Vijai Pandian 7:46 a.m. CST November 12, 2016
(Photo: Courtesy of Brown County University of Wisconsin-Extension)
Freezing nights and shortening daylight in the fall has tranquilized most of our landscape except the insatiable meadow mouse that remains active throughout the year. Meadow mice, also called voles, are a ground-dwelling rodent with a chunky grayish brown appearance, tiny ears, and short tail. Commencing from late fall to early spring, voles cause multiple damage in the landscape. Squirrelly runways and endless tunnels in lawns, shaved tree bark and roots of young trees, and the mysterious disappearance of spring flowering bulbs and tubers are classic blueprints of vole damage. Under snow cover, voles can venture safely to any part of the landscape, and quite often homeowners do not notice the damage until the snow melts.
Ponds, stream banks, orchards, old fields, fence rows, pastures, hay fields, grassy weeds, and groundcovers are ideal habitats for voles. Backyard logs, undisturbed compost piles, tall ornamental grasses, bushy evergreen shrubs, and junky materials in the urban landscape can also provide a nesting place for voles.
Being vigilant and taking proactive steps in the fall is the key to control voles. Trapping or use of any other control strategies when the snow is on the ground has proven ineffective.
1) Start scouting your landscape now for voles. Sightings of fresh grass clippings, tunnels, droppings around large grasses, nests, and chewed fruits are telltale signs of their abundance in the landscape.
2) Set your last mowing height of your lawn to 2.5 to 3 inches tall, and cut any tall grasses and weeds to eliminate its cover.
3) Reduce the depth of the mulch around your landscape trees and shrubs to less than 3 inches. Mulching with crushed rocks or gravel around valuable landscape trees such as Japanese maple can deter voles.
4) Don’t mulch your perennials until the ground freezes (usually around late November) and apply mulch to a minimum extent.
5) Find ways to properly store your outdoor firewood and dispose of any brush materials hanging around your landscape.
6) Remove any spills from bird feeders.
7) Protect young trees and shrubs by placing ¼-inch mesh-size hardware cloth around the base of the tree. Make sure to bury the hardware cloth to 3 inches deep in the ground to prevent the voles from burrowing under, and extend the hardware 18 inches above the ground.
8) Set mouse-size traps along the runway tracks baited with peanut butter, oatmeal, or apple slices. You can set two traps back to back in the runway to make it more effective.
9) Setting sheltered bait stations using rodenticides containing zinc phosphide in T-shaped PVC pipes along the runway tracks can be effective in controlling voles. Make sure to read the product label for safety and instructions.
For horticulture-related questions and advice, contact Brown County UW-Extension’s Horticulture Help Desk at 920-391-4615 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vijai Pandian is the horticultural agent/educator for the Brown County University of Wisconsin-Extension.