Voles: they’re tiny animals that can drive homeowners and gardeners crazy!
Known for creating networks of deep, crisscrossing tunnels, voles can wreak havoc on a lawn or garden. If you’ve ever wondered how to get rid of voles, you’re not alone.
Here at Smith’s Pest Management, our team specializes in helping clients in and around the San Francisco Bay area identify the best way to get rid of voles in their yard, so we know a thing or two about the process.
We’ll share our top tips and tricks to help you become a vole extermination master in this post.
- Voles are tiny digging rodents that create elaborate networks of crisscrossing tunnels. These tunnels can destroy your lawn or garden and even kill trees.
- You can identify vole damage in your yard by looking for 1-2” paths on the surface of your turf, vole burrows that look like holes around the bases of trees, noticeable gnaw marks on plants or trees, exposed stems, and dead plants.
- Get rid of voles in your yard by removing excess vegetation, wrapping the lower trunk of young trees, using live traps, or deploying natural repellants like castor oil.
- You can also hire a professional pest management company to help you get rid of voles – these experts will deploy vole poisons, repellents, and traps to get rid of voles.
What are Voles?
Meadow voles (scientific name Microtus pennsylvanicus) are sometimes called meadow mice. They’re some of the most prolific, common, and numerous mammals in North America.
Like mice, voles are small creatures – with chunky bodies that are about 7” long. They have short tails and small, furred ears. They tend to be brown in color, with dark gray bellies and brown feet.
They can be easily distinguished from moles, which are much larger and have clawed front feet, and shrews, which are smaller and more slender.
Can Voles Damage My Lawn and Yard?
The short answer is yes.
Voles can be very damaging to a lawn and yard. They love to chew the vulnerable stems of young trees and woody ornamental plants, causing severe damage and dieback.
Voles also cause considerable turf damage, which most homeowners discover in the spring.
All winter long, snow cover protects voles from predators and provides shelter for feeding. In the spring, when the snow melts, homeowners often find the telltale “runways” of a vole infestation.
These runways look like raised tunnels in the grass surface and are formed when voles feed within the turf canopy.
As voles feed in these “runways,” they chew plants down to the growing point at ground level, impeding later plant growth.
They also leave layers of excrement along the runways and wear down the grass surface with their foot traffic.
How Do I Know If I Have Voles in My Yard?
Here are a few sure-fire signs of voles in your yard:
- Paths 1”-2” wide in the turf surface.
- Vole burrows look like holes in the lawn or around the bases of trees. Unlike molehills, these dens do not feature soil mounding.
- Spaces where the grass of the lawn is suddenly very short.
- Noticeable gnaw marks on the stems of woody plants and young trees.
- Exposed stems that have been gnawed to a pointed tip.
- Dead plants that, when lifted, have no root structure remaining.
Since voles multiply rapidly, producing 5-10 litters each year with an average of five young per litter, vole populations can quickly spiral out of control.
With this in mind, it’s important to act quickly to control voles.
We recommend contacting a professional pest management company like Smith’s at the first sign of a vole infestation in your yard.
How to Get Rid of Voles: 5 Humane Ways
You’ve worked hard to create a beautiful outdoor space, and now you want to protect it.
Follow these tips to enjoy a healthy, vole-free yard:
1. Remove vegetation
Voles don’t like to feed out in the open.
As such, one of the easiest ways to control their numbers is through habitat modification.
Remove dense ground cover, keep the lawn mowed, keep mulch light around trees and shrubs, and keep up on snow removal.
2. Protect young trees
Voles love to gnaw on the trunks of young trees. To discourage this behavior and remove a favorite food source, wrap the lower trunk of young trees with a guard, like a wire mesh or plastic tubing. If you need help with this, reach out to your local arborist.
3. Use live traps
Live vole traps have one purpose: to trap animals without killing or injuring them.
Although live traps may not be the best bet for severe vole infestations, they’re a great way to control vole numbers or remove a few individual animals.
Just be sure that you remove the voles as far as possible when you release them, or you may find that they come right back to your property.
4. Use natural repellants
Like most sensible animals (and people), voles hate the taste and smell of castor oil. Sprinkling a bit of it around your landscaping can deter the rodents.
Voles also dislike capsaicin, the potent compound in peppers that makes them taste spicy.
To deter voles naturally, mix chopped hot peppers with water and biodegradable dish soap. Spray vole hotspots in your lawn and landscaping with the mixture to prevent voles from nibbling on your plants.
Natural repellents can be just as effective as conventional methods.
Here at Smith’s, we’re often asked, “do coffee grounds repel voles?” While there is some evidence that coffee grounds can repel moles, voles, and other destructive rodents, be careful how much you apply.
Dumping a large amount of coffee grounds on your soil can cause nitrogen depletion, making it difficult for anything to grow.
Instead, opt for a light sprinkle in areas where you’ve noticed vole activity.
5. Contact a professional pest management company
If you want a fast, comprehensive vole removal service, the best option is to hire a professional team.
Smith’s Pest Management offers eco-conscious meadow vole control services in the San Francisco Bay Area that will end the infestation and help you reclaim your lawn.
3 Conventional Ways to Get Rid of Voles
Conventional methods to get rid of voles include kill traps and vole poison. These methods are fast and effective options to get rid of voles, but they’re not without risks.
Here at Smith’s, we advise against conventional vole removal methods since most are not humane, and no-kill methods are just as effective.
That said, here’s a breakdown of three of the most common conventional methods to get rid of voles:
1. Vole Poisons
Vole positions are substances designed to kill voles upon ingestion.
The poisons may mimic the smell or appearance of popular vole food sources and generally kill the animals within 12-24 hours of consumption.
Most states make anticoagulant and zinc phosphide baits available for pest management professionals and consumers alike.
These baits are most effective when broadcast in infected areas or placed within established runways beneath a piece of plywood (this protects non-target species from consuming the baits).
Pros: Effective, fast
Cons: May poison non-target species, presents a risk of secondary poisoning for animals (like pets and birds of prey) who eat poisoned voles
Chemical vole repellents are effective ways to push voles out of their burrows and encourage them to leave your property.
Pros: Effective, fast
Cons: Often include dangerous chemicals, may not be safe for use around kids and pets
Vole traps kill voles instantly and can be an effective way to eliminate large vole populations in your yard.
For smaller vole populations, a dozen or so snap traps should be efficient. For best results, we recommend placing them at right angles to established vole runways, with the trigger of the trap extending into the runway.
To bait the traps, sprinkle the trigger of the trap with oatmeal. Reset and re-bait the traps daily until they stop catching voles.
When the traps are active, keep grassy and weedy areas surrounding the traps well-mowed, which reduces shelter for voles.
Pros: Fast, effective, poison-free
Cons: Require you to check and change traps frequently, and dispose of dead voles
How do Rodent Control Professionals Get Rid of Voles?
What can you expect when you hire a rodent control team like Smith’s to get rid of voles?
Here’s the process our team follows:
Before we can eliminate voles from your property, we need to know where they live.
During our preliminary inspection, we’ll identify vole paths and burrows and note any vole-damaged areas of your lawn.
We’ll also check for signs of other pest infestations that could worsen your vole problem.
2. Development of a Management Plan
Based on the results of our initial inspection, our team will develop a management plan to resolve your vole problem.
Smith’s uses integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques that involve a combination of trapping and habitat modification.
We’ll recommend the right treatment options based on the severity of your vole infestation and the characteristics of your property.
3. Vole Control
Next, we’ll deploy our vole control measures.
Our vole control techniques include ground-tamper-resistant no-kill traps, bait holes and bait stations, and carbon monoxide injection methods, all of which are effective, quick ways to get rid of voles.
4. Follow-up Treatments
Once we’ve completed your initial vole control treatment, we’ll provide recommendations for follow-up treatments, as needed.
Our ongoing control methods include both baiting and trapping, which will keep your property vole-free for years to come.
Vole Control FAQs
1. How long does it take to get rid of voles?
The answer to this question depends on which method you use. For example, if you’ve chosen to set live traps, you can expect to spend about 3-4 weeks reducing your vole population.
If you prefer to hire a professional pest control service for vole control, you’ll see much faster results.
Companies like Smith’s Pest Management provide prompt removal services to help you quickly reclaim your property.
2. Are voles dangerous?
Voles are not a physical threat to people, but they can spread disease.
When voles urinate or defecate on your property, they can introduce parasites and diseases like salmonellosis, leptospirosis, and Machupo virus.
Many of these conditions are transmissible to people and domestic pets.
3. What are the differences between moles and voles?
While the names sound similar, voles and moles are not the same animals. Although they may both make tunnels in your yard, there are some critical differences between the rodents.
Here’s a breakdown:
Voles look like field mice. They are small rodents with round, compact bodies, short tails, ears that lie close to their bodies, and small eyes. They’re typically about 5-8 inches long and have large teeth meant to gnaw plant stems and roots.
Voles are known for their tendency to dig. They make tunnels in the soil and create golf ball-sized exit holes in existing mole tunnels. Voles eat plants.
Like many other rodents, they enjoy a vegetarian diet, gnawing away at the stems of plants and grass blades. Their tunnels tend to be near the surface of a garden or yard because of their preferred food sources.
When voles are present on your property, you may notice previously healthy plants keeled over with their roots chewed off. Once voles establish a colony, they breed quickly, so controlling the spread is essential.
Unlike voles, moles are not rodents. Instead, they’re small mammals that spend much of their lives underground, digging tunnels.
They’re between 4-7 inches long with large, paddle-shaped feet and prominent claws that help them move soil.
Their distinctly-shaped heads and snouts are elongated, and they have small eyes and no external ears.
Their bodies are covered in dense, brown-gray fur that has no grain. This allows the mole to move quickly in all directions underground.
Moles are prolific diggers. They’re known for creating volcano-shaped hills in lawns and garden soil. According to the Home & Garden Information Center at Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension:
[Mole] tunnels are dug at a rate of 18 feet per hour. Moles can add 150 feet of new tunnels in the lawn each day. Moles are expert diggers that will consume up to 60 to 100% of their body weight in insects, grubs, and earthworms each day. This equates to a 5-ounce mole eating 50 pounds of its prey in a year.
While moles, like voles, tunnel in gardens, it’s a misconception that they do so to eat the roots of plants. Instead, they target earthworms that live in the garden soil.
If moles are damaging your garden, hire professional mole control services to stop the cycle or read about how to get rid of them here.
4. How do you fix a vole-damaged lawn?
If voles have damaged your lawn, you want to restore it quickly.
Here are a few quick tips:
- Give the entire lawn surface a gentle rake to break up debris and excrement in vole runways and promote lawn growth.
- Fill in vole pathways with topsoil.
- Fertilize and overseed any areas of thin or chewed-down grass.
- Prune and fertilize trees or shrubs that voles have gnawed on.
If you have severe vole damage in your lawn, hire a professional company that offers turf and ornamental treatments.
Are Voles Taking Over Your San Francisco Bay Area Yard? We Can Help!
Don’t live with voles and the damage they do to your outdoor spaces. Hire a professional pest management company to help.
Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we specialize in solutions-based, comprehensive vole control for homeowners in and around the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the Santa Cruz and Monterey areas.
Whether you’re trying to protect your garden or wanting to keep your beautiful yard vole-free all winter long, our team can help.