Vole Management in Turf

Published online: Nov 22, 2017 Kevin J. Ross

Source: On Course Turf blog

One of the biggest issues for superintendents in the Mountain West are those little pesky voles. Voles are rodents and a relative of the mouse. There are over 100 species of voles. The meadow vole is responsible for the bulk of the damage in a turfgrass situation. Voles are herbivores and the majority of their diet consists of grass stems and leaves. In the summertime voles migrate to thick taller grassy areas for protection against predators. However, when snowfall arrives they have protection under the snow and this is the time they migrate to fine turf areas and cause damage. This makes golf course turf very susceptible to wintertime damage. Voles cause turf damage by chewing grass plants extremely low to the ground and can chew so low they cause damage to the crown of the plant. Voles also create runways in the winter, first by chewing the plants, then by using these to forage for additional food each day. These runways can see extensive traffic throughout the winter as voles forage each day on 10 to 15 trips.

Most of the time voles don’t directly kill the turf plant, although if they damage the crown extensively it is possible. The main issue with vole damage is the slow recovery of the turf in the spring. With the combination of cold soil temperatures and damaged turf plants, recovery can be extremely slow. The other issue with vole damage is its effect on playability. When a golf ball lands in one of the vole tunnels, it can nestle down and make for a very poor lie. So until complete recovery happens playability suffers.

Controlling voles is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Over the year’s superintendents have tried many different products with minimal success. One product I found which shows some vole repellency isMilorganite fertilizer. I discovered this primarily by accident. I have used Milorganite fertilizer for many years as a dormant feed on greens, tees, and fairways. What I didn’t realize was all those years of apply Milorganite, I was also repelling voles in those areas. 

This came to light during the winter of 2014-15. That fall we had early snow cover and only finished 11 fairways with our Milorganite application. That spring we had extensive vole damage on fairways that didn’t receive the Milorganite application. We also noticed that spring that late topdressing applications also reduced vole damage. With this in mind, we decided to apply Milorganite to the rough as well in the fall of 2015. We also set-up some small test areas with check plots to test our theory.

In the spring of 2016 we were amazed at almost the complete lack of vole damage on the property. Our test plots also show without question that Milorganite certainly repels vole activity. We used rate of 0.75#/N/M in all the rough and in our test areas. The results were fantastic. Not only do you repel voles, you also get the benefits of a great dormant fertilizer application HERE: https://oncourseturf.blogspot.com/2017/10/dormant-fertilization.html . Getting two things accomplished with one product, that is a big plus!