How To Remove Voles From Your Garden

This year I have been dealing with an infestation of voles in my garden. As I said before, I believe this is a result of sheet mulching–the layers of paper and mulch made a cover of protection that the voles were attracted to.

Voles are mouselike rodents that burrow underground and eat plants by the roots. They can be extremely destructive.

Here is a list of all the plants they ate:

  • 5 nasturtium
  • All my peas
  • Most of the green beans
  • 1 giant zucchini
  • 1 giant patty pan squash
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 volunteer squash
  • 2 crane melons
  • 1 parsley
  • 4 leeks

On top of that, they did damage to the tomatoes and basil, since in addition to eating plants from underground, they climb out and sever branches from plants too. They even managed to harm plants they don’t eat, because the burrowing did damage to the roots.

I cannot tell you the frustration this situation has caused me. There is nothing worse than walking out to water your plants and seeing your four-foot tall plant loaded with baby squash lying dead on the ground because rodents ate its roots.

Voles are worse than gophers. Like gophers, they make a home in your garden and eat the plants from underneath, but there is only one gopher per tunnel, where there can be 30 voles living in a tunnel. If you kill a gopher, you’ve killed it, whereas with the voles, you kill one and there are 29 others waiting to take its place.

In addition, you can see gopher holes, where with many types of voles, you can’t see their burrows and have no idea they are there until they kill your plants. They hate having open tunnels, so if you open one up, they will not only close it again, they will fill it in with dirt. This can make it hard to find the tunnel again.

Oh, and did I mention that voles are nocturnal? Yeah, that doesn’t help either.

I struggled with this all summer. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but after trying many methods, I did get control of the situation. (Knock wood.) Here is what I did:

First, I identified the types of voles in my garden. There are three types of voles: those that live above ground, those that live below ground, and those that do both. I have the kind that does both, thus they would kill the plants below the ground by eating the roots and then come out at night to eat the branches on top of the ground.

I tried flooding them out.
I have had a lot of luck with flooding gophers, but with the voles, flooding only killed one that I know of. Well actually, it didn’t even kill him, just forced him out of his hole. Here is a picture I took of him:

(Looks so cute and innocent, doesn’t he? I let him go in the woods down the street from my house because I am a big ol’ softy.)

Flooding did let me understand the extent of the vole tunnels. Because voles have shallow tunnels, the water clearly marked where they were digging, and I discovered that the tunnels went all through my yard, under the concrete driveway and into my neighbor’s yard.

This was good information, but it also showed that I couldn’t get to the entrance of their burrow since it was under the neighbor’s shed. Annoying little buggers!

Next I tried trapping the voles.
Everyone I talked to said to trap. I even asked my local master gardeners, and here is what they told me:

Try peanut butter, oatmeal or apple slices in your traps. Placement is crucial, right angles to runways, a minimum of 12 traps for a small garden is required. Persistence is your best weapon.

I followed these instructions to the letter. I dug around until I found a hole–which is filthy, frustrating work–then I put oatmeal and peanut butter on a trap, put it down at a right angle to the hole. I did this repeatedly.

I did not catch a single freaking vole this way.

Once the voles figured out what the traps were, they didn’t go near them, but just kicked dirt on them. Voles are not stupid animals.

Two things I tried helped, however. One was removing all the sheet mulch from my garden. I was loathe to do this because, as I mentioned in the this post, it is a lot of work to put the sheet mulch in.

However, the local master garderner told me that, “Voles love the cover and don’t like to cross bare ground or feed in the open.” This seemed to be true. When I pulled out the sheet mulching, I noticed a reduction in vole activity in that area.

The other thing that helped was using a nontoxic deterrent around plants.
In this case, the voles had eaten four of my five squash plants and I could tell they would go for the last zucchini next. So I used Gopher Max repellent around the plant.


I know it worked because my cats heard the voles moving away from the zucchini when I applied the repellent. They have since left that plant alone.

But repellent didn’t solve the problem. Yes, it saved the zucchini, but the voles were still there and they were steadily destroying my garden. I needed a stronger method.

I couldn’t use poison because this was in a vegetable garden, so I finally bought a Crittergetter, which allows you to pump car exhaust into the vole’s burrow.

Believe me, I wouldn’t have resorted to this if I weren’t desperate.

The way it works is, you attach a long, balloon-like tube to your car exhaust and insert the other end of the burrow. Then you run your car for 15 minutes and the exhaust goes through their burrow and kills the voles in their sleep. It’s a pretty humane method, overall.

And it worked. We had to do it a couple of times, but the voles slowly stopped filling in their holes (a sign they were dead) and slowly started leaving the plants alone. I now am fairly confident that I will have some melons and pumpkins this fall.

However, I put all my fall plants in containers where the voles can’t get to them. Next year, we are going to lay wire down and put in a raised bed. That way I don’t ever have to deal with voles or gophers again.

So to sum up:

What didn’t work for voles:

  • Trapping
  • Flooding
  • Digging their burrow

What did work for voles:

  • Repellents
  • Clearing out mulch
  • Car exhaust
  • Container gardening

I would love to hear your thoughts on voles. How have you dealt with them?

Sharing is caring!

28 thoughts on “How To Remove Voles From Your Garden”

  1. I’m a professional gardener, but I don’t think I will be trying the car exhaust anytime soon. I think you need a different trap strategy, the bait is certainly wrong. Voles have no interest in peanut butter, oatmeal or apples that I have ever noticed. They do love seeds. You should bait with sesame, sunflower or leftover garden seeds; use a little molasses to hold the seed in place. I agree you need to put out multiple traps, some will just catch mice. However, you do not have to find vole holes, you just need to put down a large piece of cardboard or old piece of carpet. As you discovered by sheet mulching, they love that environment and will show up when it exists. The piece of cardboard or carpet will be part of the trap. I cover the snap traps with an inverted plastic pot that I cut a hole into for the rodent to enter. The plastic pot prevents a bird or other innocent animal from getting snapped. I put the snap traps all around the piece of cardboard/carpet. It’s true voles are hard to trap, but I’ve found being persistent pays. Also the voles are most active (and breeding) in early spring and late fall, so be especially good about putting out traps at those times.
    My other best method is a trained dog. Many breeds are excellent rodent hunters and can be trained to scent and kill voles. We just put down a piece of cardboard for a couple of days and then lift it up with the dog at the ready. A trained dog will pounce and kill any voles running around. Our Chow/Keeshound mix is a champion vole executioner, she once got five in under a minute.
    By the way, chicken wire does not work against voles, the holes are too big, you need to line beds with hardware cloth. Happy hunting…

    Reply
  2. Dina, thanks for the tips. Actually, the car exhaust has worked well. It was a very bad infestation, or I would not have done it. The local environmental groups use similar methods to remove invasive pests. In addition to following what the master gardeners of my area recommended for bait, I also tried things I knew they were going for, like pea pods (they ate all of mine) and so on, and after they set off the first trap, they did not go anywhere near them. However, I didn’t try the method of the carpet/cardboard, which at least sounds closer to how they work. I think we will put in a raised bed before we invest in a dog just for the sake of getting rid of voles.

    Reply
  3. We’ve had some luck with leaving mouse/rat poison *in* the holes. Ours don’t seem to live below ground. One hole I “flooded” for a good 10 minutes before realizing that it was a tunnel that led from our sidewalk to our flower bed. The tunnels just seem to be there for getting to the roots in the flower bed, all the tunnels that I’ve flooded are just shallow tunnels going from point A to point B.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Savvy Housekeeping » Fall Planting 2011
  5. well we here in missouri have resorted to taken the screan off the bedroom window and putten the 22 out of it and waiten till we spot one. then bam hes a gonner.
    now that we read the your artical we are going to gas them out this weekend. thanks sign the volemanater

    Reply
  6. Wow, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one fighting these horrible little rodents. I’ve done a lot of research about them and have been using the mouse traps set in their runways with a piece of downspout over it (saw that one online). I’ve also tried setting the traps at the hole, one on each side with the trigger facing the hole, and between these two methods, I’ve caught 45 so far. I did try the peanut butter on snap traps, which worked for a while, but I think they figured that one out. May have to resort to the exhaust trick…
    Thank you for your informative page about voles. I’m almost to the end of my rope with these critters.

    Reply
  7. Tomma, wow 45! You must know a trick for trapping that I don’t, since I only caught one that way and it seemed like they learned and started avoiding the traps. The car exhaust does kill a good chunk of them at a time. They are really hard to deal with! Next year, we’re building raised beds.

    Reply
  8. Just caught Number 50 ! I still some in the veggie garden doing some digging and tunneling. I have four traps there and haven’t caught anything yet. May have to go back to the peanut butter and maybe part of a green bean on the the trap…Their numbers seem to have dwindled (i hope), I’m only catching one or two a week now. I have been laying the dead ones on a rock in one of the flower beds for the crows – they visit 2 or 3 times a day to check for carcasses. 🙂 I’m enclosing a link for you to check out on YouTube on how to set the traps. It really worked out for me. I hope you’ll check it out.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9cFspBjb-U&feature=related
    Tomma

    Reply
  9. Tomma, thanks for the video. This is totally different than I was told and looks like it will work! I think I’m going to share this sometime next week on the site, so keep an eye out.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Savvy Housekeeping » How To Trap Voles
  11. I have been fighting these horrible things here all summer as well, they’ve eaten my beets, most of my carrots, tomatoes when they ripen and three rows of bean plants down to the stalks. The first three were in raised beds, and they still got in (although i didnt have cloth underneath. ) I’ve caught thirty of them, and seen them day, evening, morning…..it’s like they come out to mock me…. 🙂

    Reply
  12. finally a remedy that looks like it will work. Have struggled with these little guys all summer sooooo frustrating. thanks for this posting am definitely going to try this 😀

    Reply
  13. Tomma’s youtube video has been removed. Can someone please tell me what her method was???
    Love that she leaves the dead stinkers on a rock for the crows. That would be safe because no poison was used. If it had been, eating the vole would probably sicken or kill birds.

    Reply
  14. Have had some luck with smoke bombs called Revenge. (Home Depot)
    Have had some luck with mouse traps, completely unbaited, and set along a cement step bottom and along the patio edge or on the dirt against the house. They love to run along side hard surfaces.
    I have also used aluminum downspouting, cut in sections and then cut in half to make tunnels. Then you put 2 traps, one facing toward the vole hole and one facing toward the grass tunnel. That way you can get them coming or going. Again, no bait needed.
    The tunnels help direct the voles direction and by using more than one tunnel and set of traps per hole, you can limit their use of that hole.
    I used coat hanger wires to hold the tunnels in place. I also drilled holes in the mouse traps and inserted long nails to hold them in place. This might have been both unnecessary as well as dangerous. The day I missed a full trap, a larger critter moved the tunnel and carried off the trap, leaving it spike up in the grass after removing the vole.
    The fact I’d doctored the traps made me not want to simply toss them but reuse them. Eventually that got too disgusting. Also eventually it stopped catching voles.
    I’ve filled their holes with rocks, as well as dirt. Then I had a better idea which were being freshly used.
    Putting in a raised bed will in NO WAY deter the voles. In fact, they will LOVE whatever you’ve used to raise the bed. My current problem is a bed bounded by RR ties….they LOVE RR ties. They LOVE landscape fabric too. Pretty much anything they can get under, they will.
    Now that it is newly spring, and the long snow cover is gone, their trails riddle some areas of what was grass, and I’ve declared war yet again.

    Reply
  15. Volehater, I feel you. I hope you have luck this year. I read attracting owls to your yard with an owl box works–they are the vole’s natural predator, since they are both nocturnal. It may not be a good idea if you have other livestock that owls would eat. Something to think about, though.

    Reply
  16. Just want to state again – Raised beds will NOT help AT ALL. I garden with only raised beds. We lined the bottom with 3 layers of different sized metal mesh and 1 foot of gravel. They dig right through it.

    Reply
  17. I don’t see how they can dig through metal. When you say “3 layers of different sized metal mesh,” what do you mean? You should only use gopher wire for it to work.

    Reply
  18. Ugh…I’m so sad, voles… I’m off to the hardware store, thabks for the tips and reality check. Not a quick fix.

    Reply
  19. I just bought glue traps for these critters. hopefully they will be gone soon. they are living underneath my raised beds.

    Reply
  20. Does the crittergetter company still exist? I can only find a youtube video with a non-functioning website. I’m ready to try the gas!

    Reply
  21. Okay, thanks. I didn’t think so, so I tried smoke bombs yesterday. I’ll see if the little varmints made new mounds over night or not. Viva la Resistance!!!

    Reply
  22. Cat! Our cat is a vole hunter, but, it is 29 to 1, I think they reproduce too quickly and they are tricky. But on occassion the cat does pretty good. I actually wonder if cat urine or spray might deter them.

    Reply
  23. This post has been more insightful than the “experts” from 3 different rodent control companies. Each company provided vastly different info regarding vole behavior. I don’t have a garden but the voles are ruining my lawn (new sod 5 yrs. ago). I paid $340 for a year of service using bait boxes. All the bait boxes have done is attract squirrels. I’ve seen squirrels completely enter the box (1.5 in. opening). Still getting new runways, but I’ve never found a burrow hole. Once the contract is up, I’m getting a barn cat- a true hunter that will probably solve the squirrel problem as well.

    Reply
  24. A couple years ago we had an extreme vole problem. Every time I was weeding voles ran. I tried trapping with little luck and four dogs didn’t seem to impact them. However, when I filled my ponds I found success. My ponds are the hard sided plastic with straight sides. As long as the water was down from the top a few inches they couldn’t escape. I checked them each morning with none or a few some morning and lots others. Best night there were around 30 in one pond. Don’t think it was the water they were drawn to as one day I watched one run across the gravel, jump over the side and into the pond. I believe I got over 300 voles this way. Thankfully I haven’t had such an evasion again.

    Reply

Leave a Comment