How to Get Rid of Voles in Your Yard
What are voles?
Voles, also known as field mice, are small rodents that frustrate homeowners and gardeners every single year in Alberta! They race around at night and eat the roots of your lawn, leaving 2.5-5cm wide trails in the grass. This is most apparent in the spring, as the grass has stopped growing all winter so the tracks are much more obvious! If you are wondering how to get rid of voles, you came to the right place!
Every single year at Standard Pest Control we help hundreds of clients protect their lawns, gardens and trees from these pesky creatures. After performing thousands of services over the years, we have learned a few things about how to get rid of them.
In this post, we’ll share our top tips and t ricks to help you rid yourself of your vole problem for good, as well as the best strategies to prevent voles from nesting on your property in the first place!
How Do I Know If I Have Voles in My Yard?
Voles leave a few telltale signs behind wherever they are nesting. Here are the most common ones to be on the lookout for:
This is by far the most common sign of vole activity on a property, especially when the weather cools down and the grass cannot regrow as quickly. Voles will eat the base of each blade of grass near ground level, killing the grass and leaving a distinctive pattern behind. They will do this year round, and as the snow melts you can actually see their patterns in the snow!
Voles will often nest undergroundwhich can cause substantial damage (more on this below). They will leave entrances, typically about the size of a toonie or a ping pong ball. We often see this underneath concrete, such as walkways, driveways, sidewalks, and patios. Every fall you should walk around the foundation of your house as well, often they will tunnel underneath the foundation or underneath the slabs that hold up A/C units. If left unnoticed or untreated, this can cause catastrophic damage.
Voles will chew the bark on small trees and bushes around the base of the plant. This can be harder to see without a trained eye, but if you have a bush that is mysteriously drying out no matter how much you water it, pull back the branches and have a look. More often than not this is the work of voles (more on this below)! Their gnawing looks like someone stripped the bark off of the plant using a pocket knife or sand paper (see photos above)!
Dead or Missing Garden Plants
Missing bulbs? Veggie garden ravished? Garden looking more sparse than usual? Voles are the number one suspect here, although deer and other pests in Alberta will also cause similar damage. This one can be harder to diagnose, but oftentimes when a gardener complains about missing plants we are able to solve this by eliminating the voles.
How Worried Should I Be About Voles and Vole Damage?
Most people are worried about voles coming inside. Fortunately, this is extremely rare and not something you should be worried about. Voles rarely ever make it inside, and when they do, it is generally by accident. Unlike mice, voles are content outside year round and can survive even in the extreme cold.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t be worried about voles. Voles are extremely destructive and can cause all kinds of damage to your property. Below I am going to break down the most common types of damage we see.
Destroyed Lawns & Gardens
Spring can be a shocking time for people who had voles in the winter but were not aware of it. From just a few tracks to total lawn destruction, voles act quickly and can do substantial damage to your lawn over the winter. This can be extremely frustrating and a nuisance to fix, however (aside from the most extreme cases) this generally doesn’t result in huge out of pocket expenses. In the spring, voles will feed on your delicious gardens (especially veggie gardens), however other than the frustrations and cost of the plants, this should not cause a huge financial loss for you.
Washed Out Burrows
As discussed above, voles love to burrow underground, especially underneath concrete and pavement. The concrete will absorb the heat from the sun during the day, keeping their nests cool, and then release that heat throughout the night, keeping them warm. Despite the small size of the entrance, these burrows can be massive underground and home to a number of critters. When the snow melts and the rain starts falling in the spring, the water can quickly fill the burrows and wash them out, causing the structure above to sink, crack and collapse. I have seen this happen to many driveways, walkways and other structures on the property. If you see tunnelling underneath something that you want to stay in place, you should definitely get that taken care of right away!
The last type of damage that voles cause is when they eat the bases of small trees and plants, which is referred to as girdling. This is very common throughout Alberta. When the voles strip the bark off of the plant, they restrict its ability to get water to the end of that branch, which causes it to dry out. If you have found damage on your trees or bushes, you can generally save the plant if the damage is not too substantial and the voles are eliminated right away to prevent further girdling. If you have ever had new trees planted, you know that they are not cheap and this is not something you want to take lightly! Juniper bushes are a favourite of both voles and Alberta homeowners. Their low cover provides safety for voles and a great place to hide, and we will often find girdling taking place on these.
Too Late… How Can I Fix My Lawn?
We are experts on preventing vole damage, not repairing it, however there are a few steps you can take if the voles have already done some damage.
- Rake the entire lawn to clean up the dead grass they left behind. Voles feed on the roots of the grass, which leaves the actual blade of grass behind to die on your lawn. It is best to clean these up and let your lawn breathe.
- Repair the damage using a mixture of soil, fertilizer and seed that matches your current lawn situation.
- Wait. Typically we see vole damage clearing up by mid to late summer. Nature takes time to heal.
How Can I Prevent Voles?
Pest control is mostly sanitation and prevention. Most pest problems can be avoided, or at least the damage can be mitigated, by taking certain steps throughout the year to prevent unwanted pest activity.
Remove their hiding places
Voles don’t like to be out in the open, which is why you most likely haven’t seen very many of them before. They prefer to hide in bushes, long grass, under decks, and underneath the bases of large trees. Trimming your trees a few inches up off the ground, trimming back or removing bushes (especially juniper bushes!), and keeping your grass short is the best line of defence.
Cover up vulnerable trees
Small trees are particularly susceptible to vole damage and should be protected from them, especially if you live in an area with higher than normal levels of activity. You can do this by applying a protective layer around the base of the tree, such as wire mesh, plastic tubing, or sheet metal. This will prevent voles from being able to kill off your trees.
Contact a professional pest management company (like us!)
If you have done step 1, your next best line of defence is to call a professional in to help you with this. There are a few things to look out for when choosing a company to look after your voles which will be covered in the next section!
Which Company Should I Call?
There are a few factors that you should consider when choosing a pest management company to look after your home.
Do they specialize in voles?
Most companies will offer to service pretty much anything, however voles take a special skill set and are best handled by someone with specific experience taking care of them.
What are the environmental impacts?
Different products have different environmental impacts. If you live in an area with lots of birds, wildlife or natural areas nearby, it is important to consider the environmental impact of the treatment you choose. Not all treatments have the same impact on the surrounding areas! To read our environmental policy, click here.
Do they offer any warranty or guarantee?
As we always say, the most expensive pest control service is the one that doesn’t work. You should ensure that the company you choose offers a comprehensive warranty or guarantee and stands behind their work (secret: most companies don’t!). To read more about our industry-leading service guarantee, click here.
Do I Need a One Time Service or Ongoing Pest Management?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to residential pest management. Some people and companies believe in extermination. When they have a problem, they call someone to eliminate it. The other group of people and companies believe in avoiding pest problems in the first place. Although we are well equipped to handle any problems you may be facing, we specialize in designing customized prevention plans for your home and property.
In some cases, voles are isolated to your own property and a single treatment can last for years. Most of the time, however, voles are coming from a nearby location, such as a field, park, forest or ravine. Preventing damage from them requires ongoing management.
Regardless of your situation, you can call us anytime to book an inspection where a technician will walk the property with you, assess your situation, and let you know what type of treatment your property requires.