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Vole Damage: A Rite of Spring

Vole Damage:  A Rite of Spring

A network of vole tunnels.

Does your lawn look like this? Do you notice small tunnels of dead grass snaking through your yard? Even worse, you may observe feeding damage on small shrubs and trees. Voles were very active this winter under our heavy snowpack. Insulated and protected by snow, voles feasted on grasses and roots during the course of the winter.

Voles are rodents with short ears and a stubby tail. While mistakenly referred to as “field mice”, these rodents are meadow voles and are common throughout North Dakota. Their populations peak every 2 to 5 years depending on environmental conditions. Snakes, hawks, owls and other predators help control the population.

While highly visible in early spring, vole damage to lawns is usually minor. Homeowners should rake the dead grass and soon rhizomes from surrounding plants will cover the damaged area. If the damage is more significant, then these areas can be reseeded.

Little can be done in the spring to eradicate voles. As the snow recedes, voles leave the now-exposed turfgrass and seek cover in areas with taller vegetation. Fall is the best time to prevent excessive vole damage.  Homeowners should practice good yard sanitation to avoid creating an attractive vole habitat. Grass should be cut short in late fall. Shrubs should be limbed up a bit to avoid creating cover near the ground. Furthermore, areas of plant litter should be cleared. A little prevention in the fall will go a long way to discouraging voles from using your yard as their winter home.

by Esther McGinnis, NDSU Extension Horticulturist

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