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Voles and deep mulching

Posted by gardenerzone4 4 (My Page) on
Wed, Oct 19, 11 at 6:17

Last year, I put a deep mulch of shredded leaves on all my perennial beds and veggie garden in the fall. This summer, we started having a vole problem, which we've never had before. Rather than burrowing under the mulched areas, however, the voles seem to have concentrated their activity in and around the sweet potatoes and carrots, which were not mulched.

After harvest, I tilled the beds where the voles had been active and filled in the tunnels, hoping that removing their habitat will encourage them to go elsewhere. I don't want to poison or trap them, because in time, I believe that the predator population (neighborhood cats, birds of prey, etc.) will catch up and exert control. But I'm not sure what to do about mulching now.

This fall, I was planning to shred a lot of other people's bagged leaves as a topdressing to replenish my mulched beds. But with voles in the vicinity (my neighbor's got them too in his mulched berms), should I still mulch? I've read that waiting until the ground freezes to add more mulch is an option because supposedly the voles would have tunneled elsewhere by then. But does that really work?

I believe in deep mulching and have started all my beds using sheet composting. In fact, I'm planning to start another bed using the lasagna method this year. But my faith in sheet composting and deep mulching have been shaken by the vole invasion.

Was the deep mulching to blame for attracting voles? Should I still mulch this year? Has you been successful at avoiding voles by mulching after the ground freezes? What can I do to still mulch but not create a habitat for voles? What can I use to repel the voles from my yard (dog/cat fur/urine)?

(Please don't suggest that I kill the voles, because I would rather let nature take its course. And poisoning voles might mean poisoning the neighborhood cats who prey on them, which I definitely don't want to do.)

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Voles and deep mulching

In my experience in CT, Zone 6, the vole population seemed to vary quite a bit from year to year. Tunneling was certainly easier for them in our garden soil, but the lawn also had countless tunnels some years. They seemed to nest in our compost bins. One year, I had access to some old, wide boards. I used them as pathways in our garden until I discovered the vole tunnels directly underneath them ! I suspect the vole population varies according to many factors. When rabies became more of a problem, & when the coyote population went up, people started to keep their cats indoors and the vole population went up. However, it turns out that coyotes will also prey on voles! So things evened out again. One year, an elderly woman in our neighborhood died & her surviving family "released" her many cats into the neighborhood. Again, the vole population went down for awhile until these cats died off or were adopted by families. There are probably other factors that I haven't thought of. The number of gardens in a neighborhood ? Drought vs. plentiful rain? Are you in a fairly crowded suburban neighborhood or a wide open rural area where birds of prey have room to swoop in & grab a few voles ? I'm really not sure that mulching has a lot to do with attracting voles, but I'd like to hear what others have to say.

RE: Voles and deep mulching

I have quite a few landscape timbers/RR ties / old fenceposts lying around. I also mulch heavily everything I can. I find the voles under wood, not so much in the mulch.

Doing an occasional flood irrigation keeps them under control in the summer. They do far more damage in the winter.

RE: Voles and deep mulching

Do you wait for the ground to freeze before putting down the mulch? I've found it helps to wait until the critters find a winter home on their own someplace else without providing one for them.


RE: Voles and deep mulching

Well, the mulch stuff - leaves and lawn clippings, show up about a month before the ground freezes, so thats not really an option. I have found that the mulch is often enough insulation to prevent the ground from freezing, and the microherd keeps chugging away at the soil/mulch interface all winter long.

This year, due to some health issues, I'm heavily mulching everything in the veggie garden - we'll see how it works with about a foot of stuff on top the soil. I'll either have decent material next spring, or just created some lavish condominium complex for the mice and voles.

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