Voles in The Garden

Voles in The Garden

I’ve seen a rise in questions about voles in the garden and what to do about them when there is an infestation. Many people op to get rid of their compost, and even straw for mulching- truly not understanding that this will do nothing to solve the problem. There are many types of voles and their diets are so diverse, along with their habitats, that one thing alone will not solve the problem.

Characteristics of Voles

Voles are related to mice but look more like a small hamster. The difference in their appearance is that voles have rounder heads, shorter tails, stockier bodies and small eyes. They don’t weigh more than a few ounces and are usually no bigger than five to seven inches, depending on the type of vole. They can have anywhere from five to ten litters in a given year. Each litter can have up to four to five young.  Therefore, if you get them in your garden, you can have a very quick infestation in a matter of months. Their normal life expectancy is two months but they can live for a whole year. Fortunately the populations are cyclic and peak every four years.

Voles Habits and Diet 

Voles in your garden can cause havoc on plants and your garden vegetables in a short time. They eat leaves, seeds, flowers, roots, grasses, clover, barks of trees and shrubs, bulbs, field and forage crops and they love plantain weed. Voles also love your vegetables, eat insects and animal remains when their populations are high. They eat everything that can be eaten.

Where do voles live? 

Garden voles live underground and store their food, like seeds, there. They have an extensive tunnel system right below the surface or underground, depending on the type of vole. Voles use mole tunnels to travel around. If not, they burrow their own tunnels. They live under large plant leaves or mulch. Doesn’t mean you can’t plant or mulch. Voles are more likely to live under forest canopy or in neighboring fields.

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Vole Predators

If you live in an urban area, you are likely to have only a few of these around. But the best control may be to attract some of their predators and make them part of your garden family.

Snakes eat voles and they are readily found in an organic garden. I’ve seen snakes grow over a given season, and going deep into my garden beds. If they didn’t have food they would not stay around. 

Owls and hawks are other predators that go after voles. These can also be seen in urban and suburban areas. A family of barn owls can consume thousands of voles and other rodents in one season.

Therefore, early in the season in late winter or early spring, place an owl box in a protected place. Ideally they do best in  trees adjacent to your garden. The boxes should be placed fifteen feet high on a tree. Place some bedding inside, like the one they sells for rabbits or small animals in pet stores. If any birds move in before the owls do, evict them.

If you live in the country, then you may see some other predators, like coyotes, foxes, mink and badgers. But, for the average gardener, these will not be of any benefit.

Controlling Vole Populations 

  • Clear debris from your garden regularly, and at the end of the season, and place in compost.
  • Turn your compost often. A compost that heats up will not be sought after by voles or any type of rodent. See how to make a compost: / and the materials needed to start one: Making a compost
  • How often should you turn a compost to avoid infestation? Turning your compost pile
  • Don’t use plastic weed barriers, as they love the perfect protection and nice warmth.
  • Install a 1/4 inch or less of mesh all around the garden. You can install a close knit wire and then a second one in a slightly different direction, or move it to the side from the first one, to close the gap in the holes. The fence should be buried a good six inches deep into the ground and eighteen inches if you also want to keep groundhogs from entering.
  • Coyote, fox urine, citronella, or castor oil sprayed around the outer edge of the garden to deter them.
  • You can destroy the tunnels with a shovel as far back as possible.
  • Installing traps is another alternative.

Stay alert.  Any one of these alone will not solve the problem. The combination of actions from owls and snakes to fences and the like are likely to keep populations under control and will help avoid major problems.