If you've never actually seen a vole, it's not surprising. The 7-inch-long rodent also known as a meadow mouse is rather shy. Yet evidence of the pests' presence is unmistakable: Their maze of 2-inch-wide tunnels leads to dying plants and displaced grasses. So don't wait to roll up the welcome mat! Follow these do-it-yourself control methods before you're faced with a full-scale vole invasion.
Be a Bad Host
Active year round, voles multiply rapidly, producing up to 100 offspring annually. With adequate shelter and a plentiful food supply, a colony will thrive. So your first move is to eliminate environments that make voles feel at home: excess brush and mulch, leaf piles, wood stacks, and tall grasses. If there are fruit trees on your property, clean up fallen fruit immediately, and rake up pine needles around evergreen trees as well. By cleaning up prospective nesting areas and removing food sources, voles ought to decide that the grass looks greener on the other side and decamp.
Fence Them Out
Vole “runways” tend to be less obvious in landscapes with loose topsoil. But if you notice plants suddenly drooping for no apparent reason, it's safe to suspect you're the victim of voles. Your best defense is a good mesh fence. To protect roots and bulbs, install rolls of ¼-inch wire mesh secured with stakes throughout your garden. Because these pests are diggers, be sure to bury the fencing at least a foot down. The good news is they don't like to climb, so fencing need only be a foot tall.
Trap and Release
Although it's illegal to kill voles in some parts of the country, relocating them is fair game-and entirely humane. The steel trap made by Havahart, available at home improvement stores, and the Sherman Trap (SNG model), available online, are both effective choices that hold up to 15 voles. Bait traps with peanut butter or apple and set them at a 90-degree angle to the vole “runway.” Once you've captured the critters, release them far from residential areas-and at least half a mile from your home.
Non-toxic ways to ward off voles include castor oil, derived from the seeds of the castor plant, and capsaicin, an oil found in hot peppers. Spraying either substance on your greenery provide a smell and taste voles are sure to find unpleasant. Try this approach in a small garden; for greater expanses, pick up coyote or fox urine, available at home improvement stores and trapper supply houses (typically priced at $15 for an 8-ounce bottle). The scent of predators can send voles scrambling.
Give a Hoot!
Owls also prey on voles, and unlike coyotes and foxes ought to be welcome in your yard. To encourage their nesting, mount owl nest boxes in your trees (purchase premade boxes or plans to build your own from sources like The Hungry Owl Project). Although these beautiful birds won't eliminate a vole population entirely, they will reduce their numbers. Don't rely on outdoor cats to be of much help, though-they can't be bothered going after pests who spend most of their time underground.
If possible, avoid extermination. Poison can be viable against voles, but toxins may pose a risk to children, pets, and other wildlife. If you have exhausted all other methods of control and extermination is your only option, the safest, most effective poison baits are those that contain Warfarin, a slow-acting anticoagulant that prevents the animals blood from clotting, eventually leading to death. Laying the traps during the fall and winter season when food is scarce increases the likelihood that the voles will take the bait. Before administering this type of treatment yourself, consult a pest control specialist for the safest, most effective outcome.
Once you've rid your outdoor space of uninvited guests, replace the plants they've ravaged and otherwise spruce up the area. Then why not ask people over to enjoy your gorgeous garden!