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Gardening in Washington State

Voles in the garden

Did your tulips fail to emerge this spring? Did most of your planted peas disappear? Are there tunnels in your garden? If so, voles may be to blame.


Although not a mouse, voles are sometimes called “meadow mice” based on their close resemblance. The two species most often responsible for vole-related backyard and garden damage in Washington are the Townsend’s vole (west of the Cascade Mountains) and the Montane vole (east of the Cascade Mountains).

These voles prefer succulent grasses, forbs, roots and bulbs but will also readily feed on the bark and roots of woody plants during winter when other food sources are scarce.

For information on how to manage voles in your garden and landscape, see the WSU fact sheet, Vole Management in Home Backyards and Gardens.

Submitted by: Dave Pehling, May 8, 2014


8 comments on “Voles in the garden”

  1. jayne said on May 9, 2015:

    Could voles be feasting on my strawberry plants? Plants are 1 yr old in established berry patch. Fed with Stawberries Alive organic per annual plan/ weeded. Historically lush foliage & blossoms at this time-May. These look green/healthy/blossoms but dramatically stunted. No evidence on leaves of munching/disease/slugs. Just saw hole about 1.5″ diameter. What evidence for below ground pests?

    • Dave Pehling said on May 11, 2015:

      In the PNW, voles usually feed on the above ground parts of strawberries. To see if voles might be feeding on roots, you can use a broomstick handle as a probe and see if you can detect tunnels under your plants. You can also dig up the worst of your plants and visually inspect the roots. Root feeding usually results in wilting and/or death of the plant.

      To see if your hole is being used by a rodent, you can skewer a slice of apple on a piece of wire and insert it into the tunnel. If rodents are present, there should be obvious feeding on the apple within a day or so.

      Since your plants look healthy except for the size, I suggest you have a soil test done to see if your soil is adequate. I see from the label of “Strawberries Alive” that it contains only 8-2-4 of N, P, and K. Most university sources recommend 10-10-10 or even 16-16-16.

      There are some good tips on growing strawberries in the home garden in the Oregon State U. M.G. fact sheet at

      • jayne said on May 18, 2015:

        Thank you. I will start with al. I mentioned this situation to my mother in NH and she reminded me that I had a similar experience last year. I attributed it to “new plants”, but I forgot that by late July the plants took off- almost Popeye cartoon-like- lush, thick, tall foliage & some good fruit. Her “diagnosis” was voles moving deeper as ground warms up allowing roots/ plants to thrive in later summer. Will do closer inspection/ detection today.

  2. Michael said on May 6, 2019:

    I caught one mouse, several Voles, and near as many shrews in early season using peanut-butter. Now I am only catching shrews at a rate of about one per trap/week. How can I go back to catching voles? I have not changed trap location or bait.

    • Dave Pehling said on September 1, 2021:

      Sorry for the delay in responding. I retired from Washington State University extension in 2018 and don’t check up on this very often. As for trapping, if you use small bits of apple as a bait you should catch much fewer shrews.

  3. KaDee said on May 18, 2019:

    Can voles be white? My cat keeps bringing me, what looks to be voles- bigger than mice and have front feet that are cupped(similar to a mole)- but from what I’ve read everyone says they are usually brown/grey. Last night she brought me one that was completely white. If it isn’t voles I don’t know what they could be, they don’t look like normal farm/feild mice.

    • Sandra Donnelly said on May 14, 2020:

      Mice have naked tails that are about as long as their body excluding the head. Voles have short tails covered in fur.

      Coat color is a genetic characteristic. If the eyes are also pink, the specimen is an albino. This genetic mutations is not common as white voles are easier for their predators to spot at all times of the day.

  4. Dave Pehling said on September 1, 2021:

    I suspect your cat is bringing you Gibb’s shrew moles. Cats love to kill those beneficial species and I myself found a white one 30 years ago.

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