Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
Not only have we had to endure the longest winter officially recorded in Cache Valley (early November to late April), but all that snow has created some unwelcome consequences. You know what I’m talking about, right? Voles. Read on for best tips and strategies for repairing the damage and preventing another infestation next winter (I really don’t even want to write that “w” word ever again this year!).
If you have experienced vole damage this past season (see how I avoided the “w” word there?), the first thing to remember is not to stress. It’s fixable! No worries.
Start by raking all the damaged areas with a metal tine rake to remove all the dead grass; you could also power rake. Next, mow the lawn close to pick up all the dead leftovers and debris and to get the remaining grass short. Use a little topsoil to fill the divots where the voles damaged the grass. Just rake in a thin layer to help level the soil. At this point, overseed with a grass seed mix that will match well with your existing turf. Add a little fertilizer and HuMic to help speedup the recovery, and then a light, 5-minute watering two or three times a day (depending on how hot it is and rain storms) to get the seed to germinate. Usually, in about 4 to 6 weeks you will have all new grass back in the damaged areas.
You won’t have to worry about voles again until September or October. Voles reproduce every 25-30 days, so you could start with two voles in October, and by March you could have 300. You understand now how they can do so much damage in a short amount of time? During the spring and summer months, there are enough natural predators (snakes, hawks, cats) that gradually decrease their population. When the weather turns cold, they start looking for a place to hide for the cold months (again, I avoided that nasty “w” word).
If you live near a field or a vacant lot, start with a repellent that contains caster oil in late September or early October. When it looks like it will snow and stick around for the rest of the year, mow your lawn as close as possible and apply the repellent again. The repellent will last even longer under the snow than when exposed to sunlight, so you can get months of control with that last application.
The other option is to put bait stations around your yard, in strategic locations like by the shed, under the deck, or under the shrubs. Use a bait with zinc phosphide in it, as it is less toxic to birds, pets, and secondary consumers (if a vole eats the bait and then a cat eats it). This can drastically decrease an existing population in the fall.
One more option is to compact the snow around your property perimeter once 12 inches or more snow has accumulated. A snowmobile or other ATV works well for this. The voles will usually enter your property under the snow, where an air pocket forms between the soil and the snow. Compacting the snow fills in this pocket, and the voles are less likely to burrow through the snow to enter your property.
Vole damage is frustrating, but it can be repaired. With a little prevention it can also be avoided. If you use one, two, or all of my suggestions, you will see a difference next spring when the snow finally does melt … on time … in March … like it’s supposed to. The difference will be NO VOLES!