volesGetting rid of voles is a challenge. The best strategy for gardeners is to learn to live with voles, minimizing their damage. The most vital tool for controlling voles is good information. You must know your enemy well.

Voles are pretty interesting little critters. They’re closely related to house mice and about the same size, but with shorter tails and different habits. Voles live outdoors, moving around through a system of tunnels that keeps them out of sight most of the time. They live only about a year, on average, but in that time they stay busy having lots of babies, sometimes several litters per year. They don’t hibernate in the winter; they keep right on eating their vegetarian diet of leaves and seeds throughout the year.

There are two types of voles hang around. The pine vole or woodland vole is furry all over, with tiny eyes nearly covered up by fuzz. They burrow in the soil and chew on plant roots and bulbs. The second vole species, the meadow vole, spends more time above ground. They construct tunnels from tall grass and weeds. They damage the tops of plants and can “girdle” mature trees by cutting bark around the entire trunk, eventually stunting or even killing them.

Pine voles, since they have a restricted range, may be a bit easier to control, though their underground sneak-attack tactics are tough to counter.

A good control option is to bury the roots of your plants into underground cages of wire. These cages should be installed when new plants are planted, making sure they won’t interfere with root growth. Gardeners should also simply dig up and disrupt any vole tunnels they find.

For meadow voles, with their above-ground habits and wandering ways, a very helpful strategy is to mow short any tall grass or weeds where they might find cover.  Gardeners growing vegetables should use straw mulch for soil, but be careful not to create vole corridors.

Gardeners should mulch trees correctly. Don’t pile bark mulch right up around a tree’s trunk; always pull it back to create a bare space.

Vole urinary tracts “leak” as they move around, creating a trail that reflects ultraviolet light, something that some raptors, such as kestrels, can see. House cats also like voles on their snack menu.

Traps can be effective, especially against pine voles, if they are put where voles are active. A standard mouse trap baited with peanut butter may work reasonably well.

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