How do you get rid of voles? There are a couple of options: Expel them from the premises with exclusion, habitat modification, traps, repellents, and pesticides, or call in a wildlife pest control pro.
The challenge is that you may never see the culprits themselves, but you’ll definitely notice the yard damage voles leave in their wake. So let’s look at how to get rid of voles.
What are Voles?
Not to be confused with moles, voles are rodents but they are neither blind nor deaf. Also dubbed “meadow mice” and “field mice” (although the latter is a totally different animal), voles feed on plants, while moles eat insects, earthworms, and grubs.
Resembling pocket gophers, voles are completely gray when they are young but have brownish-black fur with gray undersides as adults. They grow 5 to 7 inches long, according to the PennState Extension. Their stout, round bodies only weigh an ounce or two, and they have short legs, short tails, small eyes, and small ears.
There are more than 100 species of voles living all over the world — from North America to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Active year-round, the most common species in the United States and Canada include the meadow vole, the prairie vole, the pine vole, and the long-tailed vole.
And while the lifespan of these little critters is super short – they only live about 3 to 6 months in the wild – voles reproduce quickly, making it difficult to keep large populations in check. Female voles reach adulthood 35 to 40 days after being born and can produce more than 50 offspring in a year.
How do you know if you have a vole infestation? Signs include gnaw marks on tree bark, above-ground tunnel systems or “runways” across your lawn, and burrow openings in the dirt.
As other ground-dwelling animals can cause similar damage, be sure you have a vole problem. Once you’ve done that, you can get to work ridding them from your space.
How to Get Rid of Voles
To keep voles from wrecking your landscape, choose from a variety of natural and chemical pest control methods.
Getting rid of voles naturally
When dealing with wild animals, especially those that don’t cause harm to humans and pets, it’s best to opt for the most humane solutions first.
The easiest way to deal with a vole problem is to prevent voles from becoming an issue in the first place. To protect flower beds and individual trees and shrubs from these garden pests, use wire fencing made of ¼-inch thick hardware cloth.
Place the cloth around the base of trees and shrubs and bury it 4 to 6 inches in the ground, making sure it reaches 18 to 24 inches high. Use the cloth as fencing for flower beds.
2. Habitat modification
Voles are prey for various animals, such as foxes, hawks, cats, and owls and rely on ground cover for protection. These critters will seek refuge by burrowing underneath mulch, pavers, and leafy vegetation. Additionally, voles’ food sources include grass stems, plant bulbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Reduce vole populations by making your yard inhospitable to these animals. Here’s how, courtesy of tips from the PennState and University of Minnesota extensions:
- Remove weeds, woodpiles, bird feeders, and yard debris.
- Mow your lawn regularly to a height of 3 to 6 inches.
- Clear away mulch, leaves, and trimmings from the base of trees.
- Establish vegetation-free zones by mowing, using herbicides, tilling soil, and placing crushed rocks or gravel 3 to 4 inches deep around tree trunks.
For low-level infestations, setting traps in vole runways may be your best bet. “For a small garden, a dozen traps is probably the minimum number required, but for larger areas, you might need 50 or more,” the University of California’s integrated pest management office suggests.
Mouse traps or snap traps baited with peanut butter can attract voles, but as this extension states, bait may not even be necessary. Voles will naturally trigger traps by running through their normal paths.
If you’d prefer not to see or handle dead voles, use live traps like this one from Havahart, instead. Outfitted with two doors, this live vole trap uses a lure, such as peanut butter, to draw voles inside. The wire mesh sides keep voles from escaping and also help prevent injury as the animal tries to get out.
Note: Experts recommend covering traps, so voles do not feel exposed when entering to feed.
4. Dogs and cats
Thinking about adopting a dog or cat? You may want to consider ones excellent at chasing and catching prey to keep your vole problem under control.
Getting rid of voles with chemicals
If, after exhausting the natural methods discussed above, you still aren’t seeing the vole control results you want, you can consider chemical options.
There are two registered repellents for voles: the fungicide thiram and capsaicin, which is derived from chili peppers. The PennState Extension recommends repelling in conjunction with other methods, as there is not enough evidence to show they can prevent vole damage on their own.
Both types of repellents are safe for ornamental plants, fruit trees, seedlings, shrubs, and flowers. Repellents made from capsaicin can also work on lawns.
Another active ingredient to look for in repellents is castor oil. This product hasn’t been studied extensively, but various experts say there are repellents made with castor oil labeled for use with voles.
Note: Do not use repellents on plants meant for human consumption.
The Colorado State University extension advises people opt for the least toxic rodenticide. You can purchase these rodent poisons at your local hardware store. As with any poison, suit up in protective gear when dispersing, keep away from kids and pets, and apply only as directed.
3. Poison baits
For the safety of children, pets, and nontarget animals, place poison baits inside bait stations. The two types of poison baits for vole control are zinc phosphide baits and anticoagulant baits, according to CSU’s extension.
Those made from zinc phosphide are extremely toxic and kill quickly. The anticoagulant baits kill voles over time — around five to 15 days — and may require several applications.
How to Treat Vole Damage
Vole damage on lawns is usually temporary, as these critters don’t feed on entire root systems, according to the University of Massachusetts Amherst extension. To help encourage grass regrowth, you can rake, fertilize, and overseed.
When to Call in the Pros
Most pesticides aren’t labeled for home use, so if you have to go the chemical route, getting help from a wildlife pest control expert is a must.
Before they do anything, though, these professionals will assess your lawn and garden to confirm a vole problem. Then, they’ll take an integrated pest management approach, focusing on preventative methods in conjunction with removal methods.
Soon, the only lines running across your grass will be the ones made by the lawn mower — a welcome site on any manicured lawn.
Main Photo Credit: Alan Schmierer / Wikimedia Commons / CC0