How Do You Keep Voles Out Of Your Garden?

How do you keep voles out of your garden?

This is a question posed to me by a friend.  Keeping Voles out of the garden is a tough one. The little varmints love to eat our plants and they are particularly challenging for many gardeners.

Here’s some background information about Voles. (source: Wikipedia)

Voles are small rodents that grow to 3-9 inches, depending on the species. They can have 5–10 litters per year. Gestation lasts for 3 weeks and the young voles reach sexual maturity in a month. As a result of this exponential growth, vole populations can grow very large within a very short period of time. Since litters average 5–10 young, a single pregnant vole in a yard can result in a hundred or more active voles in less than a year.

They will readily thrive on small plants. Like shrews they will eat dead animals and like mice or rats, they can live on almost any nut or fruit. Additionally, voles will target plants more than most other small animals. It is here where their presence is mostly evident. Voles will readily girdle small trees and ground cover much like a porcupine. This girdling can easily kill young plants and is not healthy for trees or other shrubs.

Voles will often eat succulent root systems and will burrow under plants or ground cover they are particularly fond of and eat away until the plant is dead. Bulbs in the ground are another favorite target for voles; their excellent burrowing and tunneling gives them access to sensitive areas without clear or early warning. The presence of large numbers of voles is often only identifiable after they have destroyed a number of plants.However, voles, like other burrowing rodents, also play beneficial roles including dispersing nutrients throughout the upper soil layers.

The fast reproductive cycle is alarming and the destruction they cause is equally disturbing.  So, the question begs an answer, “How can anyone get voles out of the garden?” Personally, I’d keep my cat hungry enough to eat the little varmints.  Sorry if that offends anyone but, it is perfectly natural.

In any event, I make no claims to be an expert on other methods so, I’ll rely upon others who are better versed on the subject.  Following is an except of an article from “getting rid of things (dot) com.  I hope this will be helpful.

Vole Control

Habitat modification. Start by making your yard inhospitable to a vole and its family. Clear away any and all piles of brush. Brush piles make great shelter for a vole. Dispose of any other ground cover while you’re at it. This could be low bushes, trash, wood piles, or even the spaces underneath small raised sheds. Avoid using mulch around trees. If you already have, get rid of it. Mulch makes good vole cover. In the winter, keep the ground free of snow for three feet around trees.

Build a fence around the garden. Apply some vole control to your little slice of heaven by putting up a little fence. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it does need to be done right. Start by getting a bunch of stakes and a few rolls of ¼” mesh or smaller hardware cloth. Voles dig, so you want to bury your fence about a foot down. They don’t, however, climb worth a darn. So, if you live in a warm region, 12″ above ground is fine. If you live in a cold region, try to make sure the fence is taller than the maximum snow depth. Remember to clear brush and weeds away from your fence.

While you’re at it, fence your trees. One very common type of vole damage is known as girdling. This is when voles gnaw a ring of bark all the way around the base of a tree, thus killing the tree. Girdling from voles is non-uniform and comes from any and all directions. To avoid it, get your hardware cloth and ring the trees with it. Press it into the ground as much as you can without causing damage to the roots. Remember, if you’re in a cold area, make sure the height of your tree fence exceeds winter snow levels.

Set some vole traps. There are a number of different trap styles you can use. If you want to be a cheap ass about it, just get yourself a bunch of those old school Victor Traps (that’s what I would do). Otherwise, there are a couple of great live traps available. We are all, of course, familiar with Havahart. Great traps. You may also want to look into Sherman Traps (Model SNG). They too are mucho effective. Whatever you use, place the business end of the traps at 90° angles to vole runways. For vole bait, use either an oatmeal/peanut butter mixture or apple bits. I recommend apple. It’s more exclusive.

Don’t encourage voles to stick around. If you don’t want to have to get rid of voles again in the future, do what you can now to remove their food sources, and they may choose to set up elsewhere next time. Voles eat seeds as well as garden plants, so take your bird feeders down. If you have fruit trees, especially apple, make sure you keep all fallen fruit picked up. If you have any evergreen trees around, make sure to rake up any fallen needles. They eat those, too. Also, prune any branches that hang to the ground.

Kill Voles with Vole Poison

The best time to put out vole poisons is late winter and very early fall. This is because natural forage is scarce at this time, and the voles are less picky about what they eat. One thing to be aware of when using vole bait to poison voles with is bait shyness. Bait shyness is what you call it when voles learn that whatever you are putting out for them is evil and will kill them. To avoid this, use several types of vole poisons and use a different one every time you reapply. Vole baits are easy to find. Not only are there hundreds of online vendors that carry them, but your local hardware store has ‘em too. Look for either an anticoagulant that contains Warfarin like Decon, Rodex, or Kaput Mouse Blocks, or vole poisons like ZP Bait that contain zinc phosphide. Whatever you use, you may want to consider using a vole bait station such as the Vole Control Bait Station System to avoid having birds and other non-target animals take the bait. Or put the vole bait in an open-ended box.  Source

To recap: Keeping vegetation away from garden beds could to be a useful method of prevention since voles usually to travel in “vegetation tunnels” so that they can stay out of sight.  Fencing is another possible method.  A fence doesn’t need to be very high and serves it’s best purpose by being buried in the soil, deep enough to prevent the little buggers from getting to plant roots.

There are products that claim to repel these pests.  Results may vary.  I’m not inclined to believe the company claims at face value.  More research is required for valid testimonials.

Finally, care should be taken with poisons for obvious reasons: children, cats and dogs and natural predators which could be harmed by doing their job.

The following video is about multiple vole trapping method that looks really promising.

I hope this helps with your vole issues my friend (who shall remain anonymous).

Feel free to COMMENT or SHARE this post.

Thanks for reading.

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How Do You Keep Voles Out Of Your Garden? — 2 Comments

  1. Hi Steve,

    Are voles and moles beast cousins? My garden and lawn seem to be
    infested with moles…but the ones that Susie my Sheltie dug up when she was alive had pink noses and I was assured by a neighbor that they stay in the ground all the time.

    • Thanks Cararta for your question. Voles and moles are very different creatures. Voles are much like gophers as they primarily eat plant material. Moles on the other hand, are more or less insectivores and are generally considered to be beneficial aside from the piles of dirt pushed up to the surface. So, from a gardener’s perspective, they are a bit of a menace. Your neighbor is correct, these little animals would rarely be seen above ground.

      Did you take a picture of the one your dog found for you?