The Vole Patrol

It’s more about rabbits, actually, but I couldn’t think of anything that rhymes with rabbit (Babbit?).

The biggest catastrophe that befell my garden last winter came as a result of nibbling and gnawing creatures. The worst damage was to three dwarf Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) ‘Iroquois Beauty’ that I had just planted. Every single stem had been chewed down, and while they weren’t killed, they did not quite recover during the growing season. There was lesser damage done to some serviceberries (Amelanchier) as well.

While I’m quite sure the damage done last year was by rabbits, I’ve recently learned about the Vole Menace at my Plant Health class at Chicago Botanic Garden. Voles, which are like even smaller versions of mice, can girdle young trees and shrubs by chewing the outer layers at the base of the plant. I’m pretty sure there are voles living in my garden, but I haven’t spotted that sort of damage to date.

So yesterday Measures Were Taken. Specifically, I surrounded my Aronia, my two youngest serviceberry, and my new flowering dogwood with a barrier of hardware cloth, which is like chicken wire but with much smaller holes. From this exercise I can offer my readers two pieces of advice.

First, if you do something like this, wear gloves. Well, of course, you might think. I never think “of course” when it comes to wearing gloves. Partly it’s because I like to feel the soil in my hands when I garden. But my point now is, despite the name, hardware cloth is not made of cloth. It is made of metal wire, with lots of sharp pointy bits sticking out when you cut off lengths of it. These pointy bits will hurt and cause your hands to bleed. While this does provide a unique opportunity to impress your spouse with what you remember of the dialogue from Macbeth, I don’t recommend it. Neither does your spouse, or mine.

Second, measure the lengths of hardware cloth before you cut them. Once again, you might think this is obvious. But it is not obvious if, like me, you pride yourself on the ability to do things by eye. I keep forgetting that this pride is entirely misplaced. If you don’t measure, you may very well finish off what the rabbits started by breaking off live twigs trying to install lengths of hardware cloth that are too short.

In addition to hardware cloth, I also sprayed an animal repellent, Repels-All, on and around the lower parts of the plants. It claims to be effective for two months. We’ll see. It smells like rotten eggs, which turns out to be one of the ingredients.

What are you doing to protect your garden from hungry critters over the winter?

42 Comments on “The Vole Patrol

  1. My chokeberry and serviceberry never recovered from the rabbit damage their first winter – they are alive but have never grown taller or branchier. I use chicken wire, but I know I have voles too – they ruined my potato crop one summer – so maybe I should pony up the cash for hardware cloth.

  2. Rabbits took out a burning bush a couple years back. Now I bait a couple of vole holes, keeping them below critical mass through winter, and hope for an added effect on feral cat population.

  3. I don’t suffer from hungry critters in my neck of the woods, other than mice in my shed eating bird food – but I make allowances for them because they’re cute and squirrels gnawing at the bird feeders. My problem is in the spring with cat poo. Drives me mad!

  4. Ah, yes. I feel your pain. Way too much damage wrought by rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks in my garden. I’ve seen voles, too. They are creepy little creatures that scurry about under your feet when you least expect it. Eeek. I know they all serve an ecological niche in nature, but…

  5. I’ve never actually seen a vole, but I know I have them, because the pansies and other plants that they enjoy just seem to droop and die overnight. When I inspect them, I find the tell-tale sign: the above-ground part is completely detached from the roots, which are no more, thanks to the voles. It’s quite annoying. I sprinkle some mole and vole repellent whose name escapes me. I know it comes in a yellow package, though. That in combination with the neighbor’s cat seems to work fairly well, although it’s not foolproof.

  6. Good luck! Voles have been quite destructive in my garden. They eat the roots of plants, thus killing from below ground. I lost a small but special Japanese maple this way. This year my cast iron plant’s roots weren’t cast iron enough, though some of the plant survived, and I am hoping it will make a comeback. The most effective treatment I have found are natural predators. Voles were destroying hostas in one part of my garden till a large garter snake showed up. That garter snake is now my hero, and I am wondering if life like rubber ones would be of any help.

    • Hmmm, pet garter snakes. I like it. Unfortunately, the voles do their worst damage in winter, when I don’t think our snakes would be active. And I hate to have cats outside because they go after the birds. Maybe opossums?

  7. Apparently voles are a huge problem here, too, but I’ve never seen any evidence of them in my garden…yet. (I hope that’s a “never”)! Rabbits, on the other hand, are the bane of my existence – they eat all of my emerging perennials in the spring and destroy any annual flowers I plant. My veggies are a sumptuous banquet for them. I’ve started building fortresses around my new and emergent plants using wooden bamboo skewers – it seems to deter them somewhat.

    I hope all of your preventative measures work this winter!

  8. What a scourge to hit your garden and I feel your pain. Only saving grace is they do look quite beautiful in my book. I imagine this is a long term process until branches are so thick the voles can’t chew on them???

  9. We were plagued with rabbits while we had a dog, once she died, neighbouring cats started to visit the garden and we saw them many times running home with baby bunnies in their jaws! Eventually the rabbits disappeared , wouldn’t you if all your babies were being killed! We also have lots of voles, we see them running round the garden, but we also have a tawny owl who comes regularly for his vole supper. Hope you succeed with your preventative measures.

    • The thing about cats is they also catch birds, so if we get another cat I’d be reluctant to put it out in the yard. There used to be more cats from the neighbors’ roaming around, not sure what happened to them.

  10. people here put up rabbit proof fences. For possums they put plastic things on the tree trunks so I guess the possums can’t get a grip. I have been lucky, haven’t had too much eaten, so far things have grown back and not died. Maybe experiment and try to find something they don’t like? I like vole patrol, but for rabbit how about … kicking the rabbit habit?

  11. I hope this works for you! I could never spray such a product in my garden because my dogs would roll in it, dig at it and try and eat it! :) We have a very healthy vole population in our garden.

  12. I have to admit to not being bothered by rabbits in my garden – the worst pest are the slimy ones!!!! and the only voles I see are the dead ones the cats bring home! I do hope your rabbit defences are a success.

    Here’s a word to rhyme with rabbit – CRABBIT – a scottish word meaning grumpy/miserable. I’m hoping you are seeing the connection :)

  13. We have several outdoor cats. Although they can be frustrating at times, they are wonderful at keeping the rabbits and voles at bay. Not so much the deer.

    • Luckily we do not have deer. Maybe we should try a pet opposum. they would be too slow to catch birds. Or a pet owl, like in Harry Potter.

  14. Good for you! Getting ahead of the voles will hopefully keep them at bay! We live in the Chicago area and my dad has had a vole issue in his garden. My issues are with the critters as well…more squirrels and rabbits. I have been wrapping everything with chicken wire this fall in hopes that I don’t lose another plant to these rascals!

  15. I’ll be interested to see how that repellent works. We use plastic piping around our tree trunks after finding out – too late – about voles. Even so I worry about them getting in. Good call on the gloves, that hardware cloth is a menace.

  16. Argh! Poor you – there is nothing more disheartening than having your precious plants devoured by small furry animals. I had no idea that voles were such a menace.

    I ended up blowing nearly my entire garden budget on rabbit fencing in an attempt to save my sanity and on balance, so far, it has proved to be a sound investment (at least as far as rabbits are concerned).

    I giggled at the rendition of Macbeth – an excellent use of a gardening injury!

  17. I used to wrap all my bushes and shrubs but now i use dog hair- so much easier and it seems to work. no nibbles last year, hopefully no nibbles this year. Know anyone with a dog?

  18. Living where we are there’s not much chance for voles and rabbits to cause mischief, they’d also be chased by hoards of cats that pass in and out of the garden. It’s exchanging one kind of mess for another I guess.

  19. Hi – thanks for following my blog! As for gardening – in our city squirrels are the big pest. They dig up all our bulbs especially tulip bulbs which they seem to like . I protect them – and the bird seeds, by a layer of chilli powder which they don’t seem to like too much. I have also heard that clumps of human hair around the garden puts off some pests. Don’t have enough to scatter around my garden but a though if you can hold of some…. Our cat chases the squirrels but they soon come back..

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