How to Get Rid of Voles Humanely in 7 Steps
Learning how to get rid of voles can help you say “Vamoose!” to these underground varmints before they wreak havoc on your landscape.
If you’ve never actually seen a vole, that’s not surprising. The 7-inch-long rodent also known as a meadow mouse is rather shy and spends most of its time underground. They are also easily mistaken for mice, although voles have smaller features and it’s rare to find voles in houses, while mice are relatively common visitors. Yet evidence of the pests’ presence is unmistakable: According to Emory Matts, board certified entomologist and technical service manager for Rentokil Terminix, “Voles will tunnel through the grass and may feed on the grass and other plants in the yard.” Vole holes in yards lead to dying plants and displaced grasses. Unlike moles, which eat grubs and other garden pests, voles love plant matter and won’t hesitate to snack on stems and seeds from your garden. These rodents are especially active in the springtime, just when your yard is coming back from dormancy. So don’t wait to roll up the welcome mat! Follow these DIY control methods and learn how to get rid of voles in your yard for good.
Time required: 3 to 4 weeks
Estimated cost: $20 to $50, or $250 to $600 for professional extermination
Before You Begin…
Do you have voles in the yard? Or is another animal digging holes in the yard? The first telltale sign of voles is their narrow, shallow tunnels that can run all over the surface of the yard (if the tunnel is much bigger than the width of a golf ball, you may need to look up how to get rid of chipmunks instead). Voles are vegetarians, so they may also chew up grass, tree roots, and stems. But since voles hide underground, you may need a wildlife expert to help you identify them. There is some understandable confusion about the difference between voles and moles. Both animals will burrow underground and cause major damage in a yard—however, moles are much more destructive and can dig as far as 200 yards in a single day. They are larger than voles and have unique hand-like claws, and their eyes and ears are not visible. This distinction is important because getting rid of moles requires a completely different approach than getting rid of voles, and the best mole repellents or the best mole traps may not be effective for voles. When learning how to get rid of moles and voles, it is in your best interest as well as that of your property and the surrounding ecosystem to use humane methods whenever possible.
Tips for How to Get Rid of Voles
- Make the yard inhospitable by using some of the best vole repellent and deterrents.
- Use physical barriers to protect plants and trees.
- Invite voles’ natural predators to the yard to ward them off.
- Trap and release voles as local laws allow.
- Avoid touching live voles or carcasses to prevent the spread of disease.
- Use gloves, masks, and eye protection when handling chemical deterrents or poisons.
- Keep children and pets away from traps or areas that have been treated with irritating or poisonous deterrents.
STEP 1: Be a bad host by removing vegetation and cutting off food sources.
Active year-round, voles multiply rapidly, producing up to 100 offspring annually. You may be wondering, “Why are there voles in MY yard?” The likeliest answer is that something is attracting them there. With adequate shelter and a plentiful food supply, a colony will thrive. So your first move is to eliminate environments that make voles feel at home: excess brush and mulch, leaf piles, wood stacks, and tall grasses. If there is an existing vole nest in the yard, it will be cleared away with the rest of the debris during this process. If there are fruit trees on your property, clean up fallen fruit immediately, and rake up pine needles around evergreen trees as well. By cleaning up prospective nesting areas and removing food sources, you’ll create an environment that will make voles decide that the grass looks greener on the other side and decamp.
STEP 2: Go natural with repellents and irritants to discourage voles from your yard.
Nontoxic ways to ward off voles include castor oil, derived from the seeds of the castor plant, and capsaicin, an oil found in hot peppers. Both oils are effective mole and vole repellents. Spraying either substance on your greenery provides a smell and taste voles find unpleasant. It’s a good idea to test these substances on a small part of the plant first and check back after about 24 hours. If there is no damage, spray the rest of the garden and reapply after watering or rainfall. For greater expanses, some of the most effective vole repellents are coyote or fox urine, available at home improvement stores and trapper supply houses (typically priced at about $15 for an 8-ounce bottle). The scent of predators can send voles scrambling. Other repellents include items that many homeowners have on hand—if you have a clove of garlic, a few tablespoons of peppermint or cedar oil, a couple of chopped-up hot peppers, 2 to 3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper, or a few ounces of ammonia, any of these can be combined in a spray bottle with water and a little bit of dish soap for a homemade repellent spray. This formula is most effective near areas of vole activity such as tunnels and nests. Some people may wonder, “Do coffee grounds repel voles?” While it’s likely that coffee grounds have some repellent effect, they can also deplete the nitrogen in the soil and prevent plants from growing. Coffee grounds will need to be used sparingly if at all.
STEP 3: Fence them out and use gravel to keep them away from plants.
Vole “runways” tend to be less obvious in landscapes with loose topsoil. But if you notice plants suddenly drooping for no apparent reason, it’s safe to suspect you have voles in the lawn. The next lesson in how to deter voles is to use a physical barrier. Your best defense is a good mesh fence. To protect roots and bulbs, install rolls of ¼-inch wire mesh fencing secured with stakes throughout your garden. Because these pests are diggers, be sure to bury the fencing at least a foot down. The good news is they don’t like to climb, so fencing need only be a foot tall. Another method is to surround bulb plantings with gravel. Gravel will feel sharp to voles’ feet and make it difficult to dig, so they are likely to move on and try to find food elsewhere. Another option you may not have considered is to use sound to repel nuisance wildlife. The best ultrasonic pest repellers emit a noise that is unpleasant to voles, enough to cause them to stay away. Most of the methods in this section are effective for keeping voles as well as plenty of other animals out of the garden. This is good news if you are also trying to get rid of gophers or give the boot to groundhogs.
STEP 4: Give a hoot—work on attracting predators such as owls to your yard.
Owls also prey on voles, and using barn owls to control rodents is one of the most natural wildlife control methods out there. To encourage their nesting, mount owl nest boxes in your trees (purchase premade boxes or plans to build your own from sources like The Hungry Owl Project). Although these beautiful birds won’t eliminate the vole population entirely, they will reduce their numbers. Other predators like foxes, hawks, and badgers will ward off voles, too, but they may not be as welcome on your property. Letting pet dogs and cats patrol the yard can also intimidate voles and cause them to seek their next meal elsewhere. Don’t rely on outdoor cats to be of much help repelling voles, though—they can’t be bothered going after pests who spend most of their time underground.
STEP 5: Use a live trap and release voles away from home, if legal in your area.
Wondering how to get rid of voles in the yard fast? Although it’s illegal to kill voles in some parts of the country, relocating them is often fair game—and entirely humane. The steel trap made by Havahart (available at home improvement stores and online from stores like The Home Depot), and the Sherman Trap (SNG model), are both effective choices that hold up to 15 voles. Bait traps with peanut butter or apple and set them at a 90-degree angle to the vole “runway.” Once you’ve captured the critters, release them far from residential areas—and at least ½ mile from your home. Remember to check local regulations before releasing wildlife as laws can vary from state to state. Also be mindful of where you are releasing the animals so you aren’t transferring the nuisance from your own yard to someone else’s.
STEP 6: Consider mouse traps or vole poison only as a last resort.
Poison can be a viable way to get rid of voles, but toxins may pose a risk to children, pets, and other wildlife. This approach will need to be considered only as a last resort if you have already researched how to get rid of voles naturally and have been unsuccessful. If extermination is your only option, the safest, most effective poison baits are those that contain warfarin, a slow-acting anticoagulant that prevents the animal’s blood from clotting, eventually leading to death. Laying the traps during the fall and winter season when food is scarce increases the likelihood that the voles will take the bait. You may know how to get rid of mice or other rodents indoors from prior experience, but there are some additional considerations for trapping rodents outdoors. Even if voles are the intended target for a poison trap, there is no foolproof way to prevent other animals from coming along and taking the bait. Not only that, but voles that ingest the poison can be picked up by predators, who may in turn be subject to secondary poisoning. Before administering this type of treatment yourself, consult a pest control specialist for the safest, most effective outcome.
STEP 7: Contact a local pest or wildlife control company for help if your DIY methods fail.
The presence of just a few voles in the yard can usually be addressed fairly easily using one or more of the above methods. However, if these methods fail, it may be necessary to call a wildlife removal specialist for help. Like many rodents, voles are prolific breeders. What may begin as a fairly mild problem can quickly turn into a large-scale infestation. This is especially true since vole populations experience a boom once every few years. If voles happen to find your yard after a mild winter or during one of these population explosions, it may take more than a few traps or a repellent spray to keep them out. If you’re stumped on how to get rid of a vole, wildlife removal experts have the tools and the experience to keep voles out of your yard, as well as the prevention methods to keep them from coming back. What’s more, the best wildlife removal services can advise you on the most humane vole pest control methods.
Signs of pests in the yard can put a huge damper on the growing season. However, the above steps for DIY vole control have been tested by numerous homeowners over the years and will likely get rid of voles effectively. First, remember how to get rid of voles without poison by eliminating potential nesting places and using deterrents such as castor oil or a wire mesh fence. If these are unsuccessful, there is no shame in asking for help from a wildlife specialist or one of the best pest control companies that also handles wildlife control, such as Orkin or Terminix, if the vole problem gets out of hand. With luck and a bit of patience, your lawn and garden will bounce back in no time. “Usually the damage to the grass is not major, and the grass will grow back even if the area is not reseeded or patched,” explains Matts. Once you’ve rid your outdoor space of uninvited guests, replace the plants they’ve ravaged and otherwise spruce up the area. Even if voles have caused significant damage this season, there are plenty of tasks you can do now for a better garden next year. Then, why not ask people over to enjoy your gorgeous garden!