Voles, often called field mice in the United States, are the scourge of many vegetable gardens and can seem impossible to banish. What is the best way to rid your raised garden beds of vole activity?
Here are 7 tips on how to keep voles out of raised garden beds:
- Clear your garden of dead vegetation.
- Dig trenches.
- Try common vole repellents.
- Fence in your garden beds.
- Place hardware cloth in your beds.
- Let your cat hunt outside.
- Implement traps.
The rest of the article is dedicated to the particulars of the tips we suggest. We start with the more accessible, cost-effective methods and finish with the most difficult (though very effective). May you have great success in your battle against the voles!
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1. Clear Your Garden of Dead Vegetation
Voles thrive anywhere that they can avoid being seen. If your garden has tall weeds, dead vegetation, leaves, or some other obstacle that a vole could take advantage of, you ought to clear it out.
Below are some more specific ways to make your garden beds less vole-accessible.
Surround Your Garden Beds With Dirt
An excellent way to prevent voles from accessing your garden beds is to clear the area surrounding the beds completely. If you can clear even a twelve-inch (30.5 cm) space around each of your raised garden beds, you can discourage voles from feasting.
Voles are very wary of clear dirt, and even though they are capable of burrowing, they will be fearful of doing so if they cannot ensure complete safety.
Mow Your Lawn Frequently
Another effective way to scare voles off is by making sure your grass is short. Mowing your lawn every week or as required will go a long way in keeping them away.
The shorter the grass, the less safe the voles feel going wherever they want! If there is grass leading up to your garden beds that you do not want to scrap, just keep the grass closest to the beds extra short.
Keep Dense Ground Covers Away From Garden Beds
If you have giant creepers or low-growing, leafy plants near your raised garden, you might want to consider relocating them. If the voles have places to hide, they will multiply and infect your entire garden.
Keep this in mind whenever you plant new flowers or bushes, too: the best way to prevent garden pests is before they even appear.
2. Dig Trenches
Voles are pesky for sure, but not very intelligent. A small trench at least four inches (10 cm) deep and eleven inches (28 cm) wide around your garden beds will make them turn around.
Make sure the canal is small enough (and far enough away from the beds themselves) that you can step over it and access your garden easily!
A trench is especially useful if it is paired with another method, such as clearing. If you can mow to the edge of the grass and dig a small ditch before the dirt starts, you will be far ahead of the voles’ capacity to reason!
However, if you suspect that the voles are residing in the garden beds themselves, these outer defenses will not be as efficient.
3. Try Common Vole Repellents
There are two schools of thought regarding common vole repellents: the camp that swears by them and the camp for which they never seem to work.
That warning given, I decided I might as well give you the options. If they work for you, that is fantastic, and if they do not, you have not wasted much time or money. So here we go!
A number of at-home repellents are based on smells that voles are not supposed to like: castor oil is one of them (source).
People have successfully gotten rid of voles by spraying castor oil around the outside of their garden beds and near identified vole holes. Castor oil will not hurt your plants or soil and is worth a shot if you have some lying around.
Garlic is another smell that voles are rumored to detest. If you want to try this method, simply put a tube of garlic into the holes of your troublesome voles. If all goes well, they will abandon their dwellings and seek nutrients beyond the boundaries of your garden.
Hot sauce, like castor oil, is a cheap way to potentially deter voles from eating your produce. The catch with this one is that you should not spray it near the part of the plant you plan on eating.
You can put it on leaves, a little bit in the ground as a barrier, and a lot in vole holes. With some luck, your voles will not be fans of spice and will flee the premises.
You are not likely to have anti-vole sound spikes lying around your house, so you will have to find them at a garden store. Nevertheless, these sound-emitting spikes can be easily placed in the ground in an attempt to chase away your unwanted vole visitors.
It is a solid plan to try and does not hurt the plants you are protecting in the slightest.
One of the most effective scent repellents to use on voles is the urine of their predators. Fox urine, bobcat urine, coyote urine, and even your cat’s urine may prove most repugnant to your voles.
These urines will also do nothing to harm your plant, especially if sprinkled outside the raised garden itself. With luck, you should be able to spread the stuff once around your plants, and your voles will soon be history.
Granulated Vole Repellent
Granulated vole repellent (such as you would buy at a gardening store) is another viable option if you want to rid yourself of voles without totally re-imagining your garden.
This kind of vole repellent may have more success than at-home methods but is by no means one hundred percent effective all of the time. Still, there is no reason not to try sprinkling it in your garden just in case your voles are susceptible.
Note on Vole Repellents
All vole repellents besides the sound spike will need to be reapplied to the ground frequently. Rain or watering will wash away the scent, which is the whole point of the defense.
Also, if the repellent is used often, the voles will become used to the smell, and it will no longer deter them. Your best chance at making a repellent work is to surprise and disgust the voles, so they leave immediately.
4. Fence in Your Garden Beds
Fencing in your garden beds, especially underground, is one of the better-lauded ways of getting rid of your voles. It can be a little challenging to implement (depending on your garden bed situation) but very worth your time! We have mapped out the fencing into a step-by-step process below!
- Purchase unrusting, one-quarter-inch (.64-cm) mesh fencing.
- Dig a trench around your garden beds for the fencing, three to six inches (7.62 to 15.24 cm) deep .
- Place the fencing around your raised garden beds with an L-shaped bend facing away from the plants.
- Let the fence poke up above the ground, four to twelve inches (10 to 30.5 cm).
This fencing will prevent voles from digging underneath your garden beds and accessing the plants. Voles are not known for chewing through wire fencing.
And as long as you buy small enough mesh that they cannot fit through the holes, you will not need to replace the fencing for a long time.
Here’s a great example of fencing in the garden bed by actually trenching down into the ground to prevent voles from digging under it:
5. Place Hardware Cloth in Your Beds
Hardware cloth is very similar to fencing but is placed inside the raised beds and not around them. Adding hardware cloth can be a little more time-intensive as it requires you to remove the soil from the beds altogether, but will hopefully be worth it! We outline the process more thoroughly in the steps below.
- Purchase hardware cloth with one-quarter inch (.64-cm) mesh (enough to line the bottoms of all your beds and come up the sides at least two inches or 5 cm) and roofing nails.
- Lay a tarp next to your garden beds.
- Remove ALL soil and plants gently from the garden beds and place them on the tarp.
- Lay the hardware cloth at the bottom of the bed and nail the sides of the fabric at least two inches (5 cm) up the side of the bed.
- Replace the soil and replant your vegetables.
Like fencing, hardware cloth will ensure that no voles can dig up into the raised bed from underneath the trough. Unlike fencing, though, no one will know that you have this anti-vole protection.
6. Let Your Cat Hunt Outside
Cats are natural predators of voles and are patient enough (and smart enough!) to catch a number at a time. If you have an indoor cat that longs to hunt outdoors, this might be her chance to show her quality!
A cat may not completely solve your vole problem, but there is a reasonable probability of the vole population diminishing in light of a hunting cat.
Some cat owners might be wary of letting their cats hunt for their own food, but it is perfectly natural.
The only reason I would discourage a cat owner from letting their cat hunt voles is if their garden has unsafe plants or if their cat enjoys catch-and-release hunting (in which case you would have frightened voles but not fewer voles).
The vole has other predators such as foxes, owls, hawks, and some varieties of snakes. Unfortunately, voles are intelligent enough not to be scared from a garden by a fake owl.
If you do not own a cat, you are unlikely to be able to rely on predators to rid you of your voles.
7. Implement Traps
I saved the most distasteful method for last but did not exclude it altogether because voles really are nasty little pests. There are a couple of different trap options for you and your voles, and I will list them below.
Live traps are a humane way to rid yourself of voles and ensure that they do not bother your garden again.
The best kind of live trap is made for small rodents and comes with two doors. It would be best if you placed the trap at a common vole-crossing (that is, a path that seems to have been used by many voles, often identifiable by droppings). For better success, you can bait the trap with peanut butter.
While you will not be killing voles by this method, there are a few other obstacles to overcome. Local authorities often frown upon trapping and releasing rodents into new areas, so you will have to check your city’s regulations before using live traps.
Another downside is that you will not catch many voles at a time, and you will have to check the traps frequently.
However, if you trap a vole and are unsure what to do with it afterward, you can try bringing it to a wildlife rehabilitation center rather than releasing it into the wild yourself. At the very least, you know they will look after it and prevent a transition back to other people’s gardens.
Mouse traps are also suitable for trapping voles. You can place any mouse trap you choose at the entrance to a vole hole or around your plants.
All trapping is best done in autumn or winter as the voles will be likelier than usual to fall for a sketchy food situation. Disposal of a dead vole is not fun, but at least (apparently) more legal than disposal of a live vole!
However your war against the voles came to be, we are confident that you can win through some combination of the above tips.
Though you will doubtless have setbacks, voles are thankfully less stubborn than many small rodents (though it may not seem that way when you are looking at chewed-up carrots and potatoes.)
Whichever methods work best for your garden, we wish you easy implementation and speedy results!
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