Voles are common critters that we sometimes spot racing around our yard from covering to covering. You may not know it, but voles can do some pretty extensive damage to trees, shrubs, and gardens. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to deter them using things they hate.
Voles have an acute sense of smell that they use to locate food. You can repel voles by using scents they dislike such as rosin and peppermint. Voles also hate certain plants like pachysandra, daffodil, and boxwood and are repelled by cleared areas such as crushed gravel, pavement, and clear yards.
If you’re dealing with a vole problem, read on to discover all the ways you can keep them away from your ornamental trees and garden. Let’s get to it!
How to Tell if You Have Vole Damage
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s make sure we’re actually dealing with voles. After all, moles, shrews, and mice are small, darting critters as well. This is an important step because what deters voles will not be the same for mice, shrews, or moles.
Let’s dive into the underground world of voles and see what vole damage really looks like!
Voles Cause Lawn Damage
One way that voles cause damage is by building extensive runways which can damage your lawn. These runways are usually dotted with several burrow openings.
Burrows in the runways will typically be four to five inches deep and might be filled with little grass clippings for nesting material.
The runways will look like crisscrossing tunnels in your yard. The interior of the tunnels will be cleared of vegetation and the unclipped grass provides cover over the tunnel. A mini-highway for voles, if you will.
They create these runways to avoid predation by hawks and owls, which are common predators of voles.
Some types of voles will not build their highway systems aboveground, instead, they build extensive tunnel systems below the surface. You can tell these apart by looking for little cone-shaped piles of dirt that the vole has pushed out while digging.
If you notice vegetation growing in the runways, or small roots starting to pop up, it means the runways are no longer in use. This can give you a good indication if your efforts are working or not!
Vole runways can proliferate in the winter months. The added snow provides additional cover for voles to scurry across areas they wouldn’t normally go. Large, open lawns and golf courses are often victims to vole damage come springtime when the snow melts, revealing vole highway systems throughout.
Luckily, voles typically retreat once the snow melts and your lawn will recover quickly.
Voles Cause Tree Damage
Rabbits sometimes get blamed for damaging trees since they are also known to munch on bark during times of low food availability. However, sometimes it’s not a rabbit but a vole that’s to blame.
Winter will be the time when orchard trees and ornamental trees are most vulnerable. Food is scarce, and rather than starve, voles will gnaw on roots and trunk bark for nutrition.
Marks from munching voles tend to be patchy and lack uniformity. They’re only ⅛ inch wide on average and just a sixteenth of an inch deep. Rabbits, on the other hand, leave bigger marks that are uniform and clean.
You can always check out tracks and look for tunnel systems too to really be sure it’s a vole causing the damage.
In terms of severity, voles, though small, can do mighty destruction. They do something called girdling where they actually chew around the entire diameter of a root or trunk of a small tree. This blocks the flow of nutrients to the rest of the tree and can kill it.
So be on the lookout for signs of this. Trees that have drooping or yellowing leaves, or a generally sickly appearance can mean a vole has caused major damage.
Trees that are most vulnerable to vole gnawing include cherry, apple, almond, avocado, and olive.
Voles Cause Garden Damage
Damage to your garden vegetables is a little less specific than spotting runways or tree damage. Voles like to eat a lot of the same stuff as other garden raiders like rabbits, deer, raccoons, and skunks.
According to the University of California, some of a vole’s fav foods include cauliflower, lettuce, tomato, and carrots, among others.
If you’re not sure what you’re dealing with, try to look for other signs of voles. Are there tracks? Droppings? Runways? These could all help in identifying if it’s really a vole raiding your garden, and not some other uninvited guest.
7 Things That Voles Hate
So, you’ve narrowed down your pest to a vole. This little unassuming mammal has wreaked havoc on your yard, or maybe your garden. Whatever your reasoning, we have some solutions!
The good news about voles is that they are pretty terrible climbers. For this reason, they rarely find themselves inside your home. Instead, they scurry around your property like little bandits, eating seeds and gnawing on your fruit trees.
An important note about voles is that their populations fluctuate rapidly. Every three to five years, their numbers will explode. During this time, you’ll see increased activity from voles.
It can be incredibly difficult to control them during these times, but this is also the time when you need deterrents the most. You’re likely to see increased damage during these fluctuations, so always be vigilant!
Now, let’s get into how to deter these critters.
Voles Hate Peppermint and Cedar
As we mentioned before, voles have a pretty good sense of smell that they use to find their food. They can smell seeds that are buried under the soil, and often dig them up for a nice snack.
This acute sense of smell is what we can use to deter them. However, it should be noted that physical deterrents will always work better than scent deterrents. You will also need to reapply scent deterrents often for them to remain effective.
Things like peppermint and cedar have been known to repel voles. One of the easiest ways to use these scents is by making a spray using essential oils. Add 10-15 drops of the oil for every one cup of water. Place in a spray bottle and use on areas where you’ve noticed vole damage.
If you’re not into homemade brews, you can also purchase commercial repellents such as I Must Garden Mole & Vole Repellent. The two main ingredients in this repellent are peppermint oil and cedar oil, two scents that voles can’t stand.
Voles Stay Away From Rosin
Another scent that voles can’t seem to tolerate is rosin. Rosin is typically used by musicians on the bows of their instruments, such as a viola or violin. Rosin is obtained from pines, so it’s no wonder it has repellent effects on voles!
To use rosin to deter voles, you have a few options. Since it’s similar in consistency to resin, you can actually just rub the rosin directly onto the bark of trees you are trying to protect. Did we mention it comes from pine? So, no worries about it hurting your trees!
Another method you can use is to cut the rosin into small cubes and place them in a cheesecloth bag. This method is a little more versatile and gives you a wider range of repellency.
You can place your bags around your garden. Try holding them down with rocks or other heavy objects so they won’t blow away. You can also place the bags at the base of trees where voles are likely to girdle trunks and roots. You can even stuff the bags in bushes or plants that voles are eating to deter them.
Voles Dislike Freshly Mowed Lawns
One simple way to keep voles out of your yard is to keep your lawn mowed. Voles tend to only move from places of cover. This is to avoid being preyed upon by sharp-eyed owls and hawks.
Lawns that are unkempt with weeds growing in them will attract voles because of the cover it provides. They’ll quickly turn your lawn into a raceway, digging holes and burrows that look unseemly.
Try to mow your lawn regularly to keep the grass under 6 inches. Not that voles will be measuring the height of your grass, but this is about the max height before voles will consider your grass good coverage.
Clean Yards Deter Voles
While we’re on the topic of yards, let’s talk about keeping up with your yard’s maintenance. Unkempt yards are definitely going to attract voles, as well as other critters like snakes, raccoons, and even coyotes.
If you have stacks of wood, building materials, or other random things in your yard, be sure to keep them neatly stacked and, if possible, off the ground. This will eliminate hiding places for voles, making it more difficult for them to navigate your yard and garden.
Voles Stay Away From Open Spaces
We’ve talked quite a bit about how voles like to have cover when they’re moving around. Eliminating cover is one of the easiest ways to deter voles from coming near your yard and garden.
There are a couple of things you can do to eliminate cover for voles. One we already mentioned: clearing out your yard and keeping wood stacked neatly.
You can also keep your shrubs and bushes trimmed underneath so that the branches are not touching the ground. This reduces cover, making voles hesitate to use them as part of their runway.
If you notice the voles targeting your trees, be sure to clear any mulch or vegetation out to two feet from the base of the tree. According to Penn State University, two feet is the minimum distance that will discourage voles from living near the base of a tree.
Once you’ve removed the mulch and vegetation from the base of the tree, you can put crushed stone or gravel down to further discourage these little critters from making a meal of your fruit tree. Be sure to bury the gravel 3 or 4 inches deep to deter voles.
Be especially vigilant in the fall when all the leaves are dropping. Those pretty yellow and red leaves can provide the perfect cover for sneaky voles. Clear them off the gravel and be sure to remove any fallen sticks or sprouting weeds as well.
Tree Guards Deter Voles
As you can imagine, voles hate tree guards! These innovative products are made to put around smaller trees and saplings that are particularly vulnerable to vole girdling.
The Voglund Nursery Mesh Tree Bark Protector is a great product to protect against voles. It comes in several different sizes ranging from 12” tall to 48” tall. For voles, 24” is a safe bet for height.
The nice thing about this product is it comes in a 5-pack, so if you are trying to protect a larger tree, you can combine each mesh net to increase the diameter. A single mesh protector can only protect a tree up to 4 inches in diameter, so being able to combine them means you can continue protecting your tree as it grows.
The reason we say to get a protector at least 24” is because of snow. Voles don’t hibernate and are quite active in the wintertime. If your bark protector is not higher than the snow, the voles will be able to get over the protector and up close and personal with the bark. Not good.
So, get the right size, and keep in mind that these tree guards can also help protect your tree from rabbits. Bonus!
Voles Hate Daffodils
Simply put, daffodils are on a voles list of do not eat plants! For all the plants that voles have the ability to eat, daffodils are one that they can’t process in their system.
How Else Can You Deter Voles?
We’ve figured out the things that voles hate. Now, what are some other ways to deter these little critters? Let’s take a look!
Use Natural Vole Traps
Using traps can be tedious and time-consuming as you will have to check them at least once a day. This is a good option if there is a small vole problem in your yard.
Something like Blinc’s Humane Mouse Trap will work just fine for voles as well as mice. Just put some applesauce, apple slices, or peanut butter in the trap and your vole should be caught pretty easily.
Be sure to release them at least a half-mile from your yard to ensure they won’t find their way back.
Utilize Motion Sensor Lights, Alarms and Water Sprinklers
Many times, pest animals can be scared away from your yard using bright lights, loud noises, or predator scents.
Voles? Well, they could care less about anything strange going on. Motion sensor lights, alarms, radios, wind chimes…they just don’t phase a vole!
This could be because they live such short lifespans that they don’t have time to learn of frightening devices. Most voles only live about 1 year. It could also be their high reproductive rate that allows these creatures to adapt quickly to changing environments.
If you’d like to learn more about using these devices to deter voles, you can read our guide on using motion sensor lights to deter animals and wildlife here.
So Long, Voles!
Voles, though similar to mice and moles, cause a very different type of damage. They’ll dig up seeds, destroy roots, and can even kill trees by girdling them.
There are plenty of ways to deter voles from your yard. Luckily, these tiny critters don’t find their way into homes very often, so your main priority will be deterring them from your yard.
To recap, here are the things that voles hate the most:
- Peppermint Scent
- Cedar Scent
- Freshly Mowed Lawns
- Clean Yards – Stack your wood neatly, clean up unused building materials
- Open Spaces
- Tree Guards
Now that your brain is packed with vole knowledge, you can deter these troublesome pests from your yard for good!
Curtis, P. D., Rowland, E. D., & Good, G. L. (2002, May). Developing a plant-based vole repellent: screening of ten candidate species. Crop Protection, 21(4), 299-306.
Massey, F. P., & Hartley, S. E. (2006, June 20). Experimental demonstration of the antiherbivore effects of silica in grasses: impacts on foliage digestibility and vole growth rates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 273, 2299-2304.
Orihashi, K., Kojima, Y., & Terazawa, M. (2001). Deterrent effect of rosin and wood tar against barking by the gray-sided vole (Clethrionomys rufocanus bedfordiae). Journal of Forest Research, 6(191).
Roy, J., & Bergeron, J.-M. (1990). Role of phenolics of coniferous trees as deterrents against debarking behavior of meadow voles (microtus pennsylvanicus). Journal of Chemical Ecology, 16, 801-808.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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