Gardening

How to prevent or stop voles from eating your plants

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Trying to figure out how to prevent or stop voles from eating the plants in your garden? Read on to learn how!


Our yard is a half acre edible organic landscape. We use no-till growing methods and top-dress our beds with wood chip mulch.

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. 

Bank vole.jpg
Image credit: Original by Soebe, edited by FashionslideOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

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:

Voles versus mole versus shrew versus mouse. What's the difference? Comparison chart.

A quick comparison chart showing you the difference between shrews, voles, mice, and moles. Chart created by Tyrant Farms. Additional credit: 1) shrew image by Eliza Holcombe, 2) vole image by Soebe, edited by FashionslideOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link, 3) mouse image by George Shuklin (talk) – Own work, CC BY-SA 1.0, Link, 4) mole image by Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

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 

The Tyrant LOVES dahlias, beautiful flowering plants that also produce delicious edible bulbs and flowers. Problem: voles love them too. Read on to find out how to prevent or stop voles from eating your garden plants!

The Tyrant LOVES dahlias. They produce beautiful flowers and the heirloom varieties produce delicious edible tubers and flowers. Problem: voles love eating dahlias too. Read on to find out how to prevent or stop voles from eating your garden 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.    

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 one simple design addition, you can vole-proof your raised garden beds using 1/2″ – 1/4″ hardware cloth.

Here’s how: 

Prevent or stop voles from getting into a raised bed garden.

Image: step-by-step, how to make a vole-proof raised bed for your garden.

If you’ve already got raised garden beds and you want to keep voles out, you can dig a 1′ deep trench around the outside and bury hardware cloth in it. Supposedly, voles won’t dig any deeper than a foot. 

How to protect your fruit 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.  

One of our Asian persimmon trees in a hardware cloth basket. The tree was a tiny sapling when we put it in, and the roots have grown right on through the wire. You can also use Vole King baskets (see below), rather than these DIY baskets.

One of our Asian persimmon trees in a hardware cloth basket. The tree was a tiny sapling when we put it in, and the roots have grown right on through the wire. You can also use Vole King baskets (see below), rather than these DIY baskets.

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. 

No more!

This year, The Tyrant found Vole King stainless steel flexible mesh cages.

How to prevent or stop voles from eating garden plants.

Prepping dahlia tubers for the garden in our Vole King flexible stainless steel wire baskets. Bring on the voles!

We’re mostly using the 1 gallon and 2 gallon Vole Kings given the size of our plants. However, you can also get them in smaller or larger sizes – up to 15 gallons for large plants like fruit trees.

The Tyrant attaches labels to the top of each Vole King basket so she can remember what variety is in each basket. If you're planting edible tubers that you harvest in fall after the plant has gone dormant, these tags are especially helpful.

The Tyrant attaches labels to the top of each Vole King basket so she can remember what variety is in each basket. If you’re planting edible tubers that you harvest in fall after the plant has gone dormant, these tags are especially helpful.

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.

How to prevent or stop voles using Vole King baskets.

Vole king basket in the hole and ready to be filled with soil.

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.

How to prevent or stop voles in your garden by Tyrant Farms. Artichoke growing in Vole King basket.

Left: Young artichoke transplant just put into a Vole King mesh basket in one of our no-till, mulched beds. Right: same artichoke plant a month later.

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 alternative 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.  

 

Trying to figure out how to effectively prevent or stop voles in your garden, without resorting to poisoning them? We've tested lots of methods, and have the answers you're looking for! #volecontrol #pestcontrol #rodentprevention #voleprevention #tyrantfarms

KIGI,

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