The voles are out in full force this year. Are there any ways to get rid of voles without killing them?
Leigh, we sympathize and understand this issue firsthand. From our community gardens to my flower garden at home, the voles are quite a nuisance. As much as I want to love all creatures great and small, I am not much love for voles right now.
Voles are rodents that look like oversize mice and are quite cute when not in your garden! Voles mate monogamously for life and can have five to 10 litters per year, with litter sizes of five to 10 voles. They also reach sexual maturity in just one month, and have a gestation period of just three weeks. These factors make it pretty clear how a vole population can grow incredibly rapidly. Sherie Sobke, co-owner of Alpine Gardens, says she’s never seen vole populations as large as in the past few years, perhaps because of drought conditions.
Voles feed on small plants, dead animals, nuts and fruits. Voles often girdle young trees or eat the root systems of shrubs or other plants. Voles also love bulbs, as evidenced by disappearing tulips around the Steward home. Since voles burrow under the ground, sometimes it’s hard to know they are around until you spot a few vole holes and missing plants.
Local vole predators include foxes, coyotes, owls and red-tailed hawks. Your family cat, and perhaps even a dog (though not our family’s Labrador), may also help reduce the vole population around your home. Creating nest boxes or perches for hawks and owls may encourage these predators to hang around your yard.
Based on the advice of Sobke and Susie Nothnagel, Summit Landscaping’s garden center manager, here’s what to do if voles have taken over your garden. The key is to be patient and know that there’s no magic bullet. It turns out voles, like most critters, eventually figure out when something isn’t a real threat to them.
Many vole deterrents are available, including castor oil, gas bombs, bobcat urine, sonic stakes and various pellets/sprays (some poisonous). We strongly advocate for a non-poisonous alternative. In addition to poisoning voles and their offspring, predators, pets and children may be inadvertently poisoned. For an environmentally friendly approach, spread some castor oil across your garden. Cayenne pepper (sprinkle or spray it) is also a proven deterrent to try if the castor oil doesn’t continue to work. And if you really need to bring in the big guns, many gardeners have found bobcat urine to be very effective. But again, each of these things only works for a period of time, and then you’ll need to switch it up and try something different.
Nothnagel said Summit Landscaping sells three vole deterrents: castor oil, sonic stakes and Revenge gas bombs. Sonic stakes emit a low-frequency sound that helps repel voles. We haven’t talked to anyone who’s used the stakes yet, but it seems worth trying. If you’ve tried all the deterrents and decided you may need to eliminate some voles, both Sobke and Nothnagel said mouse traps are the most effective means to do so. Definitely put mouse traps in a box, though, so there’s no chance of accidentally killing a bird. Many gardeners have also told us the gas bombs are very effective. Though the bombs do not harm pets or children, they do kill the voles and introduce chemicals into your soil, so we wouldn’t recommend them for a vegetable garden. Another humane option is the rat zapper or Raticator, which quickly electrocutes voles. It’s up to you whether you feel comfortable killing these creatures, but I at least wanted to give you a few options.
To reduce the number of voles in your garden, keep grass mowed short especially in the fall before the snow flies. There are also many plants that voles will not eat. Sobke recommends native plants and anything with a fuzzy leaf like lamb’s ear or Oriental poppies. Voles are also not attracted to daisies, and daffodil bulbs are poisonous to the voles. Hopefully I’ve given you a little more information on how to tackle your vole issue. Good luck and happy gardening!
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.