Garden Pest control Voles, Moles, Mice & Shrews

Voles, Moles, Mice & Shrews – How to Control Them in the Garden

If you’ve gardened any length of time you’ve probably encountered one or all of these garden pests.  Voles, moles, mice or shrews – they’re not pleasant to deal with but you CAN do it.  I’ve been waging war successfully with them for 35 years. So I feel pretty qualified to give you the best battle strategies.

Did you notice that I said “waging war successfully for 33 years” ?  One of your best defenses right up front will be to know and accept the realities that exist.

Main Reality

The main reality — and the hardest one for many to accept — is that doing any one thing – no matter what it is — will not rid you of the problem forever.  What you want to accomplish – and can accomplish — is control and balance.

Once the problem is under control and no damage is being done you still have to be aware, watch and then take action again if you see any telltale signs.

The attitude resulting from knowing what the reality is, accepting it and being committed to taking action when necessary, will greatly relief the frustration that can be generated from situations with these pests.


If you are a regular reader of TMG you know already that my control recommendation does not include poisons. In this age of chemicals and short term gratification there are many (probably the majority) who will tell you that poisoning is the only solution.  And they will say “—- especially for a major infestation.”

I know from experience that is untrue. You need not waiver in your commitment to refrain from using poisons.   Poisons are dangerous from beginning to end.  The poison you use to poison the pest could end up poisoning other animals as well.  Could also end up in your garden and contaminating your food.

The Most Effective Means of Controlling These Pests

Trapping to kill (not trap and release) is the most effective means of control for any of these garden pests and with persistence you can win against even major infestations.  I know because in the past I’ve had to do it.

In searching the internet you will come across all kinds of methods used against these pests. You won’t often see the trapping method. But it’s the only one that will guarantee your success.

Not Pleasant – But You CAN Do It

Never handle any of these creatures.  They carry some nasty bacteria. Use gloves.  Take the trap(s) with the dead varmint out of the garden. Dig a hole with your trowel or digger. Loosen the trap with your tool. Put the carcass in the hole. Put the dirt on top. Firm the ground with your foot.

Dealing with this type of problem is never pleasant — but dig deep inside yourself —- you’re made of tougher stuff than you think. And you can do this.  Once the problem is controlled you’ll only have to set the occasional few traps. By then – piece of cake! (Well –  maybe not quite — but you get the idea.)


Gardeners encountering one or all of these creatures for the first time, usually refer to all of them as moles. You may not know the difference either — but you need to  — because your battle strategy will vary with each.


Most people – myself included — feel that voles are by far the worse of these creatures and responsible for most of the damage that new gardeners might attribute to moles or mice.

  • Identification –  They’re mouse like.  Their faces are not quite as pointed. Sometimes grey, sometimes light brown or dark brown. For pictures do a Google search for “pictures of garden voles”.
  • What They Eat – They are omnivores, and will eat anything. But they tend to like plants much better.  They have favorite things that they can’t resist like all your tulip bulbs, asiatic lilies and hostas.
  • Damage They Do –  whatever they take a liking to they can wipe out quickly. Onions, lettuce, radishes, beets, squash, tomatoes, cukes — anything.  They love potatoes and every year I end up with some loss to voles. Their tunnels and their chewing on roots can undermine any garden plants – even the largest.

Real life example: One of the first onion beds I ever had was beautiful.  I started to pull an onion one day —- and you can imagine my surprise when it was literally pulled out of my hand.  The stalk was pulled down the hole where the onion had been. Until that day, I thought that only happened in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

  • Other Habits of  Voles – They are active both day and night but spend about 80% of their life underground. They can breed all year — but March through September is the time most of it takes place. Average litter is 4 to 6 and gestation is only 21 days! Any females birthed are ready to mate within 28 days!
  • Some years won’t be as bad as others. Fortunately their population has lows and peaks in a cycle of about 3 to 5 years.
  • The most effective method of control is trapping.

How to Trap Voles

Use regular mouse traps.  Use peanut butter or apple for bait. (You can also use peanut butter rolled with oats.) If you use apple, you’ll have to tie it on. Otherwise, you’ll probably lose the bait and vole.

  • When you see holes (tunnel exits) that indicate their presence, place the trap at the hole.
  • Depending on the positioning of the hole you might have to pull away some soil to make a flat surface for the trap. Remove as much earth as you have to in order to set the trap properly.
  • Turn a large plastic flower pot or bucket upside down and place it over the trap and hole so they’re in the dark.  (Voles are said to only take the bait in the dark.)
  • Then place a brick or rock on top of the pot or bucket to keep it from being knocked over by the wind or whatever.
  • Many times you can catch one, two or several very quickly (within a few hours) depending on how many voles are living in that particular tunnel. Other times you might get one a day.  Sometimes, you have to leave the trap for a few days. (Remember they use lots of holes.) If you don’t get anything after 3 days — stir up the soil so the tunnels collapse.  If the area is active, they will resurface at another spot so you can set the trap again.

In the growing season especially, exit holes can be concealed by a plant or mulch. Just take time to look.  You’ll find them.

In the winter they’re easier to find — and will more than likely show up in your cold frames or under your hoop tunnels —- usually right beside your best lettuce plant.

For maintenance trapping I usually set 3 traps.  If I notice a lot of damage I sometimes set as many as 6 traps.  If you have a major infestation, you can set 12 or 24 traps.

But REMEMBER: watching and resetting 3 traps consistently is better than setting 24 and then not being consistent with the duties involved.


  • Identification – Moles have large webbed feet for tunneling. For pictures – do Google search for “pictures of garden mole”.
  • What They Eat – They are carnivores and eat grubs and earthworms and some other insects, NOT plants. They need ground that is heavily populated with insect food like grubs since they need a lot to sustain them.
  • How They Can Effect Plants – Their tunneling activity can disrupt plants in your garden and borders and separate the plant roots from the soil.  Without root to soil contact, the plant can die.
  • Damage They Do – When they tunnel through the earth close to the surface the soil directly above them mounds up.  Sometimes the long veins of mounded dirt are very noticeable.  At other times, you don’t notice them until stepping on them and sinking in a bit.

Occasionally there is hole where the mole surfaces.  (Voles can use these tunnels too.)

You might even see an area anywhere from 3 x 3 feet up to  6 x 6 feet that is mounded with dirt and sinks when you walk on it.  I use to think this was where all the mole tunnels met.  I read recently that someone considered it a feeding area.  Whatever the case — it makes an ugly site in your lawn.

  • The most effective method of mole control is trapping.  Amazon sells mole traps for a little more than $10.  Place the traps in one of the long veins described above.  It will come with instructions.

We used a trap like this several years ago when damage became extensive. One of the moles we caught was as big as a small squirrel! Guess we caught the great-granddaddy of them all. Haven’t had much noticeable damage since then until the past few months.  The trap has been set several times but they keep springing it.  Can take some patience to catch them.

Be careful with these traps. We don’t even like to use them for fear that we’ll step on one. The trap is inserted partially into the tunnel. The top stays above ground, but can visually blend into the area. You could easily miss seeing it if you’re not thinking about it.  I’d hate to think of what it would do to my foot!


Sometime back a TMG reader wrote and said

  • “Last summer I had a terrible problem with mice eating my plants in my garden.  I would not have believed it, if I had not seen it myself. I came out to my garden about mid day and found a mouse gnawing on my pepper plants. “

In 35 years I have only caught one mouse in my garden, but as you can see from this readers experience — it can happen. Thus, I have included them here.

  • Identification – Probably most everyone knows what a mouse looks like. If not, Google “pictures of mice”.
  • What They Eat – They’re omnivorous, meaning: they will eat just about anything.
  • What They Do – As they go about eating what’s yours, they can spread disease by contaminating food and water with their urine and droppings.  Also disease can be spread by the parasites mice carry which bite the mouse and then bite a human or pet.
  • Two Can Become Many in a Hurry –  They can have an average litter of 6 to 8 young.  One female can have up to 10 liters per year and they can breed when they are as young as five weeks old! If you let them breed you could be overrun with mice in a short period of time.
  • The most effective method of control is trapping.

But — you need to employ other common sense practices in addition to trapping to make sure they don’t return in numbers. Some are:

  • Keep pet areas clean.
  • Dog food and cat food that is left out all the time invites mice and RATS.
  • Do not use any animal products in your compost pile.  This too will invite mice and RATS.
  • Make sure grain or seed is stored in containers that can not be chewed into by mice.

To further elaborate on trapping here is part of my reply to the young woman who asked what to do about the mice in her garden.

“— I would buy 2 dozen mouse traps. Bait them with either peanut butter or apple. In this case try using peanut butter first, since it will make it so much easier to bait the traps. (You have to use string to tie a piece of apple on —–and that gets to be a job especially if you have a lot of traps.)

Check the traps at least 2 or 3 times a day if you can. More if possible. (Especially morning and dusk.)

Keep at it, because diligence will be your best strength in this situation. It might not be just what you want to be doing, but it will get the numbers down. And save your vegetables for you rather than mice, voles or whatever.

After that —- keep an eye out for any tell tale signs and take action again the minute anything indicates a possible problem.”


  • Identification – Mouse-like but with an even more pointed face.  For pictures Google: “short tailed shrew”.
  • What They Eat – Worms and insects.
  • What They Do – They can undermine your plantings and be a nuisance.
  • Control – I usually catch shrews when I’ve set traps for voles.  Even though my traps are set with peanut butter or apple — not probably to the liking of a creature that eats insects – they stumble into the trap.  I’m always surprised when it was a shrew doing the damage rather than a vole.  I reset the trap and can end up having several more stumble into it.

Final Thoughts

I trap voles and shrews mainly in the winter time when it’s easier to see their openings.  By getting the numbers down now — I won’t have to bother as much in harvest season.

Trapping will guarantee your success in winning the war against these varmints.


Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient —- and it’s a lot healthier.


All content including photos is copyright by  All Rights Reserved.



  • Theresa,

    I wonder if you’d be interested in my “Port Oneida rodent control”. Port Oneida was a historic farming community along Lake Michigan, in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, in northern Michigan. While collecting historic information on the ways of the residents of old-time Port Oneida, I was told about this concoction: Mix about 2 parts corn meal; 1 part sunflower seeds or seame seeds or some other small seed; and one part cement powder or Durham’s Water Putty. When you find a rodent tunnel in the garden, poke your finger down into it to make an opening, and pour a little bit of the mixure in.

    I’ve found that this is far more effective than snap traps for eradicating voles, mice, and virtually all other small mammal pests from the garden. It’s not really toxic to the environment like true poisons, since it hardens up and becomes harmless when exposed to moisture. (It’s best used when rain is not expected for a few days.)

    I’ll admit that I do regret the uncomfortable death that this must cause, as compared with the instant death of a snap trap. For that reason, I don’t use it for controlling mice, etc., around the house & sheds. Snap traps work well enough there. However, the Port Oneida mix works so much better in the garden, I do use it there. And whereas keeping up used to be a losing struggle, it’s now hardly any effort.

  • Hi Tom,
    I appreciate your taking the time to post this. I feel sure some will use this method.
    I personally prefer not to put cement powder or putty in my ground.

    One more thing regarding trapping and “keeping up used to be a losing struggle”. I know how you must feel but I don’t look at it like that at all. For me it is not a struggle — it is just another task in the garden that I do each year. It takes only a fews minutes. And it’s not “losing” — because I keep the numbers down to be manageable.

    Again — thank you for taking the time to post this.
    Sounds like it’s an excellent solution if one can or will use the cement powder or putty.

    P.S. If anyone had a problem with rats — I’ll bet this would work great as well.
    Not sure how it would effect owls, hawks, etc. who encountered the dead mice, rats etc. and made a meal from them.

  • I’ve had a problem with “something(s)” eating my growing watermelons. I’ve never seen them being eaten the way they are! By the time the melons are the size of (bigger than a golf ball & smaller than a baseball)… They have been eaten in the middle from
    One side to the other (like a horseshoe sharp opening [or like it’s been in-zipped” from one side to the other] & all the insides are gone; yet, the seeds in the melons are still inside!! It’s driving me crazy. We have birds and 4-legged creatures all around : an occasional deer will creep through but not often, rabbits, squirrels, voles, moles, shrews (mainly/majority) are shrews but not an over abundance of them; our pool seem to be the their “trap”! It’s the way the melons are eaten & left!?! What eats the in an almost “perfect way”??
    Thanks in advance for any help!!

  • I have had a terrific problem with voles gardening in two states over the years. Recently, I was looking for my favorite organic fertilizer at the garden center, and didn’t find it among the bags stored outside. I asked and was told they have to keep them inside in metal containers because mice and other rodents are attracted to them and chew open the bags. The lightbulb didn’t go off right away, but later as I was spreading my Holly-Tone and Garden-Tone around my plants, I realized it actually smelled like Something To Eat…and strongly. I wondered: could my fertilizers be attracting the voles that are eating the roots of my plants? This year I had a hosta the most expensive one!)completely disappear over the winter (only a gaping hole filled with leaves remained) and three Nandinas actually fell over, showing only a gnawed stub where roots should have been. Last year, when only a few of my peas and beans came up, I discovered tunnels all along the row. I soaked the area with a castor oil solution and replanted, and it seemed to help. I also watched a carrot top being pulled into a hole where a carrot used to be. I snatched the top and a furry brown head poked out to see what had happened to his lunch. Just a thought…

  • Andrew, you have the wrong website. I don’t use poisons in my garden or on my property.

  • Hi,
    Thanks so much for
    Your very wonderful website, such helpful information.
    I was wondering when voles go thru in our case
    Sweet potatoes, can you eat the good ones,since they
    Are working all around them and they carry bacteria.
    Do they leave any type of claw marks on sweet potatoes.
    We couldn’t tell if our sweet potatoes were clawed or just split. They looked so bad. Lots were chewed on and rotten.

  • Hi Moomie. Glad you are finding TMG helpful.
    I understand your concerns. I can only tell you what I would do, but you must do what you feel comfortable with.

    I’ve never known voles to leave visible claw marks on anything.
    Whatever has started to rot, I don’t eat.
    Voles eat on some of my regular potatoes. In most years they destroy about 10%. (Acceptable amount to me.) If the potatoes they munch on are small I don’t eat them. If the potato is particular nice looking, medium to large size, and beautiful I wash with water and scrub with my veggie brush and then cut away to part they munched. Then cook and eat. That’s how I’ve been handling it for almost 40 years.

    Sweet potatoes was a whole different story for me. Sweet potatoes were huge but awful looking! All were split. And all were eaten on. They just didn’t look good to me and I didn’t get one sweet potatoes to eat.

    Hope this helps.

  • I just found the email that you had replied to my comment on your other post about voles. I am wondering what sort of trap you use. Just a regular mouse trap or is there one designed more for voles? Thanks

  • Anna, an old-fashion regular mouse trap is what to use. Now’s the perfect time for good trapping. It’s easy to see
    all the holes they make before profuse growth begins in the garden.
    Good luck!

  • Thanks all for your assuring and sympathetic comments regarding voles. I have used mouse traps with ‘some’ success in the past, particularly amongst potatoes, but one or two birds have been caught too.

    As I live in UK I have experienced lots of slug damage and just today realized that my beetroots which at first I thought had been nibbled by slugs, have in fact been decimated by voles or mice! Looks like I have lost the whole crop comprising two patches, the crowns above ground level totally gnawed away, and freshly on some cases! I haven’t dared check the potatoes yet.

    So……. looks like I have to set my traps now to reduce further damage to other vegs. Seems I cannot rely on ‘Fingal the Hunter’ a neighboring cat any more. I should have read the warning signs in my veg plot!!!.

  • Wish I could share by beets with you David. I have more than I’ll use.
    Keep at the trapping. You’ll eventually get the numbers down and decrease damage to a point you can live with.
    Best of luck. Let me know how you do.

  • Well Theresa, just minutes after setting all my traps I heard one go off amongst the beetroots, which I had set in a plastic bottle with peanut butter as bait. I checked to find one culprit….., yes a red lipped vole!. ‘It’s one battle with nature’ isn’t it! Feeling better, Dave.

  • I know exactly how you feel! Only we gardeners with vole problems know how exciting it is to hear a trap go off after just setting it! So encouraging.
    Thanks for coming back and posting the good news David.

  • Thanks for your superb gardening website, it does make for good reading, tips and encouraging remarks. Regarding the mouse trapping, we are now into scores of rodents/pests caught using peanut butter on eleven traps. I set some inside plastic sawn off bottles to try to deter birds. However I have since caught interesting alternatives, a frog, and a snail beside our munched campanulas which seem to be good rodent fodder. The snail chose to very gently approach the peanut butter plastered onto a trap that was not too finely set, allowing sufficient bulk to cause the trap go off, meeting its untimely end. Oh dear!

  • We set traps but when we have time, we shoot them with a bb gun. After you kill one vole, another one is right behind it. They’ve eaten my tomatoes, chewed okea plants at their base. It’s become somewhat of a sport shooting them. Our military training put to good use, ha-ha-ha

  • Voles are so small Leah, how in the world do you shoot them?
    Would you happen to mean gophers by any chance?

  • My wife said she saw a mouse or some other small critter one time, only once. It looked like a kangaroo mouse. I see lots of holes in our garden , but I’ve never seen ( the critter). We have 2 cats that are awesome killers of all that lives. But, I keep seeing new holes and now our sunflower plants are getting their roots gnawed at or tunneled under and I guess it’s time to set some traps. I’m gettin’ to old to sit out there with my pellet rifle and wait for them, but that does sound like something I’d do back when I consumed much beer.

  • When I first started my move in 2008 from MD to central VA and started my vegetable garden I was only in VA from about April to Nov. The garden did well for a couple of years with no varmints or stink bugs! Then word spread that there was a new garden in the area, I am in farm country though only on 4 acres, and everything moved in. I planted castor beans around the entire perimeter of the garden, only 50′ x 50′ at the time. With the help of my mouser, Misty, and the beans varmints left. Stink bugs are a whole other story and I just can’t plant squash period. I am all organic also.

  • You are so fortunate to have good mouser. Very few cats are really good mousers.
    Glad that solved the varmint problem along with castor beans. Lot of beans around that 50 x 50 perimeter!
    Stink bugs are a nuisance. Kill them whenever you see them and keep at it. That’s my approach.
    Squash bugs are even worse and the bane of many gardeners. They do make you think twice about planting squash.

  • Hi Theresa,
    On the couple of occasions I’ve put out mouse traps, despite putting them in well-chosen locations, I have gone back to find dead birds. How do you prevent the wildlife you do want in the garden, from becoming a trap victim?

  • I do not own a garden but a shrew got into my house through my toilet hole ND it smell horrible please what do I do

  • Sara, as I mentioned in the post “Turn a large plastic flower pot or bucket upside down and place it over the trap and hole so they’re in the dark” and then place a brick on top to keep it from blowing over. This keeps the trap available only to critters in the ground rather than birds.

  • Bernice, I think a plumber might be able to help you know how they got into your system to begin with.
    There must be a hole somewhere.
    Good luck.

  • We live in Devon UK. We have a lot of trouble with mice and voles both of which get into our bungalow via climbing jasmine and a grape vine. Our first pea sowing has been wiped out I think by rodents.
    I am coming up to 82 recovering from a stroke and cancer treatment so I have neglected to implement a past procedure which works well with peas. Soak in water to swell the seeds for a few hours then immediately before sowing dip in paraffin(kerosene) or white spirit for 15 minutes only.
    It may be the latter does not satisfy the requirements of organic gardening.
    Another trick is to sow peas in compost in a 3 inch half round length of drainpipe germinate under
    cover until sprouting then spread out into the planting drill.

  • Thanks for you input David.
    Wishing you a speedy recovery to good health!
    Happy gardening.

  • There was a guy on you tube that recommended using a kit that consisted of half a plastic downspout long enough to cover 2 mouse traps in either side of the vole hole. It does work really well. So does a metal mouse trap that you can catch a number in, you do have the problem of what to do with them unless you accidentally forget them on a hot day. (In our defense, we check them everyday get nothing, get busy and forget, then find them from the smell…then we check everyday until we forget.) I do wonder about the cement, most , if not all, is naturally occurring, I guess each person would have to decide their comfort level.

  • I have quite a few Northern short tailed shrews this year. Happily they have taken care of the slugs that used to plague my hostas, but now that it is fall, they have burrowed under some of the hostas and destroyed most of the plant, The roots appear to have been gnawed off under the crown. Will they also eat lily bulbs and other plants? We think they are also feasting on the invasive jumping worms that have made it into my garden. Should I trap them or welcome them?

  • Linda,
    Shrews are known to eat insects rather than plants.
    I’m wondering if the damage to your hostas is from voles. And voles eat plant roots. And they sure love hostas and Asiatic lilies.

    My advice would be to trap whatever it is until you’re not catching any more. And after that — remain on alert so when more move in you can start trapping again.
    Good Luck!

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