Snow melting may uncover voles |

Snow melting may uncover voles

Special to Summit Homes and Properties

When the snow melts, you may find your lawn has become a maze of tunnels and burrows created by voles.

Winter is a time when most plants are dormant and many creatures hibernate ” but not voles. Voles are active year-round. Winter snows merely cover their activity, so the damage is often most drastic when the snow melts in the spring.

According to the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, there are eight species of voles in Colorado. Their ranges vary each season, depending on food availability and population numbers. They eat grasses, roots, insects and snails.

Voles burrow underground tunnels with numerous entrances. They are oblivious to property boundaries, so you’ll find them in pastures, open space, golf courses and private landscapes alike. Their damage tends to be greatest in years of heavy snowfall.

Voles can cause damage by eating flower bulbs, plant roots and garden vegetables, and girdling stems and trunks of roots and trees, however, the damage they cause to lawns is mostly aesthetic.

Because voles prefer tall, grassy areas, you can discourage them from taking roost in your yard by keeping your lawn short, especially before the snow falls. You can protect your bulbs by spraying them with an animal repellant, like Bobbex, as you plant them.

If, come spring, you find a troop of voles has made its home in your lawn, you have a few options.

You can repair your lawn by raking, fertilizing and watering the affected area. Be sure to fill in old runways to deter voles from returning to the site. Regular soil cultivation has shown to be an effective deterrent.

Voles are the natural prey of shrews, badgers, coyote, fox, owls and some snakes. While these animals may not eliminate voles, they can greatly reduce the population.

Other control options include repelling, trapping and baiting.

Repellants, such as Mr. T’s Whole Control, are designed to keep voles away from an area without harming them or posing environmental hazards. Mr. T’s, for example, is made of 100 percent castor oil and is designed to be sprayed on the lawn. It may need to be reapplied every three to four weeks to remain effective.

Trapping can be effective for small vole populations.

Because of their high reproduction rates, baiting voles with zinc phosphide is considered merely a short-term solution.

As with all poisons, there are potential harmful side effects.

Always follow the directions on the product label when using any poisons, such as herbicides or pesticides. To do otherwise is a violation of federal law.

Poisons can be hazardous to water systems and fatal to humans, pets, wildlife and birds ” whether the animals ingest the pellets directly or feed on a poisoned vole. Do not apply zinc phosphide bait to bare ground or in piles. Never use it in areas where you are growing food.

Though it may take more time, patience and perseverance, the most effective, long-term control for voles is habitat management.

LU SNYDER writes for Neils Lunceford Inc., a local landscape and design company based in Silverthorne. Contact the nursery at (970) 468-0340 with any questions.

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