Monday, June 14, 2010

Do You Really Want to See What a Vole Looks Like?

If the answer is yes to the title of this post, then you've come to the right place. Voles are similar to mice-kind of. They are both rodents and both pests in my opinion. I've lost more than one of my shrubs to the voles this year and I tell you these little rodents almost make me want to give up gardening-almost.

Let's discuss the voles because I can't tell you how many people don't know what a vole is and what it does to a garden. Voles and mice are not the same thing. Many people call voles field mice but voles are not mice at all, though they are both rodents. The major differences between field mice and the voles are these: on voles: the head is larger, eyes and ears smaller (actually both are not even really visible-just look at the photo), the tails are only about one inch long or shorter, they have very short legs (this helps them stay low and escape detection by predators like cats and birds), and the teeth are made differently, though I can't really tell what is different about a voles teeth. This particular vole is a brownish color on its back but I think their color is variable.

I do know voles will target plants more than any other rodent in the garden. When a plant is targeted the plant is most likely doomed. In the past I've only lost perennials and a few roses. This year the voles have moved up in the food chain and taken a few bigger specimens out of the garden with their chewing. Roots are chewed off at the base of the shrub and the shrub is not likely to recover.

Voles should not be mistaken for moles
though voles will sometimes use the tunnels moles dig in order to move around the garden. In my garden I leave the moles alone and just kind of figure they are aerating the soil for me. The damage they do is not long lasting when compared to killing a tree or shrub and is not bad enough to warrant a mole's demise; that is simply my personal opinion, like all things on this blog. Voles on the other hand can seriously destroy a garden. Here are some interesting facts about voles (Courtesy of University of California):

1. Females reach sexual maturity in about 35 days and can have more than five litters per year!
2. Voles are not good climbers and usually don't enter homes.
3. Voles make their homes in areas with dense vegetation (gardens for sure!)
4. Voles are active day and night!
5. Vole populations fluctuate from year to year and under favorable conditions there may be a vole explosion.
6. It is best to use Integrated Pest Management tools to control voles before their population gets too large because damage to home and ornamental gardens can be severe.
7. Remove cover such as vegetation and leaves to make the area less favorable for voles.

Some tips I have personally learned that help to protect plants:

1. Limb up ground hugging shrubs such as magnolias and silverberry. They don't need to be limbed far, just enough so that the ground is visible and the voles can be seen so they are vulnerable.
2. Remove leaves from under shrubs and trees during the winter.
3. Periodically check for damage by stomping the ground around your shrubs and perennials. If there are voles present the soil will be gone and you will quite clearly feel a void. Backfill the area and take measures to get rid of the voles. Keep checking and back filling the area periodically.
4. Use hardware cloth around prized plants. Make sure it sticks up above the ground and leaves are moved away from the plant.
5. Get a couple of good mousing cats.
6. Try out the mole repellents as a last resort. They have worked for me but the extra expense and application make them not so ideal for long term use.

Good luck keeping the voles away now that you know what they are and what they look like....

in the garden....

Today is Flag Day, and also the Army's 235th birthday. Those of us associated with the Army get the day off. So Happy Birthday and Flag Day and thanks for the day the garden...

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team,

In the Garden


  1. I know I am one of your readers that did not know what a vole was...yuck! I don't think we have those here. We have plenty of other wild life to watch for though. Good information. Happy Flag Day, Happy Birthday to the Army and enjoy your day off, you deserve it!!!

  2. Noooo...did not know what a vole was! Thought it was the same thing as a mole--but I'm not sure what one of those looks like either. :) The picture looks very much like a rat--yuk! Good information Tina!
    Happy Flag's Day--and enjoy your day off!

  3. Dara, They are big pests indeed.

    Linda, A mole has a much larger and pointy nose. Their front feet are really big compared to the back. They are completely different from these critters. My dogs sometimes dig those guys up too so I think I've seen it all. Yesterday to top it off hubby brought me a field mouse that had invaded his garage. Geez-country living for you.

  4. I'm definitely not a fan! They have been around in every garden this year. I don't think I've lost anything (yet) and hope it stays that way! Although I suspect they may be digging around my apple trees.

  5. Tina, In one of Obamas speeches at the White house steps, GMA featureed a vole that came out on one of the steps and went back in, ugh! They said it's a cross between a mole and a mouse.
    Happy flag day!

  6. I've learned so much about voles this year thanks to working in the Extension Office occasionally and now these excellent tips, Tina. They seem to be a problem everywhere, and there isn't a solution that works for all. I'll stick with my cats:)

    One question I still have--who is the non-squeamish soul holding the vole in the photo??:)

  7. Is that you holding the vole? I don't think I'd pick one up! I have never seen a vole in person. Sounds like you've learned how to control them. I hope you can keep them away from your prized plants.

  8. I hate voles! They have taken out several of my plants. Thank goodness I have a little dog that loves to catch and play with them. We have also added two cats to the mix. Hopefully, they will help control the vole population in my yard. Carla

    1. I do vole control every morning, I have never seen any of them in my yard til this year. I have always had a cat but I think he must have been lazy because after he passed I got 2 more and these little guys are superior hunters. I have at least 4 carcasses every morning to dispose of. Crazy fact, my cats will eat a mouse but leave the vole, whole. LOL , they do not eat, just eraticate, YEY. Thanks for info, very helpful indeed.

    2. Vole control is very important to the health of your garden Lisa and it sounds like you are doing an awesome job! Cats sure do help too!

  9. I've heard of voles, but had no idea what they looked like. They definitely sound worse than the moles we get. Our neighbors cat have caught at least one of them so far.
    Hopefully those voles will move out of your garden.

  10. Nope did not know but I figured they were sorta like a mouse only bigger. Neither do I know what a mole is but figured it to be about the same but bigger than a vile. May be too cold for them here in the north as I don't think we have them. At least I have never heard of then around here. I think maybe from you and Skeeter talking about I may have figured them to be even bigger than they are.

  11. Too bad they aren't edible. Toby brings me enough for vole stew.

  12. Ew - if only vole stew were a possibility! Thanks to the very brave person who picked him up. I had never seen one before!

  13. Thanks for the Flag Day reminder. Mine has been flying since 6 this morning.
    I remember reading an animal column once where the writer tried to explain the difference between field mouse and vole. She mentioned the vole had "endearing" ears and the mouse did not. Your vole's ears are certainly cute.

  14. yikes! I do not think I have those critters. I don't even get rabbits. Just deer and stray cats. We are right in town and the neighbors around have dogs so maybe things are scared off?

  15. Seen them. Seen the damage that they do. There's alway something to battle, isn't there?

  16. Great info !!!
    Gotta keep this post just in case we or someone else wants the facts.

  17. I've heard of voles but never saw one. I think I may have a mole but can't catch it.
    Happy Flag Day. I had forgotten.
    Hope you enjoyed your day off.

  18. I don't know that I've ever seen one Tina?? I for sure, wouldn't be holding it up like the brave person is doing in your photo!! Thanks for the info. I'm glad I don't have trouble with them now.
    Hope you enjoyed your day off too!

  19. Thanks for the pic, I've heard of them but never seen one. Eww...creepy little critters. Of course I'm not fond of mice either, lol. ;)

  20. Eww!!! How eerie!!!!! I hate them all.... And I loved the way u have written this post... I could see & feel your anger & frustrations in every statement u used to describe them..kinda.... The pic sent a shiver through my body... God Bless!!!


  21. I know these little rodents well and am not happy with them. The neighbors cats catch them occasionally but I think the cats are eating too well as I still have moles and voles....

    I heard thunder off in the distance and am hoping for a rain shower as the gardens need it. Have had 100-101 and 103 degree days the past 3 days with heat index even higher. A blazing hot one and too early for this kind of heat! Lots blooming in the gardens but need rain as I am in no mood to drag around the hose to water everything... Heat and me dont mix....

  22. Tina, we are fortunate to have both. :( When I first started landscaping our garden and would complete an area, days later the area showed signs of tunnels beneath the soil; I would get upset... and that continued for years... stomping down the earth and finally trying to trap a few. But then I realized the plants were doing okay, and now, the moles are still here, the plants seem to have survived, and we stroll calmly around the garden enjoying it without too much regard. One other thing we found: once one was trapped, another moved in, so why bother ;)

  23. Welcome back Skeeter. I have missed you!!!!! Hope things are going well with you parents. Catch us up on the knee and the house.

  24. Yes, welcome back Skeeter. You have been missed.
    How are your parents doing? I hope that they can move back into their home soon.
    What about a knee?

  25. Jean, Lola, it is actually dads hip that jumped out of place but now has to wear a brace to keep his knee straight to allign things back in place. Hopefully, it will come off in a week or so. House is slowly coming along but things should start moving faster next week. So they say anyway. Still in the neighbors apartment for now too but getting into a routine and doing much better emotionally. I dont plan to get back to TN until move in date, that is, unless something else comes up before then.....

  26. I love Voles; they're actually very cute!

  27. I have a huge vole population and trapping them via mouse traps with peanut butter. I think I have gotten at least 15-20 and they can be trapped all year long. Yes, I'm trapping them and I place a bucket over the trap where I see their hole in the ground and BINGO, they take the bait. I shouldn't have to many left.