Spring is a time to breathe fresh air and appreciate the yard as the snow melts and new green grass appears. Unfortunately, if you have voles, your lawn may have an extensive network of tunnels and holes that weren’t there in the fall.
The best way to fill in vole holes is first to establish whether they are still active. Once the holes and tunnel systems are abandoned, you can rake the tunnels and fill them in with topsoil then apply grass seed.
Below, we’ll go over the best ways to fill in vole holes. We’ll also talk about how to keep those little rodents from coming back!
Why Voles Dig Holes
Before we get into how to fill vole holes, let’s talk a little bit about why they dig holes in the first place.
Voles are part of the rodent family and prefer to live in burrows in the ground or in surface tunnels created from overhanging vegetation. They may create nests in their burrows or nest in their surface tunnels.
Unlike moles, voles typically have high population concentrations when they are present in lawns. They also go through cycles of population explosions every 3-5 years.
Voles dig holes in your lawn when they are creating their tunnel systems. They are omnivores but prefer to feast on grassroots, tubers, and bulbs. Their underground tunnel systems allow them to tunnel right into your garden or flowerbed and devour whatever they can find.
How To Identify Vole Holes And Tunnels
When it comes to getting rid of these little buggers and preventing them from coming back, you’ll want to make sure you’re dealing with voles and not some other critter so that you can be sure to use the correct repelling techniques.
Vole holes are golf ball-sized and are usually connected to a preexisting mole tunnel that has been abandoned. Voles will not create mounds next to their holes. If you are seeing mounds next to the holes, you are more likely dealing with a mole.
Surface tunnels will be visible in the lawn and appear as small depressions in the yard with overhanging grass or other vegetation. Within the tunnels, the grass will be clipped and the tunnels clear of any debris.
Voles spend the majority of their lives underground, which is where they cause the most damage. The worst part is that you won’t notice the damage until the plant or tree shows signs of stress. This is why identifying vole damage early is super important!
You can read more about why voles stay underground and why they come up here.
Best Ways To Fill In Vole Holes
To fill in vole holes, it’s not quite as simple as just throwing some topsoil inside the holes and crossing your fingers. There are a few steps you’ll want to take before you fill in the holes and collapse the tunnels.
The first step is identifying whether the holes and tunnels are still active. After that, we will get into how to fill the tunnels and holes.
Step 1: Check If The Hole Is Active
Voles are talented diggers and are not opposed to re-excavating tunnels that have collapsed or filled in. This is why it’s important first to establish whether the holes are still active.
To check for active tunnels and holes, look inside the surface runways. Are they clear of debris? Are droppings visible? If the tunnels are clear, they are most likely still active. If the tunnels contain overgrown grass, roots, or other debris, they are likely abandoned.
We’ll go over how to remove and repel voles a little later, but for now, just be aware that you should ensure the tunnels and holes are abandoned before attempting to fill them in.
One nice thing about voles is that they won’t stay long in a place where there’s no food. If you notice surface tunnels just after the snowmelt, this doesn’t always indicate you have a vole problem. Wait a week or two and see if they are active before spending time trying to remove or repel them.
Step 2: Rake The Ground
This step is best done after the ground has thawed a bit from winter. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm, then you can do this step at any time of the year.
Rake the ground where you can see surface tunnels or vole holes. This will help destroy the tunnels and evenly distribute the clipped vegetation and soil. It will also promote better growth in the lawn.
Step 3: Use Topsoil To Fill Holes And Even Out The Ground
It may seem obvious, but eventually, you will have to fill the holes and runways with topsoil. You can purchase topsoil at your local garden center, Home Depot, Lowes, and even Walmart.
Once you have your topsoil, it’s time to fill in the holes and runways of abandoned vole holes. Apply enough topsoil to even out the lawn.
If you need to, use a rake or shovel to even out the topsoil. You can gently tamp down on the soil but do not compact it too much – this will make it difficult for grass to re-establish.
Speaking of grass…
Step 4: Overseed The Topsoil
After you’ve collapsed the runways and holes and applied topsoil, the next logical step is to sprinkle grass seed on the area to try to get your lawn looking back to normal.
Always match the grass seed to your yard. For example, Scotts Turf Builder Rapid Grass Sun & Shade Mix is an excellent choice for northern yards. For southern lawns, you can use something like Pennington’s Smart Seed Bermudagrass Mix.
You’ll want to follow the directions on the bag for overseeding to give your lawn the best chance at recovery. After spreading the seed over the necessary areas, water the seed to help it make contact with the soil and increase the chances of the seed taking hold and sprouting roots.
It’s optional, but applying loose straw over the grass seed will help retain the moisture and protect it from other burrowing seed thieves like chipmunks and squirrels.
Why It’s Important To Fill In Vole Holes
Once the voles have moved on, is it really necessary to fill in all those holes and tunnels? It’s so much work!
There are a few important reasons why you should always fill in vole holes and tunnels:
- Avoid attracting other critters: Moles, snakes, and shrews will all use the tunnels and holes created by voles and make them their own. This can lead to an all-new lifetime supply of problems.
- Lawnmower damage: If your yard is plagued with tunnels and holes, it won’t be good for your lawnmower to drive over those and potentially sink down into the ground.
- Lawn health: The quicker you fill in vole holes and tunnels, the quicker your lawn will start to look green and lush again instead of drab and brown. It will also help your bulbs, flowers, and garden as well!
It’s much better to go ahead and fill in all the vole holes and surface tunnels you can find. This way, you avoid any problems with your lawnmower or other critters, and as a bonus, your yard looks simply fantastic after doing away with those unsightly holes and tunnels!
How To Prevent More Vole Holes From Reappearing
Voles require specific management techniques that differ from other digging pests. For example, moles can be easily removed because they are solitary critters. Unfortunately, voles are not.
If you have one vole in your yard, you likely have a dozen or so more. Some vole species such as meadow voles spend a lot of their time aboveground whereas pine voles enjoy their dark little tunnels and live mostly underground.
No matter what kind of vole you have in your yard, the management techniques are similar and will work for any kind of vole. Let’s dive into how to prevent voles from coming back and digging more tunnels!
Remove Sources Of Cover
Voles are prey to a variety of animals including hawks, foxes, owls, coyotes, and even your neighborhood kitty. For this reason, voles do not like feeding out in the open.
One way to prevent voles from coming back to your yard is to eliminate any possible source of cover that can hide them from predators.
- Mow the lawn: Keep your grass trimmed short to avoid giving voles a source of cover in your lawn. This has the added benefit of making voles more visible to predators. A height of 3 to 6 inches is a good deterrent – any longer and you’re giving them some great cover!
- Pull weeds: Weeds are another source of cover that voles will use to feed and avoid predators. Weeds also have the potential to feed voles if they munch on the roots or seeds.
- Avoid heavy mulch: Voles are super tiny, with almost all species weighing under 2 ounces. They can easily squeeze beneath mulch and use it as cover while they root around for your bulbs and damage your trees.
- Remove debris: If you have any woodpiles, brush piles, old building materials, or other materials around the yard, voles will use them for cover. Try to eliminate these if possible.
- Create vegetation-free zones: If you’re seeing damage around your trees, create a 24-inch zone around the damaged areas that have no vegetation at all. You can apply gravel or stone to the area to keep things looking neat and tidy. Voles will not travel in this no-cover zone.
- Keep bushes trimmed: If it’s possible, trim the bottom six inches of your bushes so that they are open. This will remove any possible cover for voles and expose them to predators.
If vole populations get too high, it may be impossible to control them with simple habitat modifications like mowing the grass or removing mulch. In these cases, we suggest contacting a professional to get things under control first.
Once you have your vole population under control, you can use these techniques to keep their populations in check and deter them from coming back.
Create A Physical Barrier
Voles prefer to feed on seeds, nuts, roots, bulbs, grasses, and tubers. They might dig directly into your gardens or flowerbed to get at your tasty vegetables and flowers, wreaking havoc on your plants and their roots.
One way to prevent voles from digging into your gardens and flowerbeds is to create a physical barrier that stops them. This can also be used around trees or vulnerable areas of your lawn where vole damage seems particularly high.
To create a barrier, use hardware cloth or plastic mesh with holes no larger than ¼-inch such as Seboss’s Hardware Cloth which has ¼-inch holes and is 36” x 50”. When you have the hardware cloth, follow these steps to make your garden, flowerbeds, and trees vole-proof!
- Dig at least 6 inches into the soil around the area you want to protect and place the bottom of the fencing in the trench. 10 inches is better, but 6 inches should be adequate to prevent voles from digging under or around the fencing.
- Make sure the above-ground section of the fence is at least 1 foot above the soil. This will prevent voles from climbing over the fence.
- Remove all vegetation around the exterior of the fence. This will help make the area more open, and voles will avoid open areas.
- Completely enclose the area you want to protect. If you’re using hardware cloth to protect your trees, make sure to leave enough space between the fencing and the tree to allow for adequate tree growth.
Physical barriers are a great way to prevent voles from getting to certain areas of your lawn. It’s not a great choice if you need to protect your entire lawn as that will get expensive pretty quickly!
One thing to note about physical barriers is that they will need to be checked periodically to make sure those pesky voles haven’t chewed through or dug around them.
If you need to protect just your bulbs, you can get away with simply laying the hardware cloth flat instead of building a fence. Extend the cloth 2 feet in each direction from the bulb and bend it at a 90-degree angle downward. Cover the cloth with at least 1 inch of soil.
Physical barriers not only exclude voles from certain areas, but it eliminates their food source. If there’s no food in your yard, voles aren’t likely to come back!
Use Tree Guards
Tree guards go hand-in-hand with physical barriers. The only difference is that you don’t have to build these fences!
Voles can do some damage to saplings and seedlings, especially in the winter when they have access to the trunks beneath the snow and can eat as much as their little heart desires all while under a protective blanket of snow.
According to an article in the Journal of Forest Ecology and Management, vole damage in the winter of 2005 to 2006 in Finland was estimated at over $4 million!
The real damage is when voles girdle trees, gnawing a circle around the tree’s trunk that will eventually cause the tree to perish. When trees are girdled, they cannot deliver necessary nutrients up the trunk and to the canopy.
To prevent vole damage to your trees, consider using a tree guard. UGarden’s Plant and Tree Guard Protector comes in a variety of shapes and sizes that can fit any style of tree. They can also be combined together to create larger barriers for bigger trees.
Tree guards will not only protect your trees from any current voles, but they will eliminate an important food source for future voles. When there’s no food to eat, voles are likely to move on to a different yard.
Encourage Natural Predators
In natural settings, voles are preyed on by many animals and may make up a significant part of certain predators’ diets.
However, around the home and yard, natural predators aren’t likely to keep the vole population under control. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to encourage natural predators as much as you can. When combined with other repelling techniques, encouraging natural predators can be effective at preventing vole populations from exploding.
According to the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research, barn owls, long-eared owls, and kestrels are especially talented at going after voles. You can look up if these raptors are in your area.
Raptors will be encouraged to stay nearby if you have plenty of trees on your property or if your yard borders a forest. Another way to deter voles is to trick them into thinking a hawk is nearby. Eyijklzo’s Bird Scarer Flying Kite is a kite in the shape of a hawk that can be staked out in your yard.
The flapping and diving motion of the kite can help deter future voles from coming back and making a mess of your yard. It’s recommended to move the kite around every once in a while to keep voles on their toes!
If you’d like some more options, take a look a piece on the things voles hate here!
That’s A Wrap!
It’s just plain old annoying having all those unsightly holes and tunnels in your lawn. Those pesky voles can increase their population in a short amount of time and wreak havoc on your lawn, garden, and flower bed.
Once you have the vole population under control, it’s important to fill in their holes and tunnels to deter future pests from moving in and to improve your lawn’s health.
To recap, the 4 steps to fill in vole holes and tunnels are:
- Check if the hole and tunnel are active
- Rake the ground
- Use topsoil to fill holes, tunnels, and to even out the ground
- Overseed the topsoil
To keep voles from coming back, you’ll want to employ a few different techniques including modifying your yard to eliminate sources of cover, using fencing and tree guards, and encouraging natural predators.
If the vole population in your yard has exploded in numbers, it might be time to call a professional! You can use our nationwide pest control finder to get in contact with a pest control officer in your local area.
Cook, W.M., Anderson, R.M. and Schweiger, E.W. (2004), Is the matrix really inhospitable? Vole runway distribution in an experimentally fragmented landscape. Oikos, 104: 5-14. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0030-1299.2004.12761.x
Huitu, O., Kiljunen, N., Korpimaki, E., Koskela, E., Mappes, T., Pietiainen, H., Poysa, H., & Henttonen, H. (2009, September 15). Density-dependent vole damage in silviculture and associated economic losses at a nationwide scale. Forest Ecology and Management, 258(7), 1219-1224. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378112709004186
Jacob, J., Manson, P., Barfknecht, R. and Fredricks, T. (2014), Common vole (Microtus arvalis) ecology and management: implications for risk assessment of plant protection products. Pest. Manag. Sci., 70: 869-878. https://doi.org/10.1002/ps.3695
Pelz, H.-J. (2003). Current approaches towards environmentally benign prevention of vole damage in Europe. In Rats, Mice and People: Rodent Biology and Management (pp. 233-235). Institute for Nematology and Vertebrate Research.
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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