When your garden suffers from an infestation of voles it is easy to lose your spirit. Some years are called vole years when the infestations are massive. Some have constant issues with voles and some have it now and again. Depending on your situation regarding the extent of the infestation you have to find an appropriate strategy. In my case I have only had small (but still some) visits by the voles through the years until this winter when I suffered a big infestation under a large bed discovered due to a small leaning tree. My first thought was that it was not worth trying to fix the flowerbed with new plants. But then I changed my mind and I will make an attempt to fix it by predominantly choosing plants that voles usually don’t touch, according to the information I have found and been given. As far as I understand there is no safe bet and even if the plants or roots don’t get eaten, they might be undermined by the burrows and therefore still die. The voles also need to be disturbed by sound, vibration, a generally hostile environment and you need to protect the plants as much as possible. Our cat, that has only been able to catch small mice, is not much help. However I am told that a vole hound is the best thing to have.
Tips and methods for when you are suffering from a vole infestation or to be used as preventative measures.
This compilation is built on information that you can find at SLU (The Swedish University of Agriculture), companies that work with vole control, gardening companies, all kinds of gardening forums online, organisations and tips given on Instagram etc.
- Make it a hostile place for the voles by keeping your lawn cut short and don’t leave any heaps of rubbish or similar things where the voles can hide.
- Make a lot of noise, stamp around and disturb the voles. Also stamp to the burrows you’ve found. Very important to stamp around your trees and bushes in the autumn, also to stamp again when snow has arrived.
- Primarily choose plants that they don’t like. See below!
- Line the planting hole or cover the root ball with a fine mesh. Choose a chicken wire with a finer mesh size, the 13 mm is supposed to work well according to several sources. I have on the other hand seen it recommended to not use anything larger than 9 mm.
- Wrap the stems of newly planted trees with rodent protection or a fine wire mesh that goes down a fair way into the ground. About 5-10cm.
- Use traps or live traps. There are different types. Remember not to touch the traps with your bare hands. The voles can smell your scent. Only use gloves that get used for this purpose and it is good if you leave them outside to get neutralized by the outside air between times.
- Vole scarers with sound and vibration to be stuck into the ground. The voles can get used to it after a while so you should if possible change the frequency now and again. Also, don’t forget to change the batteries. There are different types of solar powered vole scarers. These can’t be in hidden places, beneath plants and undergrowth though since the panel needs access to the sunlight. A battery one can be completely hidden.
- Dig down bottles half way, the sound it makes is supposed to be deterring. Try with water in the bottle to vary the sound.
- Gas them in their burrows; there are different methods. Carbide, exhaust from a car, smoke cartridges are some examples.
- Use a vole gun that shoots compressed air into their burrows.
- Put bad smelling things into their holes like surströmming (fermented fish), a piece of fabric, paper or similar thing drenched in birch tar or vinegar, chicken manure, garlic, chopped twigs from cedar or juniper.
- Coffee grains, chilli pepper, finely crushed shells and human hair in their burrows are also supposed to deter them.
- Put twigs from cedar or chokecherry around the plants you want to protect.
- Get a cat or dog that hunts the voles.
- Make perching spots for birds of prey.
- There are different kinds of odour repellents that you can purchase and spread and thereby scare the voles away.
- Dig down a protective barrier, like an underground wall, that is meant to prevent their underground rampage. The protective barrier can most likely be made out of different materials but there are specifically made ones sold at vole control companies.
Already last autumn
I actually saw the first signs of voles at the first frost last autumn by the infested (and partly newly dug and remade) flowerbed. I stamped down the burrows and put down vole scarers with sound and vibration, but then winter came.
It is not completely simple. I think I believed that the voles had retreated now during the spring since I have started to be outside more and to top that had been stamping around the flowerbed. But no. I found a new hole in the mangled flowerbed from one day to another.
My current strategy
- Take out the living plants. There are quite a few. Although there is no guarantee that they would survive if they stayed in. The chance is fairly high that the voles’ burrows will have undermined them and made the roots hang in mid air.
- Re dig the whole flowerbed so that all their burrows are destroyed and then start from scratch.
- Try to plug all the cavities in the wall, which is the voles’ prime entrance. It will be impossible to get it impregnable without tearing the wall down and raising a new solid one. I will probably put something deterring into the cavities as far as I can (haven’t yet decided on what) and then fill it with concrete where possible.
- Possibly dig down a barrier along the back edge of the flowerbed closest to the connection with the wall. The challenge is that it needs to go down to about a metre as far as I understand. But I’m thinking any obstacle is an obstacle and if I can get a barrier down to 30-50 cm then it is better then nothing.
- Use vole scarers with sound and vibration that get put down into the ground. At least three in the flowerbed and a few more in other places. After having a conversation with a person from the company Skadedjursbekämpning.nu (a pest control company) I was recommended to ‘overdose’ with them to disturb the voles properly instead of only having a few that they might get used to.
- Choose plants that there is experience of voles disliking.
- Take a chance on some plants that they should dislike but that I have not found mentioned anywhere, I’m mostly thinking that all poisonous plants should be alright, like the climbing aconitum for example. I have not seen the aconitum being part of list of plants voles shun but it feels like it should be.
- Wrap the roots of the bushes (and trees) that are to be replanted with chicken wire. The challenge is to not wrap it too tight so that there is enough space for the tree to grow.
- The winter will always be a challenge. I’m considering laying traps before the snow comes. Once there is snow on the ground the traps will be difficult to handle. After consulting with Skadedjursbekämpning.nu I’ve decided to leave the vole scarers in the ground after it has frozen even though the manufacturer doesn’t recommend it. The part that doesn’t work as well in frozen ground is the vibrations, but there should not be an issue with the sound. The important thing is to change the batteries whilst it is still possible to get them out of the ground so that they don’t run out before it thaws again.
– P L A N T S –
The plant that are often mentioned as ‘safe’
Allium, sometimes referred to in Sweden as vole onion, is often mentioned as a plant that voles don’t touch and to some extent deters them and protects other plants from infestation. I am therefore thinking that they should be a safe plant to use. But not always. I have read about people having their Alliums eaten too. However the majority seems to agree that it is a safe one, which seems promising. All sorts of smelly onion plants are mentioned in several places as vole deterring plants. Crown imperial (Frialliaria imperialis) Spring onion (Allium cepa x fistulosum) Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) garlic (Allium sativum) and Allium Aflatunense (krigislök), all sorts of alliums are seen as plants that the voles can’t stand due to their odour.
According to Ewa Wirén at SLU* the following perennials are not appreciated by voles and are recommended to use if you are suffering from an infestation.
* Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Artemisia – Wormwood
Aquilegia – Columbine
Convalaria – Lily of the valley
Dicentra spectabilis – Bleeding heart
Digitalis – Foxglove
Fritillaria imperialis – Crown imperial
Helenium – Sneezeweed
Leucanthemum – Daisy
Levisticum officinale- Lovage
Lysmacchia punctata – Loosestrife
Melissa officinalis – Lemon balm
Narcissus – Daffodil
Papaver croceum – Arctic poppy
Thymus – Thyme
Verbascum – Mullein
Buddleja davidii – Butterfly bush
Hydrangea anomala ssp petpolaris – climbing hydrangea
Philadelphus – mock orange
Picea abies – Norway spruce
Rosa dumalis – Dogrose
Spiraea – Spirea
Syringa – Lilac
Weeds that voles can’t stand: Meliot and Hound’s tongue.
Other plants that from experience has survived voles
Varieties of Hibiscus
Dwarf Lady’s mantle
Daylilies (Although I have heard they have been eaten too)
Yellow bells (perhaps all fritillarias?)
The Dogwood is untouched (I have three in the flowerbed) The Cherry tree (Prunus eminenes ‘Umbraculifera’) stood swaying and had several of its roots eaten. Hopefully it can be rescued. Decided to move it so that there is no chance of the voles eating the remaining roots. Amongst the plants that are counted as survivors is the climbing Hortensia. But obviously not all Hortensias are safe. In the flowerbed are several different varieties (no climbing hortensia) and the voles managed to eat all or part of the roots on two or three whilst the rest were untouched. I don’t actually know what to do here. Would love to keep the hortensias, but obviously the voles like at least some varieties. I’ll never find out why some got left. Was there something more edible close by maybe? Or is there a difference in the varieties? One that was apparently liked or just handy was ‘Limelight’
Plants that pulled through in my garden.
Corkscrew hazel, red leaves
Bowle’s golden grass
Hortensias (but some got eaten too)
All ground covering plants (bugle, yellow archangel)
All varieties of Orpine
Dwarf Lady’s mantle
Triple-nerved pearly everlasting
Monk’s hood ‘Ivorine’
White wood aster
Plants that did not make it at my place (or were infested)
Purple-leaf sand cherry.
The cherry tree, Prunus eminens ‘Umbraculifer’ (almost all the roots were eaten)
A couple of hydrangeas.
Tulips (although quite a few were left as well)
Lilies (three different varieties)
Most likely more plants as well – there will be an update when the whole flowerbed is dug up.
Well, now there is quite a lot of work needed before it is possible to replant and make an attempt on a flowerbed that will cope with having voles around. When everything is finished and planted I will post about it again and write about my thoughts around it all and what plants I will finally have chosen. Watch this space!