Voles

How to Get Rid of Voles Without Poison

control-voles-in-garden

Voles drive gardeners and home owners crazy! You’ll know voles by the snakelike tunnels all over your lawn. Here’s advice on how to identify, prevent, and control your vole population.

What’s the Difference Between a Vole and a Mole?

First off, voles are not moles! People confuse the two animals because they both tunnel through your yard. You might not have seen either critter since they’re usually underground, but they look very different. Voles (Myodes) are small, stocky rodents similar to field mice. In fact, a vole might look like a mouse at first glance. In contrast, moles are NOT rodents. Moles are all nose and mouth. And they have big feet used in digging! See our Mole page

Voles have small rounded ears that are often hidden by their fur, small eyes, and short tails. Their fur is generally thick and light brown to gray. Two common species of voles in North America are the prairie vole and the meadow vole. Meadow voles are more widely distributed, but prairie voles are more common in prairie areas. They are very similar, and methods for controlling them are mostly the same.

Vole Diet: Plants!

Voles, similar to other rodents, have a mainly vegetarian diet. Voles mainly eat stems and blades of lawn grass—so it’s usually vole tunnels that you’ll see near the surface of the yard. Moles have a mainly carnivorous diet. (Moles are beneficial in many ways. They help plow the soil and eat grubs and insects!)

It’s helpful to know this difference not only because it will help you identify the damage (see below) but also because a vole bait would use peanut butter whereas moles would be more interested in an insect or earthworm.

If it helps, remember that their frenzied activity does subside. Vole populations cycle, and about every 3 to 5 years there will be a population boom. Mild winters with good snowfall can help to increase vole populations.

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Photo Credit: Washington State University. Many of the same methods that you use to get rid of mice can be used to get rid of voles; after all, voles are commonly referred to as “meadow mice” or “field mice.”

Identification

You’ll know voles by the shallow snake-like tunnels that you’ll see all over your lawn. The tunnels are about two inches wide and very near the surface so they can eat their favorite food, grass stems and blades. Voles are especially manic in the early springtime.

Moles, on the other hand, have deeper feeding tunnels that they use as a network. They do have secondary runways that appear on your lawn’s surface, however, they look more like raised ridges and have little volcano-shaped mounds. Voles leave no mounds behind. 

You’ll also be able to identify voles by the type of damage. Remember: It’s the voles who are plant eaters.

  • If you have partially eaten carrots, potatoes, or other root vegetables, you probably have a vole problem. According to one reader, “They dig under my carrots, pulling them down, and eating them. There’s just a row of holes where the carrots were. Kind of amusing, like a bugs bunny cartoon. They’re a real pest this year.” 
  • Voles also eat flower bulbs from below the ground as they’re near the surface.  
  • If you see chewed-up bark near the base of trees and shrubs, look closely. A vole’s front teeth will leave ¼ inch side-by-side grooves in the wood as it gnaws away on the bark. (They’re rodents, after all!) 
  • Voles also tunnel through any root system, causing damage to trees and shrubs. If you see young trees or shrubs leaning over, it may be due to voles.

Control and Prevention

Prevent Voles

Make your yard inhospitable to voles! Prevention is very important to keep vole numbers down.

  • Voles like dense, heavy vegetative cover, weeds, and meadows because it provides them with protection from predators and provides nesting material. Cut back brush, mow, weed, and create a clean space. 
  • Remove woodpiles and hiding places for voles from near your garden, shrubs, and trees.
  • Keep your lawn mowed and bushes trimmed up from the ground.
  • Avoid putting dense mulch too close to trees and shrubs.
  • Keep snow cleared from the base of trees and shrubs. Protect young trees by wrapping the lower trunk with a guard.
  • Bird feeders are another attraction for voles and should either be removed or the ground kept very clean to keep vole numbers down.
  • Fortunately, voles are a prime food source for many predators such as snakes, hawks, owls, foxes, and badgers!

How to Get Rid of Voles

If you’ve come to this page, we assume you’re looking for immediate ways to deal with these crazy voles! If it’s too late for preventative measures, consider these control measures:

  • In small areas, trapping may be an effective way of reducing vole populations. Try Havahart live vole traps situated perpendicular to the widest vole runways or near the nesting sites at the base of trees and shrubs. Bait traps with peanut butter. Set baits midday to early evening when voles get more active. Reset the traps as often as necessary until you eliminate the population. Relocate voles if it’s legal where you live. The key to trapping is persistence. You may want to cover the traps so that pets and children do not accidentally find them.
  • Repellents have mixed results and need to be reapplied after it rains. Garden stores sell fox or coyote (predator) urine which usually turns off voles. (You can also pee in your own yard!)
  • Bulb control? You can discourage voles from nibbling on bulbs by adding gravel to the planting hole (surrounding the bulbs). When you plant bulbs, drench or powder them with a fungicide to keep voles at bay. Plus, check our list of rodent-proof bulbs
  • Vole damage to tree bark is best prevented by encircling the tree with a light-colored tree guard (mesh). The guard should be tall enough to reach above the snow line in the winter and the base should be buried in the soil or have a soil ridge around the base. Make sure that the guard is loose enough so that it does not constrict the tree.
  • Voles in the veggie garden? These little critters aren’t very good climbers. Protect plants by fencing the area with a half-inch of mesh (hardware cloth), at least 12 inches above the ground and buried 6 to 10 inches deep.
  • Some readers have suggested a variety of irritants sprinkled into vole tunnels (from natural to chemical): cayenne powder, garlic, onion, castor oil, a little nitrogen fertilizer, and ammonia. In many cases, these ingredients can be mixed with water or soapy water and put in a spray bottle. However, you need to reapply ever time it rains.
  • One of the best control methods is an outdoor cat or a dog who’s a ratter!
  • If you are desperate and about to sell your home, large vole populations have been effectively reduced with baits. However, most pesticides recommended for voles are restricted and can only be used by Certified Pesticide Applicators. Contact your local Extension educators for more information.
  • While the damage may look visible in early spring, it is rarely permanent. Mole activity is heaviest in the springtime in most regions and does subside! Simply rake up the dead grass and reseed the area. As the surrounding grass grows it will cover up the trails. 

See more about common garden pests like mice and moles.

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Reader Comments

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critters tunneling in yard

I'm not sure what critter we have in our yard. In Colorado we had voles, which tunneled close to the surface and ate the roots of the grass, leaving paths of dead grass, and there were holes where we could put in rat poison. Now in Texas, we have the paths of dead grass, but we do not see holes. I've read that moles eat worms, and voles eat grass roots, but would moles eat rat poison? We purchased the noisy (almost sounds like a sheep) units, and that did not bother the critters at all. What a waste of money. Any comments will be appreciated.

Tunneling critters

The Editors's picture

In Texas, tunnels in the lawn can be caused by a few animals, and of course control will vary depending on which is doing the damage. If you think you might have moles, you may be interested in the control guidelines mentioned on our Mole page: https://www.almanac.com/pest/moles. Moles form volcano-shaped mounds and their tunnels usually have raised ridges, whereas vole tunnels do not have a ridge. In Texas, gophers also tunnel in the ground, creating fan-shaped mounds; usually their tunnels are wider and not as visible at the surface compared to those of moles. Ground squirrels (various species, such as the thirteen-lined ground squirrel) can make tunnels in the ground without leaving mounds of dirt by the entrance holes. Much smaller (in width) tunnels can be caused by mole crickets or other insects. For further help, you might try contacting your county’s Cooperative Extension service. Contact information can be found here: https://www.almanac.com/cooperative-extension-services

Why kill them?

Apparently, some folks who think these things aren't a nuisance haven't twisted an ankle sinking into one of their tunnels or had a river form from a hard rain because of the same. I look forward to wiping out every last one of these from my yard and having it look as nice, neat and smooth as my neighbors. Thank you, Darryl Crum, for that great advice. I'm getting bug-b-gone asap. Might give mouse traps with peanut butter bait a go, too. There's probably a thousand of these pests making the yard look like a nightmare.

Good way to kill voles

I accidentally found out that voles love to eat Ortho Bug B Gon granules (the dry insecticide). They eat it because it smells like grain, but the poison in it it kills them. I use it to control bugs around landscaping, but started noticing dead voles the morning after I spread it. I even had one come in the garage and gnaw a hole through the bag to eat it and die shortly afterward. Now I just put some granules down around their trails or near their holes and the problem is solved.

Using mouse traps, black oil sunflower seed, & 5 gallon buckets

Ray Lewis - I want to thank you. I don't know how long it will take me to rid my yard of voles, but I tried the technique you suggested and in six days I've caught (killed) nine voles. I have 7 traps and three buckets. On the first and second nights, I only had four traps and two buckets. I caught two both nights, but on the second night, a vole broke one of my traps. So, I bought another pack of mouse traps and added a bucket. The third night, using the three buckets, I caught three voles. The next night I did a bad job of setting my traps and got no voles. Because I was busy, I removed the one thrown empty trap and put the buckets back over the unbaited traps thinking I would fix this when I had some time; however, this morning, I had caught two more voles which brings me to a total of nine.

Ray, I really want to thank you. I will keep this up until I catch nothing and they do not eat the bait (sunflower seed).

Voles...then badgers!

This has been a particularly bad year for voles on South Dakota prairies! As bothersome as they have been, nothing is as bad as the badgers that have moved in! Voles are a particular favorite of badgers! The badgers burrowed into the chicken coop killing more than half of our flock! Had I left my barn cats out, they'd have killed them as well! We have trapped 6 so far and every morning find signs of more! The remaining chickens are now housed in a sturdy shed right by the house and use our large, tightly fenced yard as their own. Not an ideal situation, but hopefully will keep what chickens we have left alive! Help!!

Voles are taking us over!

Voles and snakes, what a combination! Where there are voles, there are snakes. I tried the Havahart which is excellent for mice but the voles ignore the peanut butter bait. We have at least two dozen holes around our house. Mice are also a problem this year in northern Michigan but the Havahart takes care of them. I got 5 in our basement the last couple of days. We get voles, moles and mice every year but this year in crazy. I continue my search for a remedy.

Voles.

I have been fighting voles, gophers, mice, and RATS since moving to this property about 4 years ago. We live in the mid Willamette Valley of Oregon, and are surrounded by grass seed fields, so our mild winters and ample food supply have led to quite abundant populations overall. Since elimination is basically impossible, control is about the best one can do here. I have found that your suggestion of a good cat or dog has been the best one so far.
I have a barn cat, (named Jinx because of the absolute trouble she causes for the little buggers) and she is a VOLE-INATOR. Every morning I find her carnage all over our near-acre farm. Sometimes she eats them, but many times she doesn't. I no longer really care. They are so troublesome this year, and she is working to save my crops, whether she knows it or not.
My other suggestions are to encourage one's local native predators if possible. Fortunately for us, we also have many owls, hawks, kestrels, harriers, and even some ermine, coyotes, and occasional fox that also eat them in large numbers. (Why my poor chickens DO NOT free-range and are confined to a large run with closed top!).
Honestly, the gophers have been harder to control since they are bigger, stay underground and rarely come above the surface, but the Voles have the sheer numbers. That's their survival strategy. Like weed seeds.
Good luck everyone.

Voles

The vole populations in this part of Colorado have been huge. I have tried most of the suggestions in the article. The voles boosted the moth balls out of the holes, they munched on plants and roots right beside the toy windmills, they stayed away from the traps, the electronic devices to scare them away were like a "come and get it" call, pepper flakes liberally placed on and around the plants just made the plants more yummy for them. So as a very last resort, I called an exterminator!

Ultrasonics

I had voles under the exterior wooden porch steps at my new house. I bought 4 ultrasonic gizmos to drive them away. While it did force them to leave, they simply moved 20 feet around the foundation and dug in there.

Voles

Very good information in the article however, both have taken over most of my acreage. One year ago they destroyed my lower lawn. The next year they also destroyed the East Lawn. This year they also destroyed the North Lawn. I am beyond traps and have no idea how to get rid of them. I have never seen them but I know it is them. They tunnel everywhere destroyed the lawn eating the roots. When I try to have a garden they eat the carrots they eat the beets they eat anything under the ground. I never see them I could be a million but I still never see one. I am beyond my wits end.

Vole Protection

I have over 20 years in Horticulture and own a landscape design,build, and maintenance company. I graduated from NCSU and have spent years dealing with Voles. I couldn't find a reliable product to protect new plants or bulbs from Voles. All repellents and noise makers were inconsistent and expensive. I developed, trialed, and released the wire mesh baskets we currently offer after the passed all my test and clients satisfaction. Vole King should be used on all new plantings to provide instant and future protection!!!

vole article

"While the damage may look visible in early spring, it is rarely permanent. Mole activity is heaviest in the springtime in most regions and does subside" adding to the confusion as the last point in your VOLE article. I have extensive experience with pocket gophers and voles. after ridding the grounds around my cabin of pocket gophers by summer the voles move in to the convenient gopher holes... every year. I use Cinch traps for the gophers because nothing else works that is viable or effective... get the smallest ones if you are considering it. When the Voles move in I use Havaheart mouse traps which are only hit and miss. but steel snap kill bar rat traps placed in active sections do the real work. The gophers are the worst from spring to late fall but mostly in the summer unlike your reporting.

Voles

Here in the High Desert of Central Oregon we have both voles and sage rats. Your photo looks like what we call sage rats. Are they one and the same? I have gotten rid of quite a view with the vole poison, but the best way is to shoot them with a BB or pellet gun. Some of the guys here actually go out on a "hunting trip" for sage rats. LOL

voles

The Editors's picture

I believe sage rats are a type of ground squirrel. Voles look like meadow mice (though they are not rodents). Also, moles are usually more prevalent in early spring when they eat grass stems and start breeding. You’ll see mamas with their babies right around Mother’s Day. 

what worked for me

When our NC yard was full of tunnels I ran across a suggestion that work for me. Whirligig flowers, bought at the dollar store. The little colorful flowers on a stick that spin with the wind. The article said that the voles would not like the vibrations underground. I "planted" those around the garden, and affected areas of the yard and it worked!

Voles

Will predator urine cause established vole population to move away from yard to the woods, or does it just repel future vole infestation?

Urine

I have gophers voles and moles...i fill up a water bottle of urine once a month...yes..mine...and edge my flower beds..it is the only place free of damage!

Vole

Would the ultrasonic devices work for voles?

ultrasonic repellers

The Editors's picture

Some ultrasonic pest repeller devices are meant to repel voles along with mice and certain other rodents. Check the instructions of the manufacturer, and if you are using it outside, make sure that you get one for outdoor use. In general, these devices have mixed reviews as to their efficacy, but it might be worth a try!

The sonic vole deterrent

I purchased a dozen of these solar powered sonic rodent deterrent devices that you shove in the ground for $200 this summer to fight off a vole infestation and I’m sorry to say they were totally useless against the burrowing voles here.
In fact after 2 days I found 2 new tunnels dug right next to one of the devices with their den being literally right beneath one of the sonic waste of money devices.
(And please dont catch and release this horrible disaster on someone elses property. One pregnant female vole can turn into a colony of over 1,000 voles in a single year. They must be killed)

However, if you have a pond with fish, do not place any of these sonic devices within 75 feet of the pond. As soon as i set the sonic devices out my fish started going crazy trying to crowd into the farthest corner of the pond away from the devices. I moved the devices and the fish instantly relaxed.

Utrasonic doesn't work.

I watch this great youtuber. Does nothing but mouse traps and rat traps.
He's tested utrasonic multiple times. They don't work at all.
However peppermint oil was very effective.

Utrasonic doesn't work.

I watch this great youtuber. Does nothing but mouse traps and rat traps.
He's tested utrasonic multiple times. They don't work at all.
However peppermint oil was very effective.

Utrasonic doesn't work.

I watch this great youtuber. Does nothing but mouse traps and rat traps.
He's tested utrasonic multiple times. They don't work at all.
However peppermint oil was very effective.

gophers

no article on them??

I think I have both!

I have the mounds of earth for the moles. I can see the runs in my beds where the voles tunnel while they chew the roots off my plant's. They destroy the plants and do not eat the vegetables. They've destroyed tomatos, eggplants, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, and more, much more. We've tried repellents, poison beans and worms none worked!
Put hardware screen in the bottom of the beds, that worked! Now we have to do the whole garden.
I have two cats out there too. We tried milky spore to get rid of the grubs. Not sure if it's working yet. It takes a while for that to happen.
Hey I'll try peanut butter and the bucket ideas what do I have to loose.
I kid you not, these critters shoved a poison worm back up through the hole I put it in. I think they were trying to tell me something.

moles--> voles

In the last paragraph, you say "moles", I think it should be "voles"?

Shadow the Vole Hunter

I have very few in my yard anymore since I have a cat (Shadow) that will kill every one she gets her paws on. :)

Voles

Whether it's my shady northern exposure or my backyard wildlife habitat with no tilling and lots of groundcovers, I have always had voles everywhere. And I was going to add to your list until I saw the last point--a cat who can patrol the garden and yard. I don't let my cats roam, but one or two go outdoors with me for a time nearly every day when I hang out the laundry and work outside. Once they discovered the garden had voles they decided voles existed as an important supplement to their diet, and the problem was, for the most part, solved. When we haven't been able to go outdoors for a period of time, my work schedule usually, the difference is noticeable. But then they manage to find a way into the basement, so at least the cats still have some environmental enrichment.

Vole elimination

I have been thinking the past few years that grubs are what attracts voles so if I use grub repellent voles won't have anything to come to.

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