Voles are a small outdoor rodent commonly mistaken for moles because of the similarity between their names and their shared habits of tunneling through the ground. However, voles purposefully damage your home landscape and lawn by eating roots and bark, while moles only accidentally damage plants in their quest for live prey like grubs. Knowing where to look for signs of a vole infestation can help you get pest control just in time to prevent hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of damage to your landscape.
Girded Trees and Shrubs
Check the base of trees, shrubs, and other bark-covered stems for signs of chewing damage. If you notice chew marks and missing bark in a circle around the base, it's likely vole damage. While rabbits and squirrels can also girdle plants in this way, they generally chew much higher up than just around the few inches at the base. Short girdle marks are a clear sign that voles are infiltrating your garden and landscape. Unfortunately, they also tend to kill the plants unless you catch the damage when there's only a small section of bark missing.
Surface Tunnels and Holes
Unlike moles and gophers that burrow below the surface, voles make their tunnels right along the surface of the ground. This leads to distinctive patterns of chewed and dead grass in a mowed lawn area, but it's still possible to see in less maintained areas as well. Look for tunnels among leaves and mulch that are narrow and have multiple holes that pop up near plants. This indicates you're dealing with voles and not moles, gophers, or another type of pest altogether.
Since voles primary munch on tasty underground roots and the base of plants, you may not notice any visible upper plant damage until it's too late and the plant is dead. If you notice one or two plants out of a grouping start drying out and dying, check around the edges for tunnels and holes before anymore plants start dying. Plants killed by voles simply dry up and die since they're disconnected from the roots, so it's essential to take action quickly if you notice one death or scattered drying.
Finally, give your best rooted bulbs and shrubs a tug now and then to verify the roots are still intact. Many plants take a long time to dry out and die after losing their roots, so gently pulling on them can verify that they're still connected when you're tracking damage from voles. Dig out any plants that come loose to verify the roots are missing or chewed on and not just rotted away due to wet conditions.