Advice for apple nurseries VOLS! Argh!

This morning, a dear friend, presumptive positive for covid-19 was put on a ventilator. Later this morning, I got a call from the mechanic… the engine on my truck is toast.

So… I figure I’ll take control of what I can, and head to the orchard for some therapy. I notice my nursery is almost snow free. Free in some places, maybe 6 inches deep in others. As I approach, my worst fears!!!

Despite building a 1/2inch hardware cloth fence, buried a few inches deep the vols found their way in. The majority of my trees that I can see (130 total!) are girdled!!!

So… to those of you who may build a nursery for young trees, take the extra time to really dig in your fence.

In the light of other things, the trees don’t matter, but it is another $400 down the drain and a year of growth lost.

Be safe, everyone!


Check on the label, some rodenticides are labeled for voles. Get the weather blocks. This has worked really well for me, esp. under snow.


I lost just one this year, a seedling root stock I had grown from seed with Spartan bud grafted to it in summer 2018. I was able to harvest the top as scion and may be able to graft it back to the root stock below the girdling. If not I have some other root stock in the nursery bed. Hope you can save some of your!

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How did the voles get to your trees? Above the hardware cloth, below…?

I think the buggars heard about narco tunnels and made their own version. I found a few tunnel openings near the outside of the fence, and some openings a couple of feet inside It would have taken me an extra 30-60 minutes to dig the cloth in 8-12 inches deep. A shame!

When I get the chance, I’m going to check out the tunnels to see if there’s track, electricity, ventilation. With luck, maybe they were running pot that I can sell to the hippie neighbors.

On the upside… the 190 trees in the main orchard, each with it’s own permanent HW cloth protector all survived unscathed. The trails in the woodchips indicate they are everywhere in the orchard. All of this is reminding me to clean out the Kestrel box tomorrow.

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So were the trees girdled above ground?

Yep. I haven’t gotten into the to see the real extent. Many still have substantial snow up along their trunks.

Wondering where you’re going with this, as in whether I’m not thinking straight on the topic. Am I missing something?

I may change my tune about poison after this, but with the number of raptors and fox that frequent the area, I really don’t want to employ poison. The solution in the orchard is 36” HW cloth made into 12” tubes, buried to 4” on the outside. No damage, whatsoever, in 3 years… 4 years? Oh how the time flies.

No, I’m just curious how they got through the hardware cloth. If the damage is above the hardware cloth, how high is the cloth? If the damage is below the hardware cloth then it must be underground. Pine voles can damage roots, meadow voles generally cause above soil line girdling.

I have meadow voles, and plenty of them. I use 36" aluminum window screen and that takes care of 99% of my vole girdling issues.

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i use the tomcat brand chunks put in 3in. pcv pipes 12in. long with one end ductaped shut put about every 50 ft. all around my property and some in my orchard in nov. haven’t had vole problems since doing this. voles really suck!

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Ahhh… the trees were effectively in a pen, 15x30’. 36”hardware cloth. I think we maxed out at 24” of snow on the ground. All the damage was below the snow line. All evidence points to the buggars burrowing under the fence.


i don’t know what kind of voles we have here but I’ve had them crawl up 3ft. of hardware cloth and still get my trees. our snow gets real deep here. rarely do they get under. poison is the only thing that works . come spring I’ve never seen a dead vole above ground .

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Voles can do a lot of damage sorry to hear that! Their populations cycle so you must I’ve had a peak year for them. One thing that has helped me what’s to get rid of brush as much and as far from my trees as I can and to keep the orchard mowed… I chose not to use poison for the fear of killing predators but I did install raptor perches… the Hawks by day and the owls by night can put a hurtin on them voles. And definitely use aluminum window screen staple around your trees… If they’re not completely girdled around there are some ways you might be able to graft some skin on them I’ll let the pros chime in God bless

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Sorry for your loss. I know how frustrating it would be. I lost many trees to gophers before.

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same here. I am sorry for your loss I have gone through similar losses and it can be such a disappointment. I think the orchard is even more important right now==a real sanctuary from the stress of the world


I have a few trees in the nursery with uncommon varieties. Hopefully they survived. Those that got girdled, I’ll be lopping the tops off and using for scion on my just-in-time purchase of more root stock.

Once I get in a rhythm of grafting, it’s a process. Yeah, this sucks, but it’s not as huge a deal as if the vols had hit mature trees.

With the dream of quitting the day job and opening a cidery taking some SERIOUS reconsideration these days, the extra year to see production isn’t that big of a deal.

Thanks, everyone!



If we were closer, I’d be glad to drive on up and (while maintaining social distance, lol) hang out with ya for a couple hours and help re-graft whatever we could.

Any apples you need scion for?


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Thanks, Scott!

I’m good with scion. I ordered a stack of interesting things to regraft failed grafts from last year. I over ordered for what I expected to need trying to get lots of variety… fortuitous! I also took a bunch of scion from trees in the older part of my orchard. Between that and rescuing scion from the vol’d trees, I have way more than I need to do the 100 rootstocks coming soon. I think I had it down to 3-4 minutes per graft last year, so two mornings listening to the radio and drinking coffee… it’ll be done.

I’m gonna try to prep the ground where they’re going starting tomorrow. Each spot has a pile of woodchips 18-24” high. Last I checked, they were thawed maybe 3” deep. I’ll scrape down to the ice to expose the piles to some sun. Hopefully tonight’s rain (3/4”) expected and no sub freezing temps will have open things up quickly! Once the ground is soft, I average about 5 minutes per graftling-tree… a full day’s work. I’ll probably spread it out over two days.

Also on the docket… 9 trees from nurseries, 12 elderberry, and 50 aronia. On deck after planting, trenching for irrigation supply line and running it to all the new kids in the orchard.

All that, and I better get good at remote teaching mighty quick! Biggest challenge there, so far… I can’t get students to reply to email, posts in our learning management system, phone calls, or texts. Suddenly feeling stressed! :slight_smile:

I got this!

And with all this having gone on… first kestrel sighting in the orchard today. Saw it divebomb a remnant of a snow drift at the wood line, then perch on a post in the middle of the orchard.

It’s nesting box was recently cleaned out and re-floored with fresh beech bark chips. I’m so hoping they use it this year!

During banding a couple summers ago!


I installed 100 chickens today (not for my wife) and I’m the predator anything that comes close to my chicken coop must fear! My pullets cost me $8 apiece and I’m not willing that any pullet should perish.

My vole damage has stopped since I’ve started using Tomcat baits. One cube goes inside the rabbit wire and one goes inside the deer fence. It’s gone in the spring and rodents seem to be the only things attracted to it. We put so much work and effort into our orchards, I hate to see loss of even one tree to something so easily and effectively preventable.