Trying to figure out how to prevent or stop voles from eating the plants in your garden? Read on to learn how!
These techniques are GREAT for:
- soil health,
- plant health, and
- providing habitat for a wide diversity of wildlife species.
However, there is one significant downside: we’ve created an ideal habitat for voles. Voles easily tunnel through our soft, rich soil, protected from predators by a thick layer of mulch.
Beneath the soil surface, there’s an all-a-vole-can-eat food buffet of delicious plant roots. And where their tunnels open to the surface, even more food awaits.
Over the years we’ve had voles:
- kill young fruit trees (by eating their roots),
- slurp whole plants down their holes like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and
- wreak havoc on our tubers and bulb plants (onions, Dahlias, gladiolas, hostas, and others).
What are voles?
Voles are small (5-7″ long) herbivorous rodents that spend the majority of their lives underground. They look very similar to mice.
What kind of plant damage do voles do?
Voles are voracious pests that eat bulbs, tubers, tree roots, seedlings, and the stems of mature plants.
If you’ve noticed underground tunnels just below the soil surface zigzagging through your garden/yard plus disappearing or dead plants, chances are you’ve got voles…
Voles vs. mice vs. shrews vs. moles – what’s the difference?
Voles, mice, shrews, and moles are often confused, even though they’re different species.
Here’s a helpful comparison chart showing you what each species looks like, plus some of their distinguishing characteristics:
If you’re trying to stop a particular pest species from causing damage, it’s important that you know what it is so you can use the appropriate prevention or eradication method.
For instance, voles and moles both create tunnels in your yard or garden. However, voles are herbivores whereas moles are carnivores (eating slugs, grubs, insects, spiders, etc).
If you’re trying to get a mole (carnivore) out of your yard/garden using a trap baited with peanut butter, you’re not going to have much luck because: a) they rarely come to the soil surface, and b) peanut butter isn’t appetizing to them.
Breeding: how many new voles can a vole pair create in a year?
Voles breed year round, but breed most prolifically during the warm months of spring and summer. Even though voles don’t live long (2-16 months), they reproduce rapidly.
A single female vole can have as many as 5 litters per year with as many as 11 young per litter. That means that a female vole who lived for about one year could produce 55 new voles!
Granted, voles populations are kept in check by:
- predators (cats, dogs, hawks, owls, snakes),
- various diseases, and
- food availability;
…so their population numbers tend to ebb and flow rather than going perpetually upward.
How to prevent or stop voles from eating your plants
Now comes the big question: if you’ve got voles in your yard or garden, how do you prevent or stop them from eating your plants?
There’s no single right answer, but we’ve found some very effective solutions over the years. First, what NOT to do…
Please don’t use poison to kill voles
Yes, you can put out poison bait near vole holes to kill them. However, there’s a good chance that the critter will crawl out of its tunnel in poisoned agony and be eaten by your or your neighbors’ cat or dog, an owl, hawk, or beneficial snake.
Thus, we strongly advise against using poison to kill voles given the high potential for collateral damage.
What about electronic vole repellers and deterrents?
There are lots of different ultrasonic devices that are supposed to keep away voles, moles, gophers, chipmunks, and other pest rodents.
Apparently, some people have good results using these devices to deter certain rodent species. Last summer, we tried the highest rated ones we could find at the time to try to keep ground hogs out of the plots at Oak Hill Cafe & Farm.
Did they work? Nope. The ground hogs could not have cared less, and I also noticed vole tunnels and holes within feet of where the devices were positioned.
Who knows, maybe the technology has advanced since then – or they’ll work for your particular species of rodents. We just can’t advise using them given our previous experience.
1. Vole prevention in raised garden beds
If you’re just about to break ground on your new raised garden beds, then you’re in luck! With two simple design additions, you can vole-proof your raised garden beds by:
- firmly attaching 1/4″ hardware cloth to the bottom of the frame (to prevent voles from tunneling under and in to the bed), and
- building the sides of your raised bed a minimum of 2′ high (*to prevent voles from climbing or jumping in).
(*Note: Voles aren’t great climbers or jumpers. A 2′ tall frame should prevent voles climbing/jumping in, but the taller the sides of your raised beds, the better.)
Here’s an illustration to show you how to build a vole-proof raised garden bed:
Gaps any larger than about 1/2″ between the wire hardware cloth and the wood frame will allow voles to sneak in. So another construction recommendation: use barbed u-nails to firmly affix the hardware cloth to the frame with minimal space between nails (6″ or less).
Can you modify an existing raised bed to be vole-proof?
If you already have raised garden beds and you want to keep voles out, you can do the following:
- Dig a 1′ deep trench around the outside and bury hardware cloth in it. Supposedly, voles won’t dig any deeper than a foot.
- If the height of the walls of your bed is less than 2′, you’ll want to add additional framing to the sides of your raised beds to reach 2′ tall in order to prevent voles from climbing or jumping in.
Note: If you think there are already voles living under the soil surface in your raised beds, taking the steps above will trap the critters in your beds, which won’t do you much good. In this case, you’d also need to temporarily dig out the existing soil to make sure no voles/nests are present before vole-proofing the beds.
2. How to protect your fruit and nut trees from voles
After having voles eat the roots and kill some of our fruit trees, we’ve learned from our mistakes. When planting new fruit trees, do the following to prevent voles from damaging or killing your trees:
1. Dig a hole to the appropriate size and depth of the fruit tree/root ball you’re transplanting.
2. Make a “root cage” out of 1/2″ hardware cloth. You can either: a) make a simple round cage that’s open at the bottom and top, or b) make a basket that’s open at the top.
3. Insert your cage or basket in the hole extending at least 12″ deep below the soil surface, then transplant your fruit tree inside. Also, you’ll want to make sure the cage extends a few inches ABOVE the soil surface so the voles don’t scoot right over the top of it.
The roots of your tree will eventually grow through the 1/2″ caging, while preventing the voles from accessing the tree’s root crown.
3. How to protect your bulb, tubers, and other transplants from voles
We are super excited to have finally found a 100% effective solution to keep voles from eating our bulbs, tubers, and other transplants!
For years, we watched hopelessly as voles sucked down our artichoke plants into their evil, dark holes, leaving behind only despair and agony. We were helpless as our healthy onion bulbs disappeared overnight, and our dahlias died daily.
This year, The Tyrant found Vole King stainless steel flexible mesh cages.
How to use Vole King mesh baskets
When you’re putting in vole-sensitive transplants (like artichokes), bulbs, or tubers, simply:
1. Put the appropriately-sized vole king cage in the hole you dig (the cages are flexible and don’t have sharp points, making them very easy to work with barehanded).
2. Plop in your transplants, tubers, or bulbs, then fill up the cage with soil level to the surrounding soil surface.
3. As with fruit tree cages, you’ll want your Vole King cages to extend 2″ above ground. This prevents voles that are tunneling near the surface from being able to easily go over the top of the cages.
We’re happy to say that we haven’t lost a single plant this year since using our Vole King cages! We’d given up on growing artichokes years ago (they seem to be a vole favorite), but we’re super-excited about having garden-fresh artichokes on the dinner table this summer.
Every other vole favorite plants we have in Vole King mesh cages are thriving as well.
Why do we prefer Vole King baskets versus hardware cloth?
For one, the Vole King baskets are flexible so they easily conform to whatever size and shape hole you put them into. Second: cutting, bending, and tying together each hardware cloth basket is a pain in the neck and usually ends up in scraped and scratched hands. (We have to remove our gloves to tie the pieces together with metal wire.) Third, there are no additional tools required with Vole King baskets.
The cost difference between the two options is negligible, so we prefer the option that’s easiest and fastest.
Other vole control methods
If it’s legal in your state, you can also use the following vole control methods:
1. Trap and release voles. Transport them 1+ miles away to make certain they don’t return.
2. Use mouse traps to kill voles. If you know where a vole hole is, place a mousetrap next to the opening baited with a mixture of peanut butter and oats. Then put a large cardboard box over the area (covering the trap and the vole hole) to prevent another animal from getting snagged.
Personally, we don’t really feel like putting in the time and effort to use these trap or kill methods. Now that we have methods to prevent or stop voles from eating our plants, we’re comfortable coexisting with the creatures.
We hope this article helps you stop voles from eating your garden plants. Have questions? Ask away in the comments section below.
You might also enjoy reading:
- How to keep rodents from eating your melons
- Dad’s trick: how to keep deer out of your garden or yard
- How to keep animals out of your garden (on GrowJourney, our sister site)