Mice and Voles

Mice and voles look similar. Both are small rodents, but the tail of a vole is much shorter than that of a mouse. Mice are fond of young seedlings, especially those that are growing in a warm house or greenhouse on a cold winter day; they're omnivores, though, and eat almost anything. Voles, on the other hand, are almost exclusively herbivores and are the more troublesome pest for gardeners.

Both mice and voles cause damage to plants in the wintertime, when food is scarce and the bark of your favorite tree makes an easy meal. Fruit trees are especially at risk. Even during the summer, if you have a thick layer of mulch surrounding the tree right up to the trunk, the rodents can hide in the mulch and feed undetected. To guard against giving them sanctuary and to deter feeding, leave a space of several inches between the trunk and the mulch. If necessary, remove all the mulch around trees and shrubs in the winter, because the animals don't like to feed out in the open, where predators can find them. Snow cover also provides a hiding place. Where voles are a problem, wrap the trunks of young trees with a tree guard made of wire or plastic.

Voles create extensive networks of tunnels that, if located under your garden or lawn, can cause root damage. Chewed root vegetables probably are the work of voles. Look for the tiny, //»-inch-wide chisel marks left by their incisors. Damage to stored vegetables, on the other hand, probably is the work of mice.

Voles are hard to control, but you can discourage them by keeping your yard free of weeds and keeping grass mowed. Surround valuable plantings with a fence made of /4-inch hardware cloth buried 6 inches deep and rising at least a foot off the ground. Keep the perimeter mowed and free of plant debris.

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