Spring is here warm, sunny and glorious. I am concentrating on this season and trying hard to put thoughts of the past winter behind me even as reminders of it intensity keep appearing all over my garden. I’ve trimmed out most of the broken branches on shrubs and browned desiccated foliage on the broadleaved evergreens. Most of the plants will recover, not too concerned until I found the vole damage. Those pesky, vegetation eating rodents had a field day underneath the snow where they happily snacked on both canes and roots of my blackberry plants.
Voles are mouse like rodents, with compact, heavy bodies, short legs, short tails, small eyes, and partially hidden ears. They brown to grayish brown in color and adults are 5 to 8 inches long, including the tail. They are active both day and night, year round. They like dense grassy areas where they make above ground runways which they cover with a protective layer of grass or other ground cover, to travel, unseen by predators to their underground burrows. Their maze-like of runways lead to multiple burrow openings that are each about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. They spend most of their time below ground in their burrow system.
As I mentioned before they are herbivorous, feeding on bulbs, tubers, grasses, and many herbaceous plants they like most garden vegetables. Over the winter they eat bark and roots of trees and shrubs. The damage they do to woody plants is usually confined to a few inches above and below ground, but can be fatal. Their feeding often girdles small trunks and roots. They are active under the snow and can also burrow up through the snow to get to higher areas of the plants.
Voles breed year round and spring is their most prolific period. Female voles are extremely prolific; they mature in 35-40 days and can have up to ten litters (3-6 young per litter) per year.
The best non-toxic way to manage vole populations is to manage the vegetation and cover around susceptible plantings and garden beds. Eliminate weeds and dense ground covers and keep lawn well trimmed in areas where the vole population is expanding. Fortunately, voles are very susceptible to many predators including hawks, owls, cats, dogs, foxes, raccoons and even skunks.
To view a comprehensive guide to vole control check out the video from the Internet Center for Wildlife Management at http://icwdm.org/wildlife/voles.asp