55February 8, 2012

A few weeks back, I received a question from Cindy who had a major problem with voles in her garden last year. The voles did major damage to her perennials and she was asking what she could do to control these pests.

Many people will lump moles and voles into 1 group. They are different. If you look at a vole, it resembles a mouse more than a mole. A common name for voles is meadow mouse. Voles are dark in color with a blunt nose and a short tail. They usually have a thick body. They also will spend some time above ground foraging as oppose to moles that usually spend the majority of their life digging tunnels underground. Voles will live in plant debris along the edge of the garden or woods. They do sometimes live in underground nests. The hole that goes into the nest is about an inch to 2 inches wide.

Much of the damage caused by voles is from their eating plant bark or plant stems during the winter months. If you remember last winter, we had a lot of snow. The ground under the snow was not frozen. This layer of snow allowed mice, moles and voles to travel under the snow and to feed all winter. When any garden pest has access to lots of food, they tend to reproduce in record numbers. The feeding last winter was probably the start of the problem with the voles in Cindy’s garden. I know the voles were a problem in our garden too. We had one vole that was constantly running along the edge of the porch. It would feed and then run back to its hole along the side of the porch. This went along for many weeks. At first we thought it was a mouse. Yet a closer look when we could get a closer look allowed us to see that it was a vole. Early on in the season, we set a mousetrap, thinking it was a mouse. One day we found a dead vole in the mousetrap. It hadn’t eaten the peanut butter in the trap. How it was caught was by its running over the trap and tripping the trap. This trick worked repeatedly and we finally got the vole population under control.
There are many types of repellents you can use in the garden. Cindy said she had dogs and was worried about using any type of poison. I can tell you that mothballs don’t work and they are not a good thing to have breaking down in the soil and releasing their active ingredient into the soil. As far as which one to recommend, it is a hard thing to say because what works for one persons yard may not work as well in another yard. In Cindy’s case, it sounds as though the voles tunneled into the perennial bed. The best cure, although not the easiest thing to do is to dig around the outside edge of the bed and place hardware cloth around the outside edge of the bed. This wire has ¼ inch mesh that prevents the voles or moles from tunneling into the perennial bed.

Probably the best news is that vole population will rise and fall due to available food. If you keep the leaves and litter cleaned up around the yard there will be less places for the voles to live. Mousetraps will catch many of them if you set the traps up where you see the voles running around the yard. You can spray plants with repellents, but it may take repeat applications to be effective. All in all, they can be a major pest that will require many different control methods being done to minimize their damage. Ultimately, Mother Nature will decrease their numbers and the problem will subside.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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