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How to fix wonky pathways and prevent mouse invasions

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This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Our pathway at the cottage has become treacherous because the soil around some large tree roots has eroded away. It’s particularly unsafe at night or when it’s wet. What should we do?

—Trippy McTumblesalot

Level the surface with something like mulch or wood chips, say our experts. “This is a fairly common problem,” says Michael Mills, a consulting arborist in Gibsons, B.C. Tree roots grow in diameter over time, and the soil surrounding them gets compacted, making the roots even more prominent. Mills doesn’t recommend that you cover the roots by more than 15 cm in one season. Adding too thick of a layer can cut off oxygen to the tree.

Only cut the tree roots if you must. “Those big buttress roots are important for stabilization,” says Philip Adams, an arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts in Bracebridge, Ont. “They’re like the tree’s feet.” Removing chunks of them could turn the tree into a hazard. According to Adams, a good guideline is never to cut more than 30 per cent of the root zone. But the closer to the base of the tree that you cut, the more damage that you’re likely to inflict. And cutting any part of the roots makes it vulnerable to disease and decay. If you’re in doubt, get an arborist’s advice. A treacherous path is bad. A treacherous tree? Possibly worse.

We get a lot of mice at our cottage. We’re sure that we have plugged all the holes in our building envelope, but we’re still catching four a week in traps. How are they getting in? Help us be smarter than a mouse!

—Pest Patroller

You’re probably already smarter. It’s a mouse, not a fifth grader. But the mice may be winning because they’re more determined. “As human beings, we’re constantly trying to do as little as we can to solve a problem,” says Gary Ure, the owner of Second Nature Wildlife Management in Gananoque, Ont. “And mice will make you work harder than you ever want to work.”

Ure suspects that you simply haven’t blocked all the entry points. Finding them may require multiple inspections. “Don’t just use your eyes,” says Ure. “Put your fingers in the potential holes, poke around.” Search especially at foundations, utility entry points, and plumbing pipes. The dryer vent is a classic spot, says Andy Willmott of Lake Country Pest Control in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. It supplies warmth, nesting material (lint), and—if uncovered or damaged—a way into the cottage. Jackpot! Mice can squeeze through tiny openings the thickness of your pinky, so assume that almost any crevice is a potential doorway. (Within reason. “They do have skulls,” says Ure. “People will ask me, ‘Can they get through here?’ and I’ll say, ‘You can’t even get a credit card through there.’”)

Maybe you’ve found all the holes, but your mouse-proofing materials are failing. Caulking can fall out; steel wool can disintegrate; mice can chew through foam. Ure prefers to cut a circle of sheet metal, screw or nail it to the wall, and caulk around it. “Check your work the next day or in a few days. Even when you think you’re done, you’re probably not done.” Block large holes with hardware cloth, diamond wire lath, or concrete.

It’s also possible that the traps aren’t catching all the mice. Willmott prefers bait. Used correctly, he says, it can get rid of even a big population in 10 to 15 days. “With traps you might be setting them for the rest of your life.”

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