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Winter field mice unwanted guests.

Byline: Paul Rogers

COLUMN: Your gardening answers

As soil temperatures drop, field mice (voles) get busy. What do voles do for the winter? They eat our plants, and they make babies. The meadow voles eat the fleshy roots and crowns of perennials. The pine voles gnaw the bark of stems at ground line and the roots below ground. When provided with sufficient time and numbers, vole feeding can destroy perennial plantings and plantings of young trees.

Woodchucks, muskrats, chipmunks, skunks and other rodents commonly sleep through the winter, thus they cause no over-wintering damage. However, moles, voles and rats remain active, at least periodically, throughout the year. Voles are prolific - awesomely so. Voles attain sexual maturity in 30 days after birth. Gestation period is 21 days. The number of voles in each litter for well-fed voles is 10. Under favorable conditions (for voles, not gardeners) a new litter can be born each month. You do the math!

Because of the potential for exploding populations and the damage they could cause, it is well to attempt control of as many breeding pairs as possible immediately. The meadow vole is seeking food above ground. The pine vole operates both above and below the soil surface. Succulent vegetable matter is now scarce and foraging is directed to seeds and roots and tender bark.

Wooden rat traps baited with peanut butter placed inside hollow drain tiles are effective but must be cleaned and rebaited after each successful trapping. Purchased bait placed under boards to protect cats and birds can be highly functional if located where voles are active. Repellents of various types are offered but many gardeners have found them to be of limited effectiveness.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 16, 2010
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