Even the most understanding and peaceful gardeners are bound to know one or two garden inhabitants that they are not particularly happy about. One of these is undoubtedly the vole, sometimes also called the “great vole”. This pesky rodent has a particular fondness for the roots of many garden plants and can cause a lot of damage. You will then find wilted plants in the beds where bulbs and tubers have been eaten or eaten away. The burrows dug by the vole damage the lawn. Cavities are created that cause the lawn to dry out. No wonder, then, that people want to drive voles out of their own garden.
Let me introduce you: The vole
When we talk about the vole, we usually mean the so-called eastern vole (Arvicola terrestris). It is relatively large, as it can grow up to 18 centimetres long. This does not include the tail length of six to nine centimetres. The nocturnal animals feed vegetarian and prefer to travel underground. In search of food, they dig long, widely ramified tunnel systems directly under the earth’s surface. If they come across plant roots, they gnaw them off with their sharp teeth and eat them.
The gourmet mouse particularly likes root vegetables such as carrots, celery, beetroot, parsnips, potatoes and salsify. But it also loves the bulbs of flowers such as tulips, lilies and snowdrops. In addition, she often damages the roots of fruit trees, perennials such as peonies or marshmallow and shrubs such as roses or elderberries. From March to October, a female gives birth to up to 25 offspring in three to four litters per year.
Similar to the mole, the digging activity produces piles of earth. To be sure that the garden inhabitant is not the protected mole, you should therefore take a closer look at the mound. In the case of a cone-shaped molehill, the burrow is located in the middle of the mound. In the more flat and elongated mound of the vole, the passage starts laterally offset. Root and plant parts are also often found in the molehill. Moles are not interested in plants and roots – they prefer worms and insects. In addition, they are among the natural enemies of voles, because they visit their nests and eat the young. That is why you do not find too many voles in the territory of the mole.
Natural enemies of voles
The mole is not the only adversary of the vole. Cats can severely decimate a vole colony. Foxes, weasels, polecats and stone martens are also natural enemies, although stone martens are not necessarily desirable in residential areas. These vole enemies are most likely to settle in “wild” gardens with hedges, stone and deadwood piles. In rural areas, the installation of perches for birds of prey and owls can be useful. On regularly mown meadows, mice find less shelter and can be better detected by natural enemies. Thick mulch covers should also be checked from time to time. Especially in autumn and winter voles like to use them as “protection”.
Protect endangered plants from voles
It is best to protect flower bulbs, fruit trees and particularly endangered plants such as roses with close-meshed wire baskets as soon as they are planted. The baskets should have a mesh size of 13 to 16 millimetres. You let them sink into the soil. You should also block off raised beds from below with strong wire mesh like chicken wire and make them vole-proof. Plastic netting and baskets are not particularly helpful because the voles will bite through them.
Repel voles with repellent plants
Various plants are said to keep hungry voles away. That is why garlic, emperor’s crown, garden spurge, hound’s tongue and sweet clover were often planted in gardens in the past. There are different experiences about the success of these measures; it certainly also depends on the planting density of the repellent plants. At least these repellent plants are not eaten away themselves, but the carrot standing nearby is more likely to be eaten away.
Sometimes you will find a recommendation for distraction feeding in garden literature. This means that you plant the vole favourite Jerusalem artichoke in a corner of the garden and hope that the animals will leave the other plants in the garden alone. However, there is a risk that the Jerusalem artichoke will attract all the voles in the neighbourhood into the garden.
Chasing away voles with odours – various home remedies
Voles are said to dislike certain odours, which is why you can pour or stick a wide variety of materials into the passages of the odour-sensitive rodents. Very popular are fermented yolks made from elderberry leaves, walnut leaves or garlic. Twigs of the thuja tree can also be stuck into the tunnels to drive them away. Fermented buttermilk is also said to be helpful. The tip of stuffing human or dog hair into the tunnels is based on the same deterrent principle. Despite many success stories, not all of the methods listed here work in every garden.
You can also buy vole gases in the shops, the smell of which drives away voles. These gases do not kill the mice, but only scare them away. In agriculture, toxic gases such as carbon monoxide are sometimes injected into the tunnels through hoses, causing the animals to suffocate. From the point of view of environmental protection, such methods should be rejected.
How to drive away voles with ultrasound or vibration devices?
The trade offers ultrasonic and vibratory devices against voles, which, however, receive very contradictory evaluations. For some gardeners it seems to work, for others not at all. The results are similarly mixed with bottles that are dug into the ground at an angle with the opening facing upwards. The wind makes a whistling sound in them. Some have even put loudly ticking alarm clocks in tin cans and buried them in the ground. This measure is also supposed to annoy the pests so much that they leave. This method has not been proven to have any real effect.
Chasing away voles: Do traps and poison baits help?
Vole traps are a quite effective method of vole control. However, in larger gardens you should set up several traps to get the vole infestation under control. In case of heavy infestation, we recommend at least one trap per 25 square metres. Live traps are also available, but most trap systems kill the voles. In addition, there is a risk that the mole will die in such a trap. Therefore, so-called box traps are the best choice, because they are largely mole-proof.
The best trap bait is the mice’s favourite food, such as celery. The traps should not be touched with the hands, as the mice detect the smell immediately. Rub them with fresh grass or some soil before setting them up. In addition to the traps, there are various vole poison baits, some of which are also approved for organic farming. They are based on an anticoagulant.
The best chances of success in controlling voles with traps and poison baits are in late autumn or, even better, in early spring. At this time, the voles have not yet started to reproduce. In summer, the animals do not react so often to baits because the garden is already full of treats.
Voles in the garden: A peaceful coexistence?
Voles are not a terrible nuisance in every garden. Often the loss is kept within limits. Especially if you have protected the really endangered plants with barriers such as wire baskets or defensive plants. Of course, the vole has a function in the ecosystem. To some extent, it is even on our behalf. After all, it also loves the roots of many weeds that annoy us in the garden – such as couch grass.