The poor vole gets no recognition, unless you run across them in your vegetable garden. Even those who are not gardening enthusiasts know about moles. But most people go their whole lives without ever so much as hearing about “voles,” let alone practicing vole control. To make matters worse, voles are sometimes referred to as “meadow mice” or “field mice.”
Voles construct well-defined, visible tunnels, or “runways” at or near the surface, about two inches wide. Vole runways result from the voles eating the grass blades, as well as from the constant traffic of numerous little feet beating over the same path. And if any lawn and garden pest can literally “beat a path” through the garden due to their sheer numbers, it’s the voles. Rabbits don’t have anything over this prolific rodent!
Since voles are not the only animal pests responsible for tunnels in garden areas, they are often confused with these other pests you’d like to get rid of – namely moles. Because both moles and voles are rarely seen, it makes more sense to base identification on the signs they leave behind, rather than on how the animals look. After all, you may never come face to face with these furry foes!
Moles produce two types of tunnels in your yard. One tunnel runs just beneath the surface. These are feeding tunnels and appear as raised ridges running across your lawn. The second type of runway runs deeper and enables the moles to unite the feeding tunnels in a network. It is the soil excavated from the deep tunnels that homeowners find on their lawns, piled up in mounds that resemble little volcanoes. These mounds are a dead giveaway that your problem is not voles, but moles. Voles leave no mounds at all behind.
Perhaps you’ve made a positive identification of the culprit: you’ve got voles. Or perhaps you don’t have voles in your garden, but you wish to find out how to keep it that way.
Prevention sure beats battling garden pests after they’ve already arrived. By taking preventive measures, you can stick to purely natural pest control, which is beneficial both to your health and to the health of the garden. Natural pest control can also save you money, since you won’t have to go out and buy pest control products. I’ll have more to say about natural pest control against voles in a moment. But first, let’s find out exactly what kind of damage voles do to your lawn, garden and landscaping plants.
Voles can burrow into the root systems of garden plants, sometimes causing severe damage. These rodent pests can seriously damage root crops such as, potatoes, carrots, turnips, and so on. And the runways they leave behind in the process make for disaster in the garden.
A vole pest problem is most likely to arise in yards where voles have abundant amounts of vegetation and debris to hide under and build their nests. If you keep your garden weeded, avoid planting dense ground covers such as creeping junipers, and keep your lawn mowed, you’re less likely to have to worry about voles in the first place. That’s rule #1 of integrated pest management (IPM): preventing pest problems through foresight, rather than waiting for damage to occur and then killing pests as an afterthought.
But what if it’s too late for preventive integrated pest management measures? If your garden is already being damaged by voles, you need to consider vole eradication. Voles can be removed humanely from a yard by using Havahart live-traps, exterminated by using mouse traps or poisons, or driven away with vole repellents.
If you select extermination, you must then decide between poison baits (rodenticides) and traps. Zinc phosphide-based products such as ZP Gopher Bait are commonly used home rodenticides for vole control. The best-known brand name in the poison bait industry, Rodex, which is Warfarin-based. Warfarin is a blood anticoagulant, causing internal bleeding and hemorrhaging leading to death.
Poison baits are, of course, potentially hazardous to other wildlife, children and pets. If you place the poison bait directly into burrow openings, the hazard is reduced. Another tactic the do it yourselfer should consider to make poison baits less hazardous is to place them in bait containers. I recommend using other methods than poisoning. Use poisons as a last resort method.
Mouse snap traps can be used to trap voles. Situate the trap perpendicular to the vole tunnel, aligning the trap’s trigger with the very path the vole must take in using the tunnel. Peanut butter is an excellent bait for trapping voles. The best time to trap is either autumn or late winter. Like poisons, however, these traps can be dangerous for other wildlife, children and pets. To minimize the risk, place the traps under boxes.
The key to success in trapping is determining where the voles on your landscape are most likely to be passing by — that’s where you want to locate the trap. The widest vole runways are indicative of heavy traffic. Another good indicator is if a runway is heavily soiled with vole urine and feces. Use these same indicators for ideal placement of your traps.
Predator urines are the vole repellent of choice for gardens. Predator odors are most displeasing to voles. Fox and coyote urines can often be bought at trapper supply houses.
Garden fencing can be placed around garden plants, to protect their roots against voles. Make sure to bury such fencing products at least a few inches (but a couple of feet is preferable, to be on the safe side) beneath the ground surface.
Fumigants and ultrasonic repellers can be effective with proper placement. The best method of repelling voles with an ultrasonic repellent is to locate the active tunnels of the vole by finding signs of the vole – feces and freshly dug tunnels. Place the ultrasonic repellent near this area. If you have a large yard, two or more ultrasonic repellents may be needed to be effective.
The most humane way of ridding your garden of voles, is using the HavaHart Wire Trap. You can trap voles and remove them from your landscape using this small live trap. There are a few cons to using Havahart wire traps. One is trying to figure out the correct placement of the trap so you can lure and catch the vole. You also have to figure out what to do with the vole after you catch it. In some states animal relocation is prohibited, so check you state and local laws first.