How To Stop Voles-The Wall Project

There is a critter problem in the Fairegarden, namely Voles. Those little cute (not!) charcoal grey furry creatures love to tunnel behind the stacked block walls that hold back the steep hillside in our back gardens. Coexistence has been tried, we are a certified Wildlife Habitat after all.

The pink and white astilbe had completely filled the lower wall planting area behind the garage, despite the tunnels. Over the years bags of soil were added to fill in the huge gaps created by the digging. Rocks were strategically placed to try and block the tunnel access, but to no avail. A sonic noise emitter was placed near the tunnels. They ignored the beeping but it nearly drove me insane. Finally the battery wore out on it, thank goodness. When younger, Kitty would deposit the occasional present of a dead vole at the back door, but he is too well fed and indoors for much of the time now. The grey varmints could be seen scampering across the rock steps going from the long wall behind the main house to the wall end of the garage. Foam insulation was sprayed in the vole doorways to deter them, but new holes appeared soon afterwards. The frustration was building in the gardener. In 2010 there has been yet another drought, no rain for weeks on end and what little precipitation did fall was inadequate to keep the astilbe green and lush with the extensive system of hollowed halls underneath its roots. Stronger action had to be taken. It was time for the nuclear option.

No, not weapons of mass destruction, but all out war nonetheless. The astilbes were dug out, divided and planted elsewhere. The plan was cogitated upon for weeks, doing the math, measuring several times to get it right. The materials were purchased. It was time to begin the assault on the Vole Kingdom. What was needed was a blockage that would allow plant roots to grow through but that would not allow the voles to dig. The Eureka Moment came as a seed protector cage was constructed for the raised box planter in the millionth attempt to grow the black poppies from seeds. Leftover hardware cloth from the compost bin building was shaped into a box with a lid to protect the seeds from being disturbed from above by cats and squirrels and below by the ever present voles. That is exactly what was needed behind the wall, a giant cage of hardware cloth. The space was emptied of soil. There would be a layer of sharp drainage gravel under the cage so no gaps from yet more tunneling would dry out the soil inside. We cannot get rid of the voles, but perhaps we can stop them from messing with our plants!

Caution! Do not place the soil in garbage cans! It would have been better to use a tarp. When it came time to replace the soil, it was nearly impossible to get the heavy clay out and back behind the wall. The garbage can fell over and spilled the dirt out into the gravel path anyway. Onward.

The excavation was made one foot deep and squared off for maximum growing room. Two to three inches of the sharp gravel was laid as a base layer. It took eight bags for the twenty plus foot length of the wall.

The quarter inch hardware cloth came in three foot wide rolls. It was bent to fit into the trench. The soil was replaced. It was a mix of lumps of hard red clay and the bagged humus and soil conditioner that had been added over the years.

Luckily there was just enough soil to fill it back in, although it is a little low at the far end. We just couldn’t wait and planted the Scotch moss, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’ that had been purchased already before trimming the metal. That trimming was the most daunting part of the task for each metal wire had to be snipped seperately with the wire cutters. Slow and steady wins the race was my mantra while bent over in an awkward position. Snip, snip, snip.

Finally it was done. At each end the cloth was bent over the top for a foot and a half, hammered down flat and covered with flat stones. The Garden Gnomes are at one end sitting on a board over the wire cage, with stones making an attractive skirting. There was a warning about these Gnomes, but we feel safe with Barrow and Wingnut. St. Fiacre might be moved back to keep a watchful eye on them. The bits of metal will be hammered down after the soil has settled.

The vision for the planting, vole damage free, is for bulbs to arise through the evergreen ground cover. At the Gnome end are five groups of three Allium karataviense, a plant that stole my heart as I was visiting the gardens of England last May. To see the posts about this trip, click on the sidebar page, England Trip-Two Innocents Abroad. This Allium was seen at the Hampton Court Castle.

On order, to be planted soon are 100 Allium bulgaricum. We love this bulb and have grown it before, as this photo from 2007 shows, but it never returns. We are hoping the well drained caged soil will keep it happy this time.

Also on order are fifty Fritillaria pontica, similar to the Fritillaria raddeana shown above from 2009. We have had good luck with some fritts, not so good with others, Rad has not returned when planted elsewhere. If there are failures, it won’t be because of the voles, anyway.

At the wall end closest to the main house, the Bongo Congo family sit atop the stone covered wire caged end. The hope is that they will offer some protective karma as well. The story of the sweet family, created from hypertufa and leaf casting can be seen by clicking here-A Little Whimsy In The Garden.

In the spring, when the bulbs emerge, there will be a follow up done. The anticipation of that event will provide many an hour of happy contemplation over the winter months as we await to see if this project is a success.

For other How To posts written by Fairegarden, look for How To on the sidebar page listing or click here.


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37 Responses to How To Stop Voles-The Wall Project

  1. Missy Flowers says:

    It looks great! Good job!

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Valerie says:

    Hi Frances: What a project but it looks lovely with the moss in there. Darned voles. I look forward to seeing the bed with bulbs in spring.

    Hi Valerie, thanks. Me too! πŸ™‚

  3. Impressive! Hope it keeps the voles at bay, and that all your bulbs flourish!

    Hi Janet, thanks for those good wishes. If this does not work, I am at a loss as to what to do next. It is the last trick in the bag. πŸ™‚

  4. Jen says:

    I would’ve loved to see a photo of the vole. Looks like a lot of hard work but the end result is beautiful just as it is. Looking forward to seeing it grow.

    Believe it or not we have an armadillo wreaking havoc in our yard & hillside. No choice but to coexist for now & hope he finds juicier grubs somewhere else.

    Hi Jen, thanks. If we are able to get a photo of a vole, we will add it to this post later. They are rarely seen above ground, only going across the stones from one wall to the other. I would need a surveillance camera on 24/7 to catch them! Oooh, those armadillos are huge diggers. We had them in Texas, as well as wild boars, scary!

  5. catmint says:

    That was a lot of work and in a way coexisting with the voles. Like Jen, I would have loved to see a picture of the vole. In my imagination they are a bit like a hobbit, or a gnome.

    Hi Catmint, thanks. They look like a small dark mouse without ears, scampering very close to the ground, very quickly. I hope to never see one again, but will post a photo if we ever can snap one. This cage thing might drive them to another yard in our neighborhood, I hope.

  6. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, That is an impressive amount of work! I snipped a small bit of the hardware cloth
    yesterday! Is it ever snip, snip, snip! The wall looks great now, but, next spring with the flowering bulbs it will look incredible. xxoogail

    Hi Gail, thanks. The hardware cloth cutting is slow going! I am hoping the wall of bulbs will match the vision in my mind. πŸ™‚

  7. Sylvia (England) says:

    Frances, that looks like hard work, cutting all that wiremesh must have been a chore but well worth the effort. Good thing you provided pictures I was trying to work out how cloth would deter voles! Last year mice eat a lot of my bulbs planted in pots, thankfully they don’t eat the ones in the garden – yet. Looking forward to the spring pictures, you have chosen some unusual bulbs.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    Hi Sylvia, thanks, it will be worth the effort, it is hoped! We use the hardware cloth, I don’t know why it is called that, and chicken wire over containers and freshly planted bulbs to stop all sorts of creature digging them up. I adore bulbs, but have to do battle to keep them safe. It does seem that after a year in the ground, they are left alone. It is only that fresh soil that attracts the diggers. We have stopped using the organic bone meal in the bulb holes too, it attract the critters even more.

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Those little rascals live in my garden too. So far I haven’t found any damage to plants by them. Your process to get rid of them was a lot of work. I hope you are successful. I will be interested to see if the scotch moss grows for you. I have never had luck growing this. I love the look of it. It will be beautiful where you have planted it.

    Hi Lisa ,thanks. I am sorry but surprised that sweet Luna does not keep the voles at bay. We don’t see damage to the plants either, other than the open dry gaps under the roots that dry out the plants. The Scotch moss likes our north facing slope, and good drainage. It grows the very best directly on top of rock, tells you about the drainage issue. The bulbs don’t want a lot of water either, so chosen for that requirement. We’ll see how it goes. :-0

  9. Steve says:

    Voles are a nasty little curse, fer sure. They used to eat through our pond liners on water features. It seems the EPDM liner (butyl rubber) is salty and yummy to the Vole clan of garden vandals…..we solved it by using a tougher underlay – fabric – which they don;’t even want to eat through. Then they moved on – they love to tunnel barely under the surface of lawn grass when there is snow. Since we’re speaking of Lake Tahoe, there was snow pretty much every year for about 5 months.Man, it looked like the L.A. Freewy when the snow went away. Little grooves of eaten blades and roots, coursing everywhere.

    Hi Steve, that is awful, voles eating pond liners! We can’t really see any sign of them here until we dig and hit the open air pockets. I would love to never see another one again!

  10. Sweetbay says:

    Man, voles are such a pain, although the damage is not as bad as I’ve heard about in other gardens. Still, who knows how many winter deaths they are responsible for? I have to go to special lengths to grow Baptisias since that is a real vole favorite. I hope your efforts pay off! It looks like they should.

    Hi Sweetbay, thanks. The voles don’t do a lot of damage here except along the walls where I want lovely plants to grow and trail over the edge. I have not done anything like this before, so will be interested to see if the extra effort pays off. The Alliums and daffodils are not eaten by the critters, it is the lack of soil for the roots that kills things. The gravel should deter digging under the wire, and below the gravel is rock solid clay. The voles prefer the loose light fluffy bagged stuff that I use along the walls to tunnel into.

  11. Rose says:

    Did you utter a battle cry while creating this vole-proof bed, Frances?:) I would think that all the hard work you did plus the watchful eyes of the Bongo Congo family will deter these little varmints from now on. I haven’t had too much problem with voles here, but between Sophie and the cats, they don’t dare show their faces here:) The scotch moss really makes a nice border here, but oh those astilbe! I don’t have much luck with it, though I think it’s lack of water, not voles, that keeps mine from flourishing.

    Hi Rose, thanks. I did utter the battle cry when the idea first occurred to me! Yes!!!! was heard throughout the neighborhood. HA The astilbe have a hard time some years, like this one, when there is drought. They bloom nicely then look awful. I just ignore them when that happens. πŸ™‚

  12. chen says:

    I can fully understand your frustration and your deployment of such heavy weapon. I sincerely hope that it works for you. I fought there voles valiantly for the last two years loosing many precious and expensive plants. This year, they swamped my garden (likely because of the unusually warm winter and the encroaching subdivisions building nearby) tunneling under every bed over about an acre area. I am officially defeated. One wise biology teacher told me many years ago that it is not a foregone conclusion that we human own the earth. In the end it might those creatures that have explosive reproduction rate such as insects and rats that over run us. I think she may have a point.

    Hi Chen, thanks. You are exactly right, we can never win. We just have to find a way to grow a few things, even if it is only in containers. I am hoping this will do the trick. πŸ™‚

  13. Dave says:

    That should do the trick! We have plenty of voles around here too. I wish there was an easy solution. I was going to try the sticky traps under a pot trick but never got around to it. The neighbor’s cat just isn’t doing enough!

    Hi Dave, thanks for visiting. We use chickenwire against the digging squirrels, but the small voles can go right through that. I believe the hardware cloth could be used as a lining in the bottom of a pot as well, and have used it like that before. The cats just can’t keep up with them. There are too many.

  14. Um, couldn’t the voles just dig down through the top of the soil to access the bulbs?

    Hi Susan, thanks for stopping by. That is my biggest worry, but we have left the edges of hardware cloth sticking up above the soil a few inches and might bend them over to form a barrier. The voles do not like to be above ground at all. The tunnels are about six inches to a foot below the surface. They come from the long wall across, behind stone steps. They will hit the wire that is bent over the top of the bed at both ends for over a foot and give up, is my hope.

  15. Tatyana says:

    WoW! What a tremendous project and what a great idea behind it! It looks already very good with scotch moss, Frances! I just read Gail’s post about using heavy artillery against vinca – a bobcat, and now, your fortifications! Gardeners are tough when attacked by creatures and invasive plants!

    Hi Tatyana, thanks. I kind of wanted some instant gratification and the Sagina was available at the big box store and is nicely evergreen here. Gail and I are waging war, you are right! HA πŸ™‚

  16. Frances,
    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you must rid yourself of Wingnut and Barrow. GNOMES KEEP MICE AND VOLES AS PETS. Evict those pointy hat varmint protectors. Your voles will relocate as well.

    HA Donna, thanks for that warning! I am aware of the bad habits of the Gnomes and will make some adjustments! If that solves the problem, it sure would have saved me a ton of work to simply move Barrow and Wingnut! πŸ™‚

  17. I have great vole repellent here! They are named Bob and Morris and live next door, so I’m not even the one responsible with their care! The 4th and 5th pictures contain a vole… in Morris’ mouth!

    HA Jill, thanks for reminding us of that fun post! Bob and Morris are two beautiful hunters. Our Mister Kitty and the occasional visitor do not seem to be interested in catching those varmints here. You are lucky! πŸ™‚

  18. I’m so glad I don’t have problems with voles. The squirrels have already driven me to distraction.

    Hi MMD, you should be glad! We have both problems. At least we can see the squirrels above ground. The voles are insidious below the earth.

  19. Are voles the same as gophers, I wonder? Our entire property is awash in underground tunnels, but planting lots of alliums seems to help some.

    Hi Ricki, oh no, the voles are much much smaller than gophers. We had those in our southern California garden, my husband declared war on them, using every weapon he could get his hands on. They were very destructive. The voles are tiny little things, only a few inches long, like mice without ears.

  20. Missy says:

    I’d never heard of voles until now. We don’t have them in the Southern Hemisphere. I googled. They look so cute but being so destructive, I’m glad we don’t have them. Hope your defenses keep them at bay.

    Hi Missy, thanks. I am very glad to hear that you don’t have these varmints in the Southern Hemisphere! They are cute in the way that a mouse is cute, only in a drawing where they have clothes on ala Beatrix Potter. πŸ™‚

  21. Jenny B says:

    An inspired way of foiling those naughty little voles. I hope your moss likes it’s new home. I can just imagine it all filled in and lush.

    Hi Jenny, thanks. Naughty is right! I am hoping the moss fills in and covers the block, it grows very well on that sort of surface here. The bulbs will be a temporary display, the Sagina is the thing. Now if I can just keep from planting something else in there to keep the look….bzzzzzz. πŸ™‚

  22. Balisha says:

    My goodness…what a job you have undertaken. By the way, where is St. Fiacre? I have one in my garden too. Balisha

    Hi Balisha, thanks. It was a big job, my husband had to help me with the digging on this one. St. Fiacre will be brought in today, he is on the front porch, protecting out there but his help is needed to keep those gnomes in line. πŸ™‚

  23. Diana says:

    Frances, it looks as though you licked the problem in that area… good for you.

    We have tried every product on the market in order to rid our garden of voles and moles, but as soon as we get one, more move in, and the space is too large to control. I used to go crazy at what they did to the beds, but in recent years, most of my plants seem to do fairly well and I have calmed myself… mostly. lol

    Hi Diana, thanks, I hope you are right! There are voles all over the hillside here, and we only have the occasional problem. If I see an opening, a large rock gets placed on top and that’s that. This narrow wall planter was overrun and we had to use stronger measures. This should do it, if not, I will wave the white flag! πŸ™‚

  24. Lola says:

    Great job Frances. It looks great. Those voles sure can be a menace.

    Hi Lola, thanks so much. Let us hope this has solved the problem in the wall area and they will move elsewhere.

  25. Carol says:

    I have had voles in my garden, and then in my garage. They attempted to drive me mad, but in the end, I prevailed. (Don’t ask.) I also love Allium karataviense, and had a nice clump of it by the front steps. It has gotten crowded out by a shrub or two over the years. I bought some more to plant this fall in the gardens out back. I hope you have defeated those voles with your new wall planting!

    Hi Carol, thanks. The voles are maddening, I can’t imagine them in your garage, yikes! Glad to hear of your experience with the allium, I have this vision you see… πŸ™‚

  26. Way to go Frances. I wish you much success. I loath those buggers.

    Hi Helen, thanks. Those voles can be bothersome. I hope this does the trick and they move on.

  27. Gill says:

    well I have to say I am glad I popped by as I have the same problem with my peonies and the voles/mice/other small furry creatures!!! It’s too late in the season now to start on this project maybe in the spring….

    Gill in Canada

    Hey there, Gill, thanks for visiting, so nice to see you here again! Varmints in the peonies would be awful, perhaps a large hole lined with the hardware cloth cage could help with that. πŸ™‚

  28. Janet says:

    That is a lot of hard, back-breaking work. I do like the huge caged planter idea, good thinking. I like the Scotch moss in there, nice cool green.

    Hi Janet, thanks. It was so back breaking that I had to ask the Financier to help with the digging. The snipping of the wire was daunting but it is done now, thank goodness. Let us hope this does the trick. I love the Sagina anywhere. πŸ™‚

  29. commonweeder says:

    Life is never easy for a gardener. What a job! I can’t wait to see the spring show. But I am worried about my allium bulgaricum now. I just planted something similar and hoped it would be critter proof and long lived but you have sowed the seeds of doubt. Still, I am going to Visualize Success.

    Hi Pat, thanks. Don’t let this put you off your vision of success! Alliums are supposed to be critter proof. I believe the problem with mine before was overwatering. Don’t make the same mistake with yours.

  30. meemsnyc says:

    What a fantastic idea to solve the vole problem. We have moles, but not that many.

    Hi Meemsnyc, thanks. I hope it works. Moles are larger with bigger tunnels, another serious garden varmint!

  31. Kat says:

    Francis I’ll be interested in seeing how successful this project is in the spring as voles are quite the problem in the area that I work. Always looking for new ways to thwart them.

    Hi Kat, thanks. I am hoping this will work, it’s all I’ve got! We have tried everything else already.

  32. Wow, that looks like a ton of work Frances. But I too, am excited to see how it turns out. I hope the voles find a new home and am thankful (knock on wood) that I don’t have to deal with them!

    Hi Jean, thanks, so nice to see you here. I am glad you don’t have these critters, they are not fun. It was a process, but now it is done and planted. I know the voles cannot get into the wired space or go through the sharp gravel underneath. Maybe they will move on, but to where? HA πŸ™‚

  33. A big project indeed! but I hope it works!

    Hi Kate, thanks. Me too. A wall of alliums and fritts should greet us in the spring, under a sea of Sagina if it does. πŸ™‚

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  36. Bob says:

    Hate the voles, drop poisen pellets down their holes, kills them off after afew applications. keep the pets + kids away.

    Hi Bob, thanks for adding in here. We don’t use poison, being a wildlife habitat. So far, the hardware cloth is working. I have also found that Euphorbias are truly a scourge, spurge, the scourge, get it.

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