Got voles?

nygardener(z6 New York)June 16, 2007

My garden this year has been overrun by voles. They started by nibbling on broccoli stems, mowed down a planting of Savoy cabbage, and have been helping themselves to strawberries and Tuscan kale. I finally figured out what I had (after ruling out rabbits, woodchucks, etc.) and have caught a dozen of them in the past week. Have you noticed a surge in these pint-sized critters?

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corapegia(z5 NY)

Over this past winter, voles almost destroyed my fothergilla (about 15 years old), and even found a way into my inside back porch to totally devour a young fig and chew a huge hole in the trunk of my 20 yr old fig.
I just put rabbit fence around a second garden bed I had started this year thinking it was rabbits who chewed my ambrosia mellon plant and bit 3 tomatoes (but didn't eat them, just killed them) I wonder if it was voles, in which case the rabbit fence will do nothing. I have gardened in this same place for 34 years and have never seen so many short, furry, creatures. I blame our lack of cats (we always had 4 or so, some of whom hunted) and Copper, the dog who lived next door and ran loose most of the time but who died of old age a couple of years ago. I'm thinking of getting a gun.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2007 at 11:09AM
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candyinpok(5b or 6, NY)

I have either voles or moles all over my front yard. How are you catching them, and what do you do with them when caught? There's something burrowed under my Japanese maple and I can't bear to loose that.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2007 at 11:47AM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

Mousetraps baited with almond butter. (Peanut butter, optionally mixed with oatmeal, is also supposed to work well.) The plain, snap-type traps work best. I've been throwing the dead voles in the trash or next to the woods, where they seem to disappear quickly. Most voles are a bit too fat for those circular "no-view" traps, and they don't like to crawl inside dark enclosed spaces. You could use Hav-a-hart type traps to catch them and release them elsewhere, but you wouldn't be doing any favors to gardeners elsewhere and you might be breaking the law.

You can exclude them by surrounding each bed or the whole garden with ¼" hardware cloth, trenched 12" into the ground and 18" above. Poison can spread to other animals and people and so is a bad idea.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2007 at 4:12PM
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corapegia(z5 NY)

Candyinpok, you probably have voles under your maple. They burrow under, chew the roots, and often the first sign of the damage is when the plant wilts and collapses. I've been finding that they are the culprit in most cases of shrub failure. They especially love pachesandra surrounded plants. I wonder if clearing around the trunks will help. I poke under the plant and try to fill in the tunnels with new soil, water well to get it down under the plant. I plan to use a lot of 1/4" hardware cloth but I just read somewhere that 8" deep should do it. And the bad new is, you might have voles AND moles, though moles seem to prefer sandy soil and the voles like clay.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2007 at 9:09AM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

I just have to vent and say that they are so awful! I can't be there every day and just the thought that I caught 20 of them in two days of trapping makes me think there must be hundreds.

Sunday I found a wilted cucumber plant with a fresh female blossom (a little mini cucumber at the base), had a sinking feeling, followed the stem down and found that it had been severed clean near ground level. And the plant is under a row cover held down with stones!

Even if I trench hardware cloth around the most vulnerable beds and then around the whole garden, I probably still can't get it done in time to prevent extensive damage ... in fact I've already lost dozens of seedlings. And all were plants I grew from seed, mostly started indoors during the winter.

I've never had voles before ... was happy with keeping the deer and rabbits out ... and now I just wonder how much of my garden will be left by midsummer. No matter how many I catch if I keep losing a few plants a day it won't be long before it's stripped bare. Every few hours this weekend I would empty and reset a few traps, and if I was out in the garden for a while I'd invariably hear a few loud clicks as they went off nearby. What a change from the butterflies and bees that are usually my company! Those traps are effective but they leave nothing to the imagination.

I think corapegia is right, a hardware cloth fence is the only solution. I agree with the mild-mannered garden columnist who called them "pernicious" animals.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2007 at 11:10PM
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I use mouse poison put in an empty tin can laid on its side and placed so other animals can't get at it (a rock partially blocks the opening so only a vole sized critter can get in). In my place the voles occupy a stone wall so it is fairly easy to put the poison near their homes but out of the way of other critters.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2007 at 3:41PM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

That's a good idea, oldroser. One of my traps caught a bird this week so I'll have to move them under vole-sized cover. The fence should be finished this weekend ... as corapegia says, it doesn't have to be trenched in too deep.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2007 at 10:26AM
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