the country; during these 28 days, 736 records for highest snowfall fell and 138 were tied.

But February was just one month in a winter of record-breaking snowfall. Boston had 99.4 inches of snow this winter (108.6 for the entire year), Providence saw 73 inches, and one city in Maine saw 132.5 inches in five weeks. In just over one November week, Buffalo received nearly 7 feet of snow, which resulted in the deaths of 14 people.

Identifying vole damage

All the extreme snow and cold this winter means homeowners are likely to see record vole damage to their lawns and gardens this spring. You may notice tooth marks where your tree bark has been chewed away. Above ground stems may be broken off, which indicates that the connection between the stem and root structure has been severed. Depressed areas in your lawn signal potential collapse due to voles' extensive tunnel construction.

Eliminating voles

If your garden looks like it has been an industrious vole workplace this winter, contact a pest control company in your area. A technician can determine how many voles are likely living under your lawn and the best strategy for eliminating them. Possible pest-control measures include

  • traps, which are useful for small vole populations

  • repellents containing thiram, capsaicin, and the urine of coyotes and foxes

  • warfarin, the only pesticide available over the counter

However, if you have a large vole population on your property, the best solution is probably going to be the use of a registered use pesticide; this can only be applied by a pest control professional from a company like Greenleaf Organic Pest Management.

Next fall, you can outsmart the industrious vole. Prepare for their return by vole-proofing your lawn and garden before the first cold snap.

Voles may have had the best winter in many years, but they don't have to ruin your spring. Take quick action to eliminate them and repair the damage to your lawn and garden, consulting a pest control company if necessary.