Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Deal with Voles (Field Mice) in Your Yard or Garden

Vole held in gloved hand

Vole (field mouse) found in my yard.

I’ve seen the damage that voles (field mice) can do in a yard or garden; including vanishing bulbs, gnawed bark, crippled roots, nibbled stems, and pathways in the lawn. But it wasn’t until I got a cat that I got a good look at a vole itself!

Don’t worry, animal-lovers, this little guy lived to nibble another day. But after being batted around by my cat in the yard, he didn’t seem to mind catching his breath for a minute in my gloved hand.

My yard didn’t show any damage, so I decided to “live and let live” as long as the vole kept the same attitude. However, not every vole is willing to make that agreement, and an overpopulation of the critters can wreak havoc on yards and gardens.

Here are some tips on how to control voles in your yard.

About Voles

Voles, a.k.a. field or meadow mice, are little brownish grayish rodents with tiny ears, small eyes, and a short tail. Like other rodents, voles have four toes on their front paws and five on the rear. Unlike their house mouse cousins, voles tend to stay outdoors and low to the ground.

The best way to identify a vole problem is by their runways. Voles make little paths through the lawn caused by trampling and eating grass. You can see these little aboveground highways by parting the grass, and a severe problem might even be visible from above. As further evidence, you might see small brown droppings on the runway, along with openings to their burrows – holes about 1½” in diameter where voles make their underground nests.

Voles are active year-round and are prolific little critters, having up to ten litters per year with a handful of babies each. Populations are often cyclical, swelling and shrinking every 4-5 years or so.

Vole in yard near plants

Voles like to hide in vegetation and other debris.

In addition to munching on plants, voles can cause considerable damage by gnawing the bark off trees and shrubs, girdling the trunks or roots and eventually killing the plant. Their irregular, patchy gnaw-marks can be seen near ground or snow level, particularly during the winter. They also can wreak havoc on bulbs, garden vegetables, and root crops.

How to Control Voles and Vole Damage

To manage a vole infestation, you should first modify your garden to protect your plants, then if necessary take steps to reduce the vole population. Here are some tips:

Vole Habitat Management

    1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth

    1/4-inch mesh deters voles.

  • Tidy Up: Voles hide and nest in vegetation and lawn debris. To make your lawn less inviting to voles, keep your yard tidy, weeded, and mowed. Avoid planting dense groundcovers.
  • Wrap Trees: If bark damage from voles is a problem, surround the lower trunks of trees and large shrubs with a loose cylinder of 1/4” wire mesh buried a few inches into the ground and reaching above the snow line.
  • Fencing: Protect vegetable and flower gardens from voles with 1/4″ or smaller mesh fencing, buried a foot deep to prevent burrowing.
  • Line Raised Beds: Line raised beds with mesh before adding soil, to keep burrowing critters at bay. You can also plant bulbs in mesh cages.
  • Underground Barriers: Voles will avoid burrowing through coarse soil. Surround beds or individual plants with a trench of sharp gravel or a product like VoleBloc.
  • Drawing of mesh guard for around tree

    Mesh tree guard.

  • Create Buffer Zones: Since voles tend to avoid open spaces, incorporate a plowed or graveled buffer strip at least 4’ wide (preferably 15’ or more) around vegetable gardens and orchards.
  • Keep Mulch Back: Avoid piling mulch directly against the trunks of trees and shrubs to reduce temptation for vole burrowing and munching. Ideally, leave a 3’ diameter cleared space around trees.
  • Encourage Predators: Cats, foxes, hawks, and owls love to eat voles. Predators probably won’t eliminate the vole population, but natural predation can help keep it under control.
  • Till Garden: Plowing or tilling reduces cover vegetation that harbors rodents including voles.

Vole Pest Control

  • Trapping: You can use either humane live traps or mouse traps to catch voles. The best time to trap voles is in the fall. Place live traps directly in the vole runway; place mouse traps perpendicular to the runway with the trigger in the vole’s path. Bait the traps with diced apples or peanut butter mixed with oatmeal. Avoid mouse traps if you have children or pets in your yard!
  • Snap trap for small rodents

    Snap trap for small rodents.

  • Poison: While rodent poisons and baits are effective in killing voles, I wouldn’t recommend putting any kind of poison outdoors if you can help it, to keep from endangering other animals. If you do resort to poison, use tamper-proof bait containers and/or insert the bait directly into vole burrows to reduce exposure to ground birds and pets. Some baits must be applied by a licensed pest control professional.
  • Fumigants: Vole burrows are shallow with many openings, rendering fumigating poisons pretty ineffective.
  • Repellents: Critter repellents, such as sprays and ultrasonic devices, have only limited success with voles. Predator urine (such as fox urine) can work for a while, but any repellent needs to be frequently changed and reapplied.

Further Information

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10 Comments on “How to Deal with Voles (Field Mice) in Your Yard or Garden”

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  1. Elizabeth Holland Says:
    May 8th, 2012 at 3:08 am

    I have found your comments very helpful – far more so than those from the RHS of which I am a member. I have had a real “plague” this year – worse than any previous year. They ate first my hellebores (Christmas roses) as they were emerging from the ground, then my wallflowers, aquilegia, thalicrum, small roses, clematis, love-in-the-mist and even one of my lilies. Also small shrubs to the extent that I wondered if a rabbit had entered my rabbit-proofed garden. I did have some success by spraying with an anti-animal deterrent. I then tried putting poison pellets down the holes. The voles are still with me. I need a stoat or a weasel, but how do I bring them into my garden? I live in the countryside near Hastings. Any further comments from you would be much appreciated.

  2. Pat tollivr Says:
    May 13th, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Help voles! Called Orkin got rid of them last season but they are back this year. I am ready to put poison out everywhere just to Kill them. Any new products you are aware of?

  3. chris Says:
    August 2nd, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Hello…I have a nice large population and my yard look like crap and I want to ELEMANATE thae problem what is the fastest and most effective

  4. ann winder Says:
    June 20th, 2014 at 10:02 am

    I was busy transplanting my begonia’s into a larger pot when I felt something further down in the soil, thinking this was a begonia tuber I put my hand in to gently raise it to the surface to my horror I found an animal as big as a large orange . This animal had long whiskers no tail but very large floppy ears. Could this be a vole. I am not sure if it is alive or dead as I got the fright of my life and the pot is still in the middle of my garden .Such a coward.

  5. Freda Says:
    July 1st, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    I believe I have voles in my garden, they come out from under my many shrubs after dark. I have never seen them in daytime only late at night, when my dogs eventually come inside. I’ve always thought they were cute and never worried about them like I would if they were mice and may come inside but since reading about garden damage I’m having second thoughts. I have a very lush, shrub, tree, flower filled garden and the only thing I have noticed are some of the pansy flowers totally disappearing, which I put down to slugs as I don’t use pesticides. Having read what other people have said I’m thinking of setting some humane traps and releasing them on farmland nearby. I have three malamute dogs with very high prey drive, one which caught and ate a vole the other night, also two terriers and never dreamed a mammal like this would find my garden a sanctuary.
    Do voles eat flower heads and why just pansies as I’ve got loads of other flowers that haven’t been touched? I’d like to just live and let live but I don’t want to be overrun with them. Is it posdible to live on harmony with these cute little souls or am I being misguided?

  6. linda Says:
    August 20th, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    We have voles & a significantly large vegetable garden. I’ve told my husband repeatedly to get humane traps he got the old fashioned ones & we’ve caught a few but also caught a bird. Stick with humane traps. We are guilty of having a compost pile another issue I’ve mentioned finally we have 2 dogs don’t leave doggie deposits on the lawn rodents love the stuff its often a secondary food source. Our Buffalo summers have given me a new found respect for farmers all that work can’t imagine how upsetting it would be to loose an entire crop to weather or vermin

  7. Shelley Says:
    August 28th, 2014 at 9:14 am

    We have an over grown back yard due to our lab dogs. We had mice in our house last winter but now I see them in the yard. I have found your info great but is there anything else we can do? We also have a wood pile and a shed not too far from our house. Thanks for any info you can give.

  8. sharon Says:
    October 6th, 2014 at 1:44 am

    Each winter I get large voles coming in from a back field 100ft. from me. There eat the roots of my grass & make track all over my lovely yard. We have used dried fox urine along the border of our yd. It worked we put same down before first snow fall. In spring we were clear of damaged grass in our yard. It gets expensive constanly have to repair the yard. Our local greenery no longer sell this where can I purchase this miracle treatment. Were seniors, this is hard to maintain each spring with the damaged.

  9. Diane Says:
    March 12th, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    We have trails in our lawn. I thought maybe Moles but they r u derground right? So field mice might b the pest that r doing this. How do I get rid of them before they completely destroy my lawn? Please help!

  10. Meena Says:
    March 28th, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    A couple of years ago they devastated every thing in my front lawn. It seemed like Canadian Highways 401,403 and QEW combined. Anyhow I planted some Cuban Habaneros among my flowers in the retaining wall that summer. Since then I have not seen any voles. Fingers crossed hope they don’t come back. I continued to plant at least one Habanero in the flower garden and one in the vegetable garden every summer since.

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