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Help! My 38-year-old landscape is being destroyed!

Stewart Asked

Until this past summer I’d never heard of a vole, but now I know too much, mainly that they are what some call field mice, about 3 to 4 inches long with a short tail and pointed nose and a huge appetite.

I noticed a number of our trees, shrubs, hostas and every blade of grass appeared to all be dying. Then I discovered nickel and quarter sized holes in the ground around the sick plants and all over the lawn as well.

An internet search revealed my problem to be worse than any garden problem on the planet, Voles!

One female and her offspring can produce literally thousands of these garden terrorists in a single year. They’ve brought with them ticks, fleas, lice and other parasites that we’ve never seen here in the 38 years we’ve lived here.

They’re eating the roots of everything underground by day and coming out to eat all our grass at night.

I’ve counted over 200 holes on our quarter acre meaning I’ve likely got a thousand or more living just inches under my feet yet I’ve found nothing to use to substantially reduce their numbers.

In 2 months I’ve poured $1,500 in traps, castor oil in bulk, cayenne pepper in bulk, 7 different kinds of poison, bait stations and little if any reduction in population seen. Live traps and snap traps didn’t snag a single vole. NEVER LIVE TRAP VOLES TO RELEASE SOMEWHERE ELSE!
Doing the catch and release only caused an infestation to occur on some other innocent person’s property.

Now they have the 200+ pound root balls of expensive 12 foot, newly planted Norway Spruce Cupressina trees completely surrounded and feasting on the tender new roots emerging from the root balls. That was a $5,000 investment for that row of columnar spruce trees. A Local exterminator who knew less about voles than I could only suggest placing poison bait stations around the perimeter of the yard and hope they go in and eat. Voles are smart. When I first tried placing poison mouse and gopher pellets in the hundreds of holes leading to dens, they became wise to it and passed the word to the entire community of voles then they stopped eating it and in most cases, they shoved the pellets back up and out of their holes as if telling me what I can do with my poison pellets.
The cayenne pepper and castor oil did little if anything.

They are literally destroying our yard turning the once smooth ground into a lumpy pitted grassless moonscape where their dens cave in after a hard rain, and the only thing they hadn’t eaten yet are the weeds and crabgrass.
I’m thinking dynamite could help if I go full Bill Murray in Caddyshack.

We may have to sell out and move to a voleless location after having one of the nicest yards in town for the 38 1/2 years we’ve lived here and gardened every day of that time.

Now we live in a battleground and the enemy has us outnumbered a thousand to one.

Please tell us you know of something to do to greatly reduce their numbers.


The Gardener’s Answer

Hi, Stewart: Voles can be very destructive and a challenge to control. They primarily feed on plant material and live in loose soil as this makes it easier for them to dig their tunnels. The tunnels can be a foot deep and contain many adult and young voles. They do not venture very far and are prolific in terms of production; each female can have 30 babies each year.

There are a couple of different kinds of voles but the pine vole is usually the culprit of underground damage. This is especially true if you are pulling up plants and the roots have been eaten or if the bark has actual teeth marks. It sounds like you have done your research and have tried many different control measures. The only other suggestions I have is to let your four-legged friends loose. Dogs and cats especially are great control for these rodents. The Fayette County Cooperative Extension Service may have local suggestions for professional help. You can reach them at (859) 257-5582. For detailed information on pest management, including voles, visit:

As for protecting your new plantings, you can dig a moat-like tunnel around the base of the trees and fill it with course gravel or Permatill which the voles can not dig through. If your neighbors are also having problems they will need to take preventative measures or you both will continue to have problems.

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