Holes in the garden… and in veggies? It’s the vole!

Vole, rodent

Even if you try your best to be an animal lover, voles still tend to get on your nerves. This short-lived rodent has the annoying habit of turning the ground in your vegetable garden into a vast network of tunnels. And to make matters worse, it often goes unnoticed because, unlike moles and field rats, it doesn’t create mounds. Chewed-up vegetables and damaged flower bulbs are often what alert you to Arvicolinae‘s presence.

Here are some tips to scare it away without causing any damage.

The vole, a cute but harmful rodent

Identifying voleHow do you tell a vole apart from a mouse, field mouse, or shrew? This question may seem trivial, but it is important in the garden. Indeed, not all of these rodents are harmful to your garden

For example, the shrew, as an insectivore, is a proud ally of the gardener as it efficiently eliminates many insects such as caterpillars, ticks, and stink bugs, as well as gastropods like slugs and snails. As for the mouse, it is omnivorous and will certainly cause more damage in your shed, cellar, or chicken coop than in the vegetable garden.

Our concern here is the vole: it is a herbivore. It is a rodent with sharp teeth (which grow throughout its life) that feeds on plants, namely vegetable roots, bulbs of certain flowers, seeds, and also fruits, buds, and berries. It can even go after certain vegetables like leek, chard, and chicory.

Additionally, if hungry, it may also include a few chance insect larvae and earthworms on its menu.

Vole descriptionSo, how do you recognize it? It is about 4 inches long (10 cm) and has brown to reddish fur. Its tail is as long as its body and is extended by a black line on its back for the most common voles. As for its ears, they are small and pointed. Most often, its belly is white.

But the chances of seeing it are minimal!

A nocturnal animal wreaking havoc in the vegetable garden

Indeed, the vole, a rodent from the Apodemus family, is a nocturnal animal. It spends its nights (and sometimes its days depending on the season) digging tunnels in your vegetable garden or your neighbor’s! It rummages for itself and to feed its family of little voles. And since vole is a prolific breeder, the family is large!

And the need for food is even greater! Often, a hole in your vegetable garden might catch your eye. It is the entrance to a tunnel. If you also notice wilted vegetables or nibbled strawberries, there is no doubt. Voles are here!

Vole lifecycleAnd they can really test your patience… Indeed, Mr. and Mrs. Vole mate between March and the end of October and can give birth to four litters a year. Consider that each litter has 5 to 10 babies: you can do the math. Oh, and one more fact: a vole reaches sexual maturity in about two months.

In short, you may soon be overrun and your vegetable garden soon becomes a minefield, worthy of the largest battlefields…

The usefulness of voles in the garden

Although the previous description doesn’t speak highly of voles, these little rodents also have a few positive roles in the garden:

  • Their tunnels, aerate the soil
  • They also eat harmful insects
  • They generally settle in healthy soils, which is comforting in a certain way: it proves you’re taking great care of the quality of your soil!

Solutions to scare away voles

First and foremost, we will set aside all harmful and lethal traps and toxic rodenticides that cause voles to suffer tremendously. Not to mention that chemical products like rat poison can also be harmful to your pets.

How to trap and remove volesThere are ultrasonic repellents that can chase away rodents. They consider these ultrasounds a potential threat. They are quite effective, but they can be expensive. Similarly, anti-rodent cages can capture voles without killing them. You just have to take them somewhere else. But don’t forget that vole families are large, so you’ll have to trap a lot!

You can also try:

  • Planting a large number of repellent plants such as imperial fritillary, euphorbia spurge, or incarvillea, which, in addition to their repellent properties, offer interesting blooms. These solutions are obviously not foolproof.
  • Garlic cloves thrown into the tunnels can also deter voles. You can also prepare a garlic decoction with 100g of crushed cloves left to infuse for 24 hours in a liter of water. Then, bring it to a boil and let it cool before spraying it around the tunnel entrances.
  • Black elderberry is also known to repel voles. You can either crush some leaves and place them in front of the tunnel entrances or prepare an elderberry infusion by macerating 7 oz (200g) of elderberry leaves in a quart or liter of water for a week.
  • Castor meal, a very good fertilizer, is also useful for deterring voles, but it is toxic to children, dogs, and cats.

In addition, pet cats are excellent vole hunters, just like foxes or birds of prey. And cats are easier to attract to the garden!


Images: 123RF: Rudmer Zwerver, CC BY 2.0: Bureau of Land Management Alaska, Gail Hampshire; Pixabay: Jürgen; Unsplash: Stuart Bartlett

Written by Pascale Bigay | Writing is woven into Pascale's life, the threads of which also include nature, botany, gardening... That's why her words share such an immersive experience, a fascination with the simple discoveries of garden life, wonderful ornamental plants, tasty veggie-patch fresh recipes and the occasional squabble with her chickens...