By: Heather Rhoades
Voles are among the least talked about and most damaging of the rodents that can invade a garden. These rodents can literally overrun a yard in a short period of time, chewing their way through plant roots, bulbs, stems, and seedlings, all the while multiplying at a furious rate. This can leave a frustrated gardener wondering how to get rid of voles that have taken over their yard. Vole eradication is possible with some extra effort.
Vole control starts with a clean garden. Voles will make themselves at home in heavy underbrush and weedy areas. Making sure that any overgrown areas in the garden are cut back not only discourages voles from taking up residence in your garden, it also makes sure that any voles that you do have are more vulnerable to predators such as snakes, owls, hawks, coyotes, and cats.
Another step in vole control is to locate and fill in or collapse any tunnels and burrows you may find. Their burrows tend to be short, even simply small pockets in the ground, but they may connect the burrows with extensive tunnel systems. The fewer places voles have to hide and breed, the fewer voles you will have in your yard.
You can also try using vole repellent, but because vole populations tend to grow quickly and because they frequently damage plants below the ground, vole repellent may not be very effective. If you wish to try using a vole repellent, predator urine is normally recommended. Ultrasonic rodent repellents may also be useful for getting rid of voles.
The next step in getting rid of voles is to decide what method you will use when deciding how to kill voles in your yard.
If your yard is small, vole traps can be used. Vole traps are simply mouse traps that have been placed in the yard, particularly near where known burrows are or were.
Rodent poison can also be an effective way of killing voles. When using poison though, be aware of the other animals in your yard. Rodent poison will not only kill voles, but can kill pets, beneficial animals, and even make children ill if they unintentionally handle or eat the poison laid out for voles.
Making your garden a haven for predators of voles is also recommended. Attracting snakes and owls and keeping a pet cat can help reduce the vole population in your garden.
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Voles, also known as field mice, are small brown rodents very common in yards and fields. They are about the size and shape of a mouse, and have small ears and a short tail. Minnesota has several species of vole, the most common being the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) and the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogastor).
Their presence is most often observed in the late winter and early spring right after the snow melts, when their grassy trails are exposed and areas of dead grass appear. Voles do the most harm to small trees and shrubs when they chew on the bark, often hidden below winter snow.
Size, feet, and face, fur coverage and tail, all distinguish these rodents from their subterranean insectivore counterparts, moles.
Voles are rodents. Moles are insectivores.
Voles are actually kind of cute. At least, a bit more cuddly looking than moles. Yet, these herbivores can wreak havoc on a garden in short order. They also feed on the roots and bark of woody plants, including those in nurseries and orchards where they can inflict a lot of damage in short order.
Some common names for voles include meadow moles, meadow mice, field mice, and ground moles. Voles resemble chubby house mice with short snouts, stubby tails and thickly layered fur.
These cute little herbivores can wreak havoc on your garden.
Voles live in thatch and brush cover in grassy fields, shallow tunnels, and surface runways. They also can thrive under long term snow cover, a significant factor in relation to root and stem damage.
There are numerous species, but the ones considered here are the pine vole ( Microtus pinetorum ), the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) , and the prairie vole ( (Microtus ochrogatser) . The latter two form tunnels on or near the surface while the pine vole digs deeper channels. So we likely have the meadow vole in our hugelkultur bed.
The species differ but not so much in how to control them.
“With the snow in my garden now mostly melted, I am seeing what appear to be tunnels in my lawn in a few areas. What is happening here, and is there something that I should do now?”
— Jermaine Sanders, Evanston
The damage you are describing in the lawn was probably caused by meadow voles, which will create well-defined 1½- to 2-inch-wide surface runways through the turf as they forage for food.
Voles are compact rodents with stocky bodies, short legs and short tails, and can be mistaken for mice. Vole runways in the turf are formed by a combination of the voles eating the grass blades and their constant traveling over the route.
These runways are easy to see when snow melts away in late winter and early spring. There also may be excavated dirt from the burrow system in the runway, resulting in a “dirt” path in some areas. They nest in shallow burrows underground or at ground level under brush or other protective covering. Burrow entrances measure from 1 to 1½ inches in diameter. Voles do not hibernate and are active throughout the year, mostly at dawn and dusk.
Voles are most prolific when they have abundant amounts of vegetation and cover. The damage is likely to be more severe during extended cold spells with deep snow cover, which occurred this winter.
They primarily eat the stems and leaves of various grasses, but they also consume other vegetation. They will eat the bark of trees and shrubs during the winter, which is typically the most serious damage of concern. Most voles do not live for more than a few months but can live up to two years, if not eaten by a predator.
Gardens with low-lying landscaping, such as arborvitae, spreading yews, junipers, cranberry cotoneaster and raised beds have higher potential for vole activity. The damage to the shrubs may not be noticed until later in spring, when the evergreens turn brown or the deciduous shrubs do not leaf out.
Check the bases of trees and shrubs in the vicinity of the vole damage you are seeing in the lawn. Trees that have had the bark completely removed around the trunk from the feeding will likely die. Shrubs with similar damage can be cut back now, in hope that they will resprout from the base below the damaged stems.
You may also want to cut back any herbaceous plant material for a couple feet away from the bases of your trees and shrubs. Lawns are easy to repair in spring with some overseeding in early April.
Eliminate weeds and dense ground cover around lawns late next fall to make these areas less able to support voles. Mow lawns and other turf regularly, and cut back vegetation from the bases of trees and shrubs as winter approaches in areas where you have found vole activity this spring.
It is also a good idea to pull mulch back away from the base of trees and shrubs, and keep the snow cleared away from the base of young trees. Reducing cover makes voles more vulnerable to predators such as hawks and owls. In general, removal of cover is very effective in preventing damage done by voles.
Voles can be controlled by using snap traps that are baited with a combination of peanut butter and oatmeal or with apple slices. Poison baits designed for house mice are also effective but can cause secondary poisoning in predators if the treated voles are then eaten.
Be sure to use a product that is labeled to control voles outside and follow instructions carefully. Birds and other wildlife can also be killed by these methods unless the baits are placed in boxes that only voles can enter. Bait is effective to control voles under dense evergreen shrub plantings like junipers.
Repellents can be sprayed to the bases and trunks of trees and shrubs. These products will provide short-term protection and need to be reapplied after rain. You can also purchase granular products to deter voles and apply at the bases of trees and shrubs. There are no options for using plants to repel voles or any agents to scare them away.
If all your efforts at trying to deter voles fails, it’s time to figure out how to get rid of them.
If you only have a small area to handle, you might try trapping as a way to reduce the vole population on your property. You can purchase live vole traps and situate them perpendicular to the broadest vole tunnel or near their favorite nesting sites.
Place traps at the base of trees and shrubs. Try setting baits in the midday to early evening because that’s the time when voles get more active. Try baiting the traps with peanut butter. You can reset the traps as often as you like until the vole population is gone.
The key to making this work is persistence. You might have to cover the traps so that they won’t harm your children and pets.
One simple way to deter voles is to find their tunnels and sprinkle irritants into them. Mix an irritant with water or soapy water and add it to a spray bottle. You’ll need to reapply frequently, whenever it rains.
Some deterrents that might work include:
Poison is one of the most popular methods in the war with voles. Many people decide to use it, because it’s incredibly simple. They are tired of setting various mousetraps and getting no result. They decided to buy poison which they hope will solve all their problems. We have chosen the most popular and well-proven poison.
JT Eaton Anticoagulant Bait is a powerful poison. It can be used to combat various rodents. For example, you can use it like a mice poison as well. This poison consists of special waterproof granules with Bromadiolone. This rodenticide was approved by scientists from the Colorado State University Extension as an efficient measure against voles. This poison causes internal bleeding, but voles have to eat it several times in order to die.
There are no special secrets. One just needs to locate capsules near areas with voles and wait for results. It’s pretty easy to use in your garden, but this poison is not useful in large areas occupied by voles. Anyway, don’t forget that this poison is dangerous for your pets thus, don’t forget to keep them away from poisoned areas.