Voles, or meadow mice, are small brownish rodents that feed on landscape plants and vegetable gardens. They also chew the bark of fruit trees at or just under the ground, which can eventually kill the tree. Vole populations can increase rapidly, which may result in substantial damage to gardens and trees. While totally eliminating voles from your yard may not be achievable, there are several do-it-yourself things home gardeners can do to control the problems caused by voles.
Protecting Fruit Trees: Natural Vole Control
Although a vole repellent recipe would be nice, a more effect way to repel voles is through a physical barrier that will deter their feeding activities.
Fruit trees and small plants can be protected by placing a barrier around them. The barrier can be made of any material that voles can't easily chew through, such as plastic, hardware cloth or sheet metal. Large soda bottles with both ends cut off can be placed over plants, but must be buried about 6 inches into the ground to prevent subsurface feeding.
Fencing can also be used. It can be relatively short because voles are poor climbers, but it must also be partially buried.
Trapping Small Vole Populations
Trapping voles with regular "snap" mousetraps can be an effective means of control if the population is not large. Voles live mainly in burrows, but they use runways through thick cover to reach feeding spots. Placing un-baited traps perpendicularly across the runway will kill voles as they run across it. Traps baited with peanut butter can also be placed near the openings of burrows.
Humane traps represent another option, allowing you to remove the voles without killing them. However, you will need to check the traps with even greater frequency and have a safe relocation plan that follows local wildlife ordinances.
Trap an area until no more voles are caught, and then alter the habitat so additional voles do not move into the area an repopulate it.
Baiting Larger Vole Populations
Baiting with an anticoagulant is useful for larger outbreaks. A waterproof tube about 5 inches long and 2 inches wide makes an excellent bait container. It keeps the bait dry and prevents non-target animals from taking the bait because they will not be able to enter the tube. This DIY vole trap can be made at home and baited with an anticoagulant available at co-ops and hardware stores.
The voles must feed on the bait for five days before it takes full effect, so this can be a time-consuming procedure. Place bait in the runway or near burrow entrances, and refill your DIY vole trap with bait as needed. Take care not to use anticoagulant baits in areas where pets or children might discover them and come to harm.
Disrupting the Habitat
Voles prefer heavy vegetation as cover. Removing this cover will help reduce the population. Additionally, keeping grass closely mowed will discourage voles from crossing yards. Voles dislike feeding in the open due to increased risk of predation, so clearing areas around trees and plants is also effective. Generally, the wider the cleared area, the more effective it will be. Tilling is also effective in clearing cover, destroying burrows and runways and establishing a buffer area.
Remember that regular upkeep is paramount in order for this natural vole control method to work. The grass cannot get too long and ground cover cannot be allowed to grow too dense, because nearby voles may take the opportunity to expand their territories.
The good news is that these methods for controlling nuisance vole populations pose no threat to your fruit trees and plants. Traps and bait may occasionally kill other animals such as mice. Remember to follow all safety precautions on any lethal products you may purchase for vole control.