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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eliminate voles, you”ll have much healthier lawn

Rhonda Elliott Special to Handle Extra

Okay, so I’m not a lawn lover.

There are just so many more interesting things to do with dirt: herb or vegetable gardens, perennial beds, moss lawns, wildflower areas, groundcovers, etc. I have been known to rip out lawns wherever I have lived and am in love (oh, horrors) with lawn competitors like violets and moss.

The secret garden on the north side of my house, an ex-lawn, as it was too shady for healthy grass, is a lovely collection of mosses, violets and groundcovers that I have encouraged to stay.

For my sensibilities, lawns require too much work, water and chemicals to be healthy and attractive. That said, however, my grandchildren and dogs need safe, cool places to relax and play, and a lawn fits that bill perfectly. The kids and dogs win again.

Therefore, my yard does have some lawn areas, but keeping them healthy and attractive is often an exercise in frustration. Just when I’ve expended lots of energy, money and precious water on my lawn, the critters usually attack.

I’m talking about voles.

Voles are mouselike rodents with short tails and small ears. They feed on seeds, grasses and the bark of young shrubs and trees.

They live in extensive tunnel systems just under the lawn’s surface that often collapse, leaving a depression that can contribute to too much water accumulation and disease. Numerous 1- to 2-inch round tunnel openings are often noticed, and they can ruin a good lawn quicker than you can decide if it’s a mole, vole or gopher doing the damage.

This is exactly what you must do in order to get rid of them:

It’s pretty easy to distinguish what’s doing the damage.

Mole activity is evidenced by snakelike, raised ridges of earth and sometimes small conical mounds of earth.

Gophers leave larger, fan-shaped mounds of fresh earth.

Getting rid of voles (plural is correct because there is never just one) is easier than dealing with moles or gophers.

Standard snap traps for mice work well. Place several around the entrance holes in your lawn and use apple slices or peanut butter as bait.

Set them for a few nights in a row or until you aren’t catching any more. Be sure to keep pets and children away from the area while using traps.

Commercial baits (poison) are also available, but use with caution and always read the label.

If you don’t currently have a vole infestation, basic garden sanitation will help prevent one.

Clear away all possible food sources, such as vegetables left at season’s end or spilled bird food. Cleaning your perennial beds, borders and shrubbery areas deprives voles of shelter and food.

Proper mulching practices such as using bark or compost as opposed to straw or hay, not mulching until after the soil freezes, and not putting mulch right next to the base of a tree or shrub reduces the cover voles seek.

Now that the voles are gone, who knows, maybe I’ll rip out the grass and plant a thyme lawn – tough enough for the kids and dogs, needs less water and smells great when you walk on it!

This week in the garden

•Fertilize your lawn with a balanced lawn fertilizer. Temperatures are optimal now for good lawn growth.

Consider a weed-and-feed blend if you have broadleaf weeds competing for water and nutrients.

•Get your hoses and sprinklers ready for the season ahead. Check for leaks, repairing any cracks or holes and replacing any damaged hose ends or fittings. Install new washers in hose ends.

Thinking about a drip irrigation system? Now is a great time to have it installed.

•Continue planting cool-season vegetables like spinach, lettuce and onions. Plant beets, carrots and summer greens now.

This is a great time to plant fall-maturing crops such as cabbage and brussels sprouts. Hold off on heat-loving vegetables like eggplant and tomatoes until nighttime temperatures are in the 50s.

•Rejuvenate your strawberry beds by pulling out and discarding nonproductive plants. Amend the soil with compost and replant with fresh stock from a nursery.

Be certain to set the new plant’s crown just at soil level to avoid crown rot.

When your new plants blossom the first year, pick off the blossoms to direct energy into a healthy root and foliage system. You’ll be rewarded with increased yields and larger berries next year.

•Visit your local nursery or garden shop. The selection is at its best now, and this is a great time of year to set out new perennials and shrubs.

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