Common voles create large problems for homeowners by causing extensive damage to the lawn, garden and trees. These small creatures, also known as field mice, damage plants by dining upon roots and flower bulbs, or creating runway-like patches in the lawn. In areas where vole damage is common, homeowners must create a comprehensive control plan, utilising trapping, repellents or poison baits.
In general, voles resemble small mice. They have furry bodies, ranging in colour from brown to grey, and grow between 4 and 8 inches long, depending on the type of vole. Identify voles by their fat, round bodies, round eyes, small ears and short tails, according to a June 2009 fact sheet from the Colorado State University Extension. Several types of voles are found throughout the United States and each species has its own unique characteristics and climate preferences. For more information about the specific type of vole in your yard, try to photograph the animal and contact your local agricultural extension office.
Voles more commonly attack vegetables, shrubs, flowers and other ornamental plants than a grassy lawn. Voles tunnel under the ground, eating the roots of plants or vegetables like radishes, potatoes and carrots that grow below ground. In some cases, voles attack plants above ground, chewing around stems. For these reasons, many homeowners commonly mistake vole damage for rabbit or mole damage. Voles have narrower teeth than rabbits, and generally do not produce the 45-degree angle cuts on plants commonly seen with rabbit damage, according to Jim Armstrong of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. In grass, voles generally leave distinctive trails as they move about the lawn.
To control a vole problem, begin by making your lawn less friendly for these creatures. Next to garden and planting beds, keep the grass clipped short, recommends Armstrong. Voles do not enjoy large, open spaces and are less likely to trek across short grass to seek food. Clear mulch from the base of trees, keeping the mulch at least 3 feet away from the trunk. Only use a minimum amount of mulch in flower gardens. Frequently till the soil in vegetable gardens, which helps destroy vole tunnels.
Trapping and Other Control Methods
For a small-scale infestation in the lawn, trapping voles can effectively reduce the problem. Purchase snap-trap style mouse traps and bait them with apples or peanut butter. Place the traps at a right angle to the opening of vole tunnels to help ensure the voles will wander into the trap, according to an article published by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Poison baited traps and rodenticide applications also help control vole populations, however many local governments have laws against using poisonous treatments. Contact your local agricultural extension office for more information about products recommended for vole control.