We also have a problem with root crop nibblers. We thought it was voles but now we aren't sure if it isn't mice following mole tunnels. Lots of busy critters. I'm guessing it's your root crops being damaged but maybe you could post back with more information. I found with sweet potatoes that planting in twelve inch ridges helps and also digging a little early.
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Thank you for your reply! Indeed i am talking about roots, but not only of crops, but also trees. What methods could i use to drive them away, prefering not to kill them? I was thinking about some catch and release traps, but sadly that only catches the parent voles.
Location: Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep clay/loam with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
Damage: Lets first clear the air from some misconceptions. Moles do not eat plant material. Voles do. Moles do burrow and make unsightly dirt mounds in turf, but they will not damage plants by feeding. Moles feed on insects, earthworms and other soil invertebrates. Pesky voles are likely responsible for most vertebrate feeding damage in your garden and landscape plants, not moles.
Voles feed on a variety of herbaceous plants and grasses. Voles feed on above and below ground plant parts such as foliage, seeds, stems, roots and bulbs. Voles are pretty benign and may go unnoticed during the spring and summer because of the availability of food during these times. For bulbs and plants with succulent roots, damage by voles can be immediate with obvious losses of plants and tubers. Small trees can also be very vulnerable, however symptoms may not be noticed until spring. As food becomes scarce and vole populations are high in fall and early winter, voles may seek the tasty cambium of small tree roots, crowns and trunks. Root-chewed trees are stunted, spindly and have very little foliage. Leaves can even show signs of reddening and other water-stress symptoms.
Damaged trees can look like they’ve been whittled near the trunk. The chew marks made by a vole can be recognized by: the pattern, location, and the size of the bite marks. Voles feed close to the ground, if not below ground. Gnaw marks left by feeding voles are non-uniform, irregular and are at various angles. Other vertebrate pests like bunnies, feed like typewriters: uniform, regular and at consistent angles. Gnaw marks are anywhere from 1/16th - 1/8th of an inch while rabbit marks are much wider. Voles can also damage trees by tunneling extensively around the root system, causing air pockets.
Monitoring: Voles prefer meadows and dense vegetation to nest, feed and forage in. Voles burrow and build intricate runways through grasses and meadows. Sometimes, voles will use the burrows of moles to get around. Grass nests are constructed in burrows. Many vole families will share the runway systems. Generally, our voles’ foraging ranges cover about .1-.2 acres (not a very large area). Scout the area around your landscape for these ‘vole highways.’ When populations are high, these runways are pretty obvious (see diagram). Also look for small burrows and tunnels. Some rebar works well for probing the soil for tunnels.
Baits work very well for determining vole activity and distribution. I’ve used a small 10” section of PVC pipe (about 2-4” diameter) and placed an apple wedge inside. This pipe was set into a runway at ground level. You might need to make the opening a little smaller because rats or other varmints may eat the apple. If you don’t want to use PVC, you can place the apple wedge under a roofing shingle or a square foot of cardboard. Check the wedge daily for feeding (be sure to wear gloves!). Place enough of these bait stations in your garden or yard to give you an idea of how many voles you have active and where they are traveling to and fro. If you have a sizable place to monitor in, draw a map of your bait stations and identify the areas of heaviest activity. These areas are where you need to concentrate your management practices. At the office, we have a chart showing the way to calculate vole population sizes based on a feeding index.
Management: Now that you know where your voles are coming from and how many of them you have, you can take steps to reduce their numbers. The key for vole management is habitat management. Control dense vegetation and weedy areas. Most voles will nest in these areas. In areas where you have vulnerable plants and trees, make a weed-free buffer of at least 3 feet. For trees and garden beds, make sure that mulch and loose soil is reduced directly around the bases of small trees or vulnerable plants. Deep mulch and loose soil make great building materials for vole tunnels.
For trees, there are protective barriers available. These tree guards can be purchased or homemade. Guards are made out of plastic, fabrics or screen. If you use a screen, use a mesh size of a quarter inch or less. Make sure that the height of the guard is at least 12 inches and also plant the base of the guard deep enough that voles cannot burrow beneath them, 6-10 inches is enough. Check these guards regularly! You may have just made a cozy vole home!
Where practical, you can also trap for voles. Be sure to check recent regulations about gripping type traps. With the passage of I-713 in December 2000, “It is unlawful to use or authorize the use of any… body-gripping traps to capture any animal.” Most traps that snare vertebrate animal bodies are now illegal without a special permit, with the exception of common rat and mousetraps. Place traps at burrow entrances and along runways. Placement of these traps should probably be made around areas near vulnerable trees and plants. Having a mine field of mouse traps in your entire yard might make playing ball with the dog or kid a little more exciting than it needs to be.
try mint oil to run em off.
works with some. cheapest way to try is hornet/wasp spray and cotton balls.
then plant the mint family on the perimeters of the property, but not where you want to garden. it will smother out everything. thyme is a little easier to displace, and may still discourage them, but not sure of that.
lowest tech is to hook car exhaust up to a shop vac hose, and stuff it in the tunnels. thats carbon monoxide, and they are very resistant, but if they don't go, they will be gone.
some folks here let the lowest branches of the trees grow, and lay on the ground, and this seems to be enough of a sacrifice to keep the voles happy.
the tunnels really do bring lots of air and water to the roots. If you can use their tunneling, fill with wood, and use as swale builders.
When you plant trees, or dig wood pits, build walls with the newest wood to slow em down, and keep oldest wood for the bottom.
You are prob gonna have to cage with wire if the soil is that good tho....
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Perhaps you can try a live cage trap, such the clear-top Victor Tin Cat. Place a small piece of paper towel with peanut butter smeared on it inside to attract the voles. Put the Tin Cat trap along runways. You can determine which runways are active by placing a few cut grass blades across them and going back to check the location to see if the grass blades have been removed from the runways. Voles, like house mice like traveling via established or well-known path.
Also, you didn't mention what season you were having problems with. My suggestion is improved sanitation--cut down, mow, or cultivate unwanted vegetation. If you get winter snows in your area, voles do not hibernate and will use the snow as a cover during the winter for their tunneling and foraging activities. Depending on the level of damage, you may need to implement lethal controls. You mentioned you didn't want to kill them, but sometimes it is necessary to control severe populations.
For lethal trapping purposes, I have used the Kness Snap E Rat Trap. It is quite effective. No bait is needed. Simply place the trap perpendicular to the active runways. Oh, do tie the trap down with a piece of wire or other sturdy material to a stake. I am a firm believer in protecting wildlife, but when that wildlife is in my garden...then I have an issue with that. With relation to I-713, it does not apply to traps used for mice or rats. Voles are also known as meadow mice. Good luck!
I have them and they are a pain. They really love root crops and sweet potatoes seem like crack for em. I have had poor success with snap traps but friends of mine use em with good success when used the liquid bait designed for them. I have my best success getting them with the little giant live trap. I don't have luck with peanut butter cause ants seem to get it first. I have good look putting sunflower seeds with my live trap. Also, try to put traps in places that they like and that provide shelter and warmth. I seem to have more now that I use more fine mulch. I might try using more living mulches but they can be a food source also.