I was in my office working the other day when my co-worker Carolyn comes running in the door saying, “Quick, look at your window, what is that little rodent?”
Running along the top of the snow, making a neat little path behind it was a vole. He was heading for cover and I am sure to find a food source — our shrubs.
Voles are also called meadow mice and are similar to mice except they have a really short tail and a stubbier snout. They are smaller than moles and don’t tunnel under ground as deeply as moles.
Voles can be active day and night and year round. They dig short shallow burrows and in the winter, come up through the snow to the surface to maneuver.
Vole populations tend to rise and fall and for the last few years, we have had fairly high populations in this area.
They mostly eat plants including grasses, perennials, bulbs and tubers. In the fall and winter, they eat the bark and roots of trees and shrubs, which has potential to really damage or kill a plant.
Because of the extended snow cover this year, we may see damage to trees and shrubs and have a difficult time identifying the culprit. Since the majority of the green stuff that they feed on is under snow cover, they are on top of the snow seeking food in the form of the bark of trees and shrubs.
Rodent feeding on bark leads to girdling of the branch or trunk. They are eating the bark and the cambium layer just under the bark. This is the critical part of the plant that carries water up to the plant and nutrients down to the roots.
This disruption to the vascular system of the plant is known as girdling. Complete girdling (all the way around the branch, root or trunk) leads to eventual death of that part of the plant.
Sometimes rodents will partially girdle the plant. The plant doesn’t completely die but again, water and nutrient flow are interrupted, thus leading to stress or decline.
Right now you can be on the lookout for a variety of animal tracks in the snow. I have been out through my landscape and tracked a few rabbits right to a couple of my shrubs. At this point, they have just pruned the plants back a little but haven’t caused major damage.
Vole tracks, as mentioned before, are going to be little lines on top of the snow that are about a half inch wide and only about as deep.
Plants can be protected from rabbits with chicken wire, around the plant and above the snow line at least 2 feet.
Voles can be trapped with mouse traps and peanut butter or there are rodenticides that will do the job as well.
Just keep this information in mind this spring if you start to have trouble with some of your landscape plants.