Their effect on your garden and eco-friendly ways of deterring them
Who are they?
Voles are a small rodent primarily living underground as a part of the meadow and prairie landscape. Not to be confused with moles as they have different behaviour patterns, such as moles only eat living foods (grubs, earthworms and insects etc) and voles will go for plant matter and roots. Moles also can be detected from above ground tunnels and mounds of fluffy dirt. Whereas the voles will create more matted down ‘runways’ in your lawn (see image to the right) and some will be eating the grass clippings on the lawn. In the image below you can see the shape and size of a vole hole in your lawn (note that it is missing any mounding dirt like a mole would create). Voles can become a problem quickly as their mating abilities match those of other rodent family members. One female vole can often have as many as 100 little offspring by the fall. Which makes it fitting to try to clear them from your space in the early spring before they begin mating.
An interesting fact about voles in your yard is that inside each of their faecal pellets contains approximately 100,000 mycorrhizal fungi spores! Perhaps one of the only benefits of them being in your garden. Being prey animals, this is a great way for the fungus to spread itself around in the natural world.
How do they hurt your garden?
Voles can be a disruptive creature living in your yard as they tend to select the roots of plants, spring bulbs and underground tubers as a food source. In the winter they will move in to chew on the bark of shrubs and trees. This means over time they expose your plants to be a target for diseases and harmful insects. Root damage done to a plant is rarely recovered if not caught quickly enough.
These habits are especially bad if you are trying to grow a veggie garden and fruit trees; the voles will gravitate towards those first. When the soil is loose and easy to move through it will make a happy vole home. They work quickly and can cause a large amount of damage to your garden and plants.
What to do about them?
Many people can panic when there is any sort of ‘pest’ activity happening about their property. But turning to chemicals and cruel ways of chasing them away will not solve any larger environmental problems. Understand that we share this earth with many other species and it is ok for them to go about their natural business although it is unwanted amongst humans. SO let’s go over some eco-friendly ways to deter voles from your yard that can easily be done. Another thing to remember is that any ‘quick’ fixes will not help anything in the long run, and is not how nature works, instead turn to use permaculture principle number 9: Slow and Simple Solutions. Learning patience is to work with nature. Start to create an environment that will not be suitable for the voles to thrive and they will begin to move their home away. They could have come from a neighbouring property and have a large spread across the neighbourhood in which case you can get in contact with those also having vole issues and give them these tips to say goodbye to the voles together or you may not get anywhere.
Here are some eco-friendly methods of discouraging Voles:
1. Plant the type of bulbs they don‘t like! Which are; daffodils, garlic and fritillary. Using garlic water to spray onto the soil around your plants can deter the voles from coming any closer. You can also do crushed or whole garlic and place it right at their holes in the ground; it is too strong for their sensitive noses and they will usually vacate the area.
Standard garlic water recipe:
6-cloves of garlic peeled and sliced fine.
2-quarts of tap water or purified water.
1 TBSP natural soap (Castile is a good type)
1 Spritzer bottle.
1 Mason Jar with lid ( recycled jar works fine too)
In a sauce pot, warm water until it begins to steam. Add sliced garlic and maintain temperature for 20 minutes. Allow water to cool, Remove garlic from water and discard (compost.) Add soap to spritzer bottle. Using a funnel, add enough water to fill the spritzer bottle almost full but leave at least 1/2 inch of room. Put the lid on the spritzer bottle and shake slightly when ready to use. Spray plants early in the morning or in the evening time after the hottest part of the day have passed. Several applications may be needed. Avoid using the spray on hot days as the liquid and sunlight may burn the plants. The extra liquid can be stored in the jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.
2. Mulch provides shelter from predators and invites voles in. If you have voles, avoid heavy mulching where they can hide and keep mulch low to none around the base of your plants. They can be hiding out in low ground covers like junipers as well, so you may want to remove those if the voles persist and are causing problems.
3. Castor oil can turn them off if placed by their holes in the soil. This is very low harm and it is the smell that will deter them. Just re-apply on the lawn as needed or after heavy rainfall. To make your own safe vole repellent at home, combine 6 ounces of castor oil (DO NOT buy the unscented variety) and 2 tablespoons of liquid detergent in 1 gallon of water. Mix well. Then dilute to spray on the entire lawn at a rate of 1 ounce per gallon of water applied per every 300 square feet of lawn.
4. Create spaces to invite owls and hawks into your yard near the vole holes (this can just be perching beams, better yet if you already have large mature trees in your yard, or other food sources they like etc.) One of the reasons that rodent populations can get so out of hand is a lack of predators in the area. With housing development pushing them away, they can not live amongst us as easily as the smaller prey can.
5. Catch and release traps to be displaced. You can place a trap above the holes with bait in it (seeds, nuts, nut butters). Then bring the voles back out into a more natural environment like an open field at least 5 miles away without having to kill them or call an exterminator.
6. Shielding your trees and shrubs by wrapping the lower stems with a cage/wire mesh. Although this cannot protect against the voles going for the roots, it can help out in the winters when they go for the bark.
7. Solar powered ultrasonic repellers. Set to a timer it will put out a sound frequency of 400HZ-1000HZ. The ultrasonic waves will irritate them, simulate danger, and repel them away from the irradiated area. Laureen has used these in her yard for 2 years and no voles have come in.
8. Get a cat! And if you already own a cat, let it roam your back yard, and no vole will be brave enough to stick around the backyard.
If you are in a pressing or time-sensitive situation with your vole problem, then call in a professional exterminator. They will likely use bait traps that will only poison voles, therefore will be least harmful to the environment (rather than trying to use poison yourself). You will need to weigh the damage of the voles vs. the damage of poisonous chemicals to the environment.
That sums up our tips and tricks to deal with voles as an eco-friendly gardener! We hope this information helps you out.