Garden & Landscape Tips

Vole tunnels in yard
Curving surface tunnels in the lawn at winter’s end are the work of voles.
George Weigel

Many gardeners look out the window at this time of year and encounter the end-of-winter mystery of curving surface tunnels all over the lawn. The shallow, two-inch-wide channels show up in a seemingly random network as the snow melts, marring what had been a solid sea of green grass heading into winter. The culprit usually is voles, a rodent pest whose damage is seen far more than the animal itself.

What are voles?

Voles are timid rodents about the size of a mouse, only darker in color and with shorter tails. They seldom venture into the middle of a lawn for fear of being eaten by cats, hawks, or other predator birds. During the growing season, they’re content to eat the roots out from under thick groundcover plantings or to sneak around eating bulbs, sweet potatoes, and the bark of young trees and shrubs under cover of mulch or plants. When it snows, though, voles have protection anywhere they want to go. It’s then that they gorge themselves on grass and create tunnels in their bolder, snow-covered search for food. When the snow melts, they retreat undercover.

Vole scurrying
A vole scurries across a stone path.
George Weigel

Ways to stop voles

Looking to stop voles in their tracks? Try any of these methods to vole-control:

  1. Repel them. Garden centers have a host of sprays, granules, and concoctions that make the area unappetizing to voles. The theory is that they’ll go to your neighbor’s yard, which solves your problem but passes the damage down the street.
  2. Trap them. Bait small cage traps (available in most garden centers) with peanut butter or a peanut-butter-and-oatmeal mixture. Place the trap along an active runway or in a groundcover bed where you suspect voles might be hiding. You’ll then have to figure out where to relocate the voles or decide what to do with them once you’ve trapped them.
  3. Kill them. If you’re not averse to killing rodents, an option is baiting mouse or rat traps with peanut butter. Set them perpendicular along active runs with the trigger set in the middle of the run.

Will my yard bounce back?

The good news is that grass is resilient. It might look bad at winter’s end, but once the weather warms and the grass starts growing, the tunnels often fill in on their own. You can speed the process by raking away gnawed-off blades and scattering new grass seed in the bare areas.

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