Have you noticed any small, round holes in your yard? Are the bulbs you know you planted last fall no longer there? Do you have plants that are leaning or falling over because their roots are being gnawed? If you answer "yes" to these questions, you most likely have voles in your yard! Tune in to WBTV meteorologist Jim Lytle and Blue Max Materials' Mike Bishop to learn how to remedy the situation!
Voles are small rodents that are the bane of gardeners in the southeast. They feed off of tender green vegetation above ground at night, and on plant roots, flower bulbs and the growing tissue of tree roots underground during the day. Since they live in underground tunnel systems, they love our clay soil - their tunnels aren't as apt to collapse as they are in sandy or loamy soil! (While they both use tunnels and can commonly be found in your yard, voles are not to be confused with moles, which eat insects and grubs instead of plants.) Increased residential development has forced more voles into smaller areas and has reduced the number of natural predators, resulting in a booming vole population.
What do voles look like? They are about 3" long and look similar to a small field mouse, but their eyes and ears are smaller and almost lost in their fur. Their tails are short; if fact, they're shorter than their back legs. They have admirable family habits - they mate for life, stay close to home (often within the same 1000 sq. ft. for their whole lives), and like to reproduce (under ideal conditions, one pair can start a population of 30,000 voles in one acre of land within one year)!
How do you know if you have voles? You will rarely see a vole because they like to stay in their tunnels or hidden under leaf litter or ground covers, but you can see signs of them in your yard. First, their tunnel entrances leave small quarter-sized holes; many people assume they are snake holes, but they may in fact be vole holes.
Vole hole in yard (photo courtesy of Peter T. Hertl, NC State University).
Second, where they are highly concentrated, the maze of tunnels can cause your ground to feel somewhat spongy when you walk on it. The most telling sign is often discovered after it's too late to do anything about it - when your plants start to "dance" or list to the side and you discover their root balls have shrunk down to next to nothing!
Root damage by voles (photo courtesy of Steve Bambera, NC State University).
Unfortunately, voles are next to impossible to catch or eradicate from your yard. Your best defense is trying to keep them away from their favorite feeding ground, bulbs and plants in your landscape. Since they do not like to burrow through coarse objects, one solution is to put your own barrier between the vole and its lunch using a product called VoleBloc or PermaTill. This is a kiln-fired lightweight aggregate that is safe, non-toxic, and easy to use that provides a permanent solution to voles. Places like Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA significantly reduced their damage from hundreds of plants to just a few using VoleBloc.
Photos courtesy of Stalite PermaTill.
VoleBloc can be used with existing plants as well as new plants - the goal is to use it to create a barrier around all four sides of the plant so the voles can't get to the root system. For specific installation instructions, visit http://www.permatill.com/Volebloc_Barrier.html.