Northern Nevada gardening and landscaping: controlling voles | Carson City Nevada News

After ground squirrels, the other problem rodents I deal with annually are voles, also known as meadow mice. The first signs of these destructive animals are golf ball-sized holes that represent the entrances to their underground tunnels. There are dozens of holes in our garden in the lawn, flower and shrub beds. Voles also make flat, grassy runways through the lawn. These runways connect many shallow caves.

Unfortunately, voles are active all year round, breed all year round (five to 10 litters per year with three to six young each) and often cause considerable damage to wooden plants under the snow. According to the University of California’s Davis Integrated Pest Management (UCDIPM) program, “multiple adults and adolescents can occupy a building.” A system can be a few hundred square feet. The populations fluctuate from year to year. A vole lives about a year.

Voles eat a variety of plants and parts of plants, including grasses, flowers, vegetables, tubers, onions, bark above and below the ground, and roots of trees and shrubs. If you have juniper, you may now notice dead or dying branches, which indicate where voles ate the bark and internal tissues that killed the branch. Look for gnaws.

Prevention is, as they say, worth a pound of cure. The populations need to be controlled before they become large. Removing the vegetation, grass clippings, mulch, or leaves they’re hiding under is one way to reduce their numbers. I’ve raked our beds to expose the bare floor so the hawks and neighboring cats can get to the voles. We should have mowed the lawn a lot shorter in the fall, which would have eliminated long grass for hiding.

UCDIPM says areas around tree trunks should be four feet long free of mulch, grass, or ground cover because voles don’t like open areas. To protect gardens, place fences with a mesh size of 1/4 inch or smaller, at least 30 cm high and buried 6 to 10 cm deep. Wrap or cover decorative items with hardware cloth, sheet metal, or heavy plastic to protect them. Make sure there is space between the material and the trunk to allow the trunk to grow.

Mousetraps placed at right angles over runways help. You might need a dozen for a small garden and up to 50 for a large area (UCDIPM). They set off the trap as they go through. Empty them of dead rodents and reset them daily. Keep catching until you stop catching them there and then move the traps to another location. Because voles can transmit infectious diseases, you shouldn’t treat them without rubber gloves. Wrap them in plastic and throw them in the trash. Pest control is a never-ending battle.

More information can be found here.

– JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at

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