How much impact does vole damage have?


I was late putting tree guards on my orchard this fall, voles seem to have exploded this year in both the veggie garden and the orchard. A lot of my one-two year old trees have been chewed on at the graft. Some all the way around, some only halfway. Only some are leaking a bit of sap from the damage.

My question is, none of the trees LOOK stressed because of this damage, so I am wondering (as long as I prevent further damage) what impact will this vole damage have on my trees short/long term? It seems silly to replace this many trees when they look healthy and unphased by it. But some are chewed all the way around and I am not sure if these trees will suffer more this winter or be stingy on fruit forevermore.

Please advise :slight_smile:
Thank you!

If it’s chewed above ground, it’s likely bunnies. Voles in my area eat roots. I can pull up a rose bush or a small tree and there were no roots left.

I guess it probably depends area of country and type of vole, as voles in my iowa location haven’t done much damage below ground, it is mostly above ground, chewing and girdling my trees. This year was about the earliest they have done damage, was already getting it in july, They loved my nanking cherries. If they chewed all the way around, its probably girdled and the top will die above that. Sometimes though they haven’t chewed deep enough, and see the area repair itself.

How long until the top dies if it’s done for?

Do half-girdled trees repair themselves and live normally or are they compromised in terms of production?

I doubt it’s bunnies. I can hear the squeaks of the mice/voles and their little holes are everywhere in the dried grass. I haven’t seen any bunnies, anyhow.

Yes!! Why do you think they were at it so early this year? I’ve never seen so many on my property before.

May be a cat or a trap deficiency.

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You’ve got to poison them early and keep the grass down near the tree.

A half way girdled tree can recover. As in girdled half way around. If girdled all the way around down to the wood I’d expect the tree to decline badly and maybe die next yr.

I can’t bring myself to trap or poison animals :disappointed: The grass was out of hand this year.

I think my cats get 10-15 a day of mice/voles, its pretty amazing how prolific the varmints are. Once I get tree guards on things in fall, that helps. On small diameter grafted trees, I leave the tree guards on all year.


I have meadow voles at my place, and they are one disadvantage of my mulch habit and general ‘shagginess’ around my place. They get really active in the fall. We got two Maine Coon Cat cross kittens just tho help out with these pests as they have girdled dozens of small nursery trees over the winters. I place hardware cloth, salvaged window screen around the trunks on my permanent trees.


I thought about leaving them on all year, but then it’s harder to notice borers or other damages. I might have to leave them on anyway. Do they all have to come off again for the dormant oil spray?

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Like Jesse I use hardware cloth around my trees and i likely have a very good population of little furred things. I usually take mine off in the growing season but you wouldn’t have to. The tree gets air circulation and you can see through it. I’ve never had any damage though mulch and grass and vegetation abound. Cat, owls and hawks help.

It certainly won’t hurt to wait and see how the trees do. My experience is apples are amazing healers. Plums and cherries not so, but one never knows. Might as well give them a Chance! But maybe order some extra scions just in case?


I live just south of you in ct. and unfortunately I have both types of voles here and you may have too. There are meadow voles that mainly live above ground and will girdle trees besides bugs bunny. Then there are woodland/pine voles that eat the roots of flowers and trees and mainly live below ground. Ground moles I have as well in my yard and they are the ones that tunnel and leave humped shallow mounds in your yard that you can see. The ground moles are of no concern because they mainly eat grubs, larva and insects underground if I remember correctly. If you have woodland/pine voles you will see see 1-2" holes in the ground but no mounds for the tunnels they make. If you see ground mole mounds near plants or vegetables and the roots are gone it means that a ground mole has abandoned those tunnels and that a woodland/pine vole has come in and taken the tunnels over and is doing the damage.

As an aside I had tree guards on my trees from last fall to this spring and when all the buds on trees were starting to get green, I had one that wasn’t. When I took the tree guard off my Pallas peach tree I had found that it was chewed/girdled all the way around the rootstock just a coupled of inches above the ground. Needless to say the tree didn’t make it and The Arboreum didn’t have any this year so I couldn’t replace it.


I do have pine voles and ground moles. Our small subdivision/neighborhood was built up with clean fill. I don’t think we have meadow voles. I have several bunnies. They own my neighborhood.

People tend to think the voles they experience are the only ones that exist. I can’t do this because both pine and meadow voles flourish on my land and the land of many orchards I manage. They are distinctly different animals, meadow voles make the visible pathways on top of the soil and girdle trees near the graft union, pine voles are subterranean and are root eaters a lot like western gophers- but smaller. They do the same kind of damage to fruit trees- destroying root systems and leaving a girdled underground carrot. They don’t tend to damage the same range of species as gophers do and often only go after apples in a mixed fruit orchard- meadow voles prefer apples as well but will expand their diet if they are hungry enough.

Trees girdled all the way to sapwood by meadow voles are very likely to die, although first signs of damage may occur well after they bloom next spring, even leafing out nicely before suddenly dying. This is because the sapwood can transfer water upward but without the cambium the leaves can’t feed the roots. Occasionally girdled trees will send a bridge of cambium that saves to tree but recovery can take years. I don’t know if it helps much, but I sometimes wrap girdled trees with rubber electric tape to help stave of dehydration.

If you aren’t willing to kill or live trap out voles (what are you, a Buddhist?) you can usually prevent both meadow vole and rabbit damage with plastic trunk wraps or aluminum foil, but on snow years animals may take advantage and use the snow as an elevator to higher bark. At least trees girdled above the graft union can send up a new tree. You can also tamp down snow and/or add wrapping as needed during the winter, but sometimes it’s hard to remember to do. Rabbits are more likely to do upper trunk damage this way than meadow voles.


Hehe I’m not a Buddhist I just feel guilty killing things. Controlling an entire acre of voles seems like a big task. I definitely have meadow voles - the peaches and apricots were chewed the worst, apples and plums look like they tried to gnaw in one spot but didn’t like it - so they’re mostly okay. Only one of my apple trees is wobbly and could potentially have had its roots eaten. I can’t tell if any other trees have anything going on beneath the soil. I guess I’ll have a fun summer next year counting my losses. Would weed fabric help prevent them from coming close to my trees?

I’m considering weed fabric heavily after initially refusing to use it. I’m going as organic as possible, and weed fabric will eliminate weed wacking between 200 trees (that’s a lot of mulch to chip), lessen voles, less mowed over hoses, less watering etc. I understand there are some negatives like less oxygen and cementing the soil… but maybe 4’ wide strip won’t harm long term. Thoughts?

Is weed fabric AND hardware cloth overkill?

Alan, that was very informative. I have a couple trees that were eaten all the way down to the sapwood - but only halfway around the trunk. The rest is normal. Will losing half the cambium effect vigor and production, since it can now only feed half as well, or will it eventually heal entirely?

Even a Buddhist has her limit :smile:


If all other factors are positive for vigorous growth, a half girdled young tree should be barely affected. I’m surprised your apples were avoided- your voles must be in a different union than mine.