While I am not a turf expert I am inevitably asked during many spring landscape consultations, “what has killed my lawn?” The short answer is “nothing.” The longer answer as to what cause this short lived damage is, “voles.”
What are they? Voles are rodents that are very common in our New England landscape. According to the Massachusetts Audubon Society optimal vole habitat can support up to 300 voles per acre! Voles are often confused with moles, but in reality they are very different. The easiest way to remember the difference is that moles are meat eaters while voles are vegetarians. Moles are feeding on grubs and insects underground. While voles are feeding on tree bark, grass shoots and crowns.
Signs– You know you have voles in your landscape if you see runways or grooves in your lawn once the snow disappears. Or if you see bark chewed off of young or newly planted trees. Snow is great cover for voles in the wintertime. So any winter when we have months of snow cover will likely lead to lots of winter time vole activity.
Damage- When it comes to lawns the damage is short lived. Moles while feeding on crowns and shoots rarely eat the vital roots. The best thing a homeowner can do at this point is to simply rake the spot of vole activity then give the grass time to regenerate. If you are really concerned you can over seed the area with grass seed and put down a very light application of turf fertilizer. But in most cases this is unwarranted. Damage to trees is another story. Voles will often girdle (chew a ring around) the trunk of young smooth barked trees often killing the trees. This can be overcome by putting up a simple inexpensive rodent guard that wraps around the base of the young trees preventing the voles from chewing the bark.
Control– While there is a myriad of chemicals, mini-guillotine, etc… available on the market few of these controls work. While many of them catch and kill not targeted animals.
Solution– Live and let live. Voles do little long term damage to lawns and young trees can be protected by a simple rodent guard. While chemicals rarely work nor do we need more chemicals in the landscape.