Wanting to understand mulch


+1 for the bait. It does a very good job here. As mentioned earlier in the thread, we don’t get vole activity if the trees are heavily mulched, but in areas where there is little or no mulch, there can be lots of voles. Sometimes so many they make Swiss cheese out of the ground.

I’ve found baiting does an excellent job controlling voles in the orchard. I happen to use a Restricted product in the winter when voles are a problem, but there are non-Restricted vole baits out there.

Colorado State recommends baits with warfarin or bromadilone, but I suspect any other anti-coagulant bait would work. I’ve used Rozol (Restricted Use) before with the anti-coagulant chlorophacinone, which worked.

Tomcat bait chunx has a different anti-coagulant, but is approved for vole use. It requires use of a tamper proof bait station when used.

Some people don’t feel comfortable using poison baits for fear of potential non-target poisonings of children or other animals. Not trying to change anyone’s mind on that, just mentioning another option.

Voles are very easy to spot here. Their runs are easy to spot, as well as their holes. Just because you see a hole, doesn’t mean it’s a vole. Could be a crawdad or a chipmunk hole. Even some snakes make holes. I wouldn’t use any control until I saw evidence of voles. If you have enough owls, hawks, or stray cats, you may not ever have a problem with voles. Also if you are in a suburban neighborhood, you may never have a problem. Unlike moles, voles tend to like environments removed from people.

I’d wait and see before I did anything about voles. Not wait for damage, but wait to see if you see evidence of them. There are plenty of other potential pests you will be fighting in your new orchard (squirrels, deer, borers, OFM, PC, etc.) so no reason to start planning for pests which may never show up.

Again I’ve found a thick pack of wood chips a repellent of voles vs. an attractant. I generally get about 60 loads of wood chips a year (last year I only got 20). I wish you could walk down through the isles with me and I could show you how the mulch collapses. It’s impossible for the voles to build an entrance or tunnels which don’t collapse. It’s the exact same principle as the pea gravel you are considering around your trees. In areas of the orchard where there is little or no mulch, I sometimes get underground vole cities.



Thank you for your detailed and helpful reply. Your point about waiting for a problem to emerge before executing a solution is sound. My rationale for trying to be proactive is that my fruit tree extension specialists have warned me against hardwood mulch because of pine voles. To be fair, I am not sure this advice is based on actual research, but it has me mindful of the issue.

I live in a rural area, am surrounded by hardwoods and see some evidence of vole tunnels, though I would not consider it extensive. We also have our fair share of red hawks, owls and the like so I’ll take your advice to monitor and only bait if/when necessary.

Mainly, I was curious if there was anything I ought to do pre-plant that might give me a leg up on the issue knowing (at least anecdotally) that it might emerge in the future.

Thank you again for the information and advice. I am going to read the Colorado extension article you posted tonight.




If you are seeing voles before you even plant, you are on the right track to be thinking about them, imo.

I can’t think of much action you could take, preemptively, to manage the voles, short of the pea gravel idea. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with the pea gravel, but I’ve learned to manage voles in my own way, so I wouldn’t disparage alternative attempts.

Good luck. Sounds like you are really trying put effort in the planning stage, which puts you ahead of 90% of the people who start a small orchard (the other 10% being most of the other people who frequent this forum). Kudos.


Thank you, Olpea.

I owe much of what I know to good folks like you and Alan (and many others) who are so generous in sharing of your wealth of experience.

Thanks again for all the help and advice. I am grateful.



What does this sentence mean? My meadow voles love my house- but I don’t have a problem with the pines invading.

Where I live, wood chips don’t repel voles in my experience, but they don’t encourage them as much as you’d think based on how often it is said to attract voles in literature. What really attracts them is hay mulch, but I can still control them with same methods. I use hay a lot in my nursery to save labor time.


i also use the tomcat. i get mine at TSC.


I gave some thought to that sentence before I wrote it. I see voles and vole activity abundantly in my field orchard and in wildlife areas. In suburban yards around here I rarely see voles. There are also numerous untended yard fruit trees around here. I’ve not seen or heard of any voles bothering those trees. I’ve seen a few voles before in my own backyard orchard on trees which don’t have mulch. But again nothing like pastures or my orchard.

It’s my opinion that neither type of voles prefer nicely manicured lawns, which is predominately the case in our suburban neighborhood, and I think most suburban neighborhoods across the U.S.

Conversely, I see moles in town and in yards (until homeowners get excited and kill them with impale traps). I don’t see as much mole activity in open pastures. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a mole hill at the orchard.

Notice I put the word “tend” in my statement above, as a qualifier. I didn’t want the statement to sound absolute. I even italicized it for emphasis. Based on my experience I think there is more vole pressure in open areas where the grass is higher or unmowed, thus providing more cover for the animals.


(" Based on my experience I think there is more vole pressure in open areas where the grass is higher or unmowed, thus providing more cover for the animals.")

Yes, this is the key to vole control.
Mowing short in the early fall , in the tree row ,and around the trunk,
Removing any hiding spots, grass clippings blown away from the tree.
This helps a lot to keep them at bay.


Yes, voles are often said to be discouraged by frequent mowing and it is often recommended that grass in orchards be mowed low as soon as growth slows in very late summer to early fall. It is a recommendation I follow in my nursery.

Where I have the greatest difficulty with voles is sites where trees are planted in meadows that are only mowed once a year. I think that by mid-winter the voles run out of grass and other weed seeds and after the large populations produced by that bounty run out of food they seek less nutritious fare, such as tree bark- especially the higher protein apple tree bark. If you keep the grass from seeding you avoid this population explosion.

I bet you will always find a lot more vole activity under a bale of hay than a bale of seedless straw.

I just read what Hillbilly posted and see he already covered some of what I’ve said here. Hopefully my elaboration is helpful but he’s right to mention the hiding places aspect. Obviously, hawks and owls can see them better when there is low grass shorter than the voles. Maybe that’s why meadow voles make the low trenches for pathways- to reduce their visibility.


thats why i have so many around here as I’m surrounded by unplanted fields and scub which the voles love for cover. predators. keep them under control in the summer but they have free range under the snow in the winter.



Thank you again for all the good advice, feedback and context. I know I for one feel much better equipped to deal with the eventuality of voles should they become an issue in our orchard. One of the things I really appreciate about this forum is that people are willing to share their experiences- which often differ based on the myriad factors at play. For what it is worth, my intent personally is to move forward with the plan to utilize a continuous hardwood mulch on the orchard floor and to also provide a 2’ diameter vegetation-free zone about each tree via peastone and then to be ever vigilant for the tell-tale signs of pine vole tunnels.

I assume that with no vegetation around a tree, the meadow vole pressure is lessened but one still has to be observant- particularly during times of socked-in snow cover?

Thanks again for the advice- I really do appreciate it.



Hi Russ, I’ve found hardware cloth around trees and shrubs to be a most important vole/mouse “control” in my orchard. I mulch with hay (because that’s what I have), live in the midst of fields and woods in the country with a good array of predators that all help. But in a high population year that’s not enough here. Thankfully the hardware cloth has worked. Last winter we had record numbers of voles and anything not caged was eaten, never seen anything like it. This fall I made sure everything was wrapped before winter set in. Sue


I’m not sure how much snow Western KY gets. Where I’m at, we generally don’t get a ton of snow (although we got a 12"+ snow a couple weeks ago, which is unusual for my area).

My experience has been that if you don’t see evidence of vole activity before the snow, they don’t move in just because it snows. But I suppose that may depend on how close you are to the woods, and how long the snow lasts.

Unless it lasts a long time, mostly snow gives good cover to voles which are already in the orchard.


Sue-MiUPz3 and Olpea:

Thank you both for your replies- I sincerely appreciate it!

Sue: Are you burying your hardware screen below grade to help protect feeder roots or strictly above grade to mitigate trunk girdling?

Olpea: Our situation is similar to yours- we have infrequent (but sometimes significant) snowfall accumulations. For example, we have had only one measurable snow event thus far totaling approximately 3/4" of accumulation.

I’ve attached two elevation views from two texts I have been referring to:




Hardware cloth is fine but weeds do pop up between the ring and the trunk. I have never had a tree girdled that has been wrapped with typical white spirals, except by the spiral itself, which, although rare, inspires me to attach the spirals in fall and remove in early spring after first growth.

Hardware cloth has the advantage of fully breathing so bark doesn’t get “punky” and more attractive to insects but spring removal of spirals solves these problems.

What book has the suggestion for remedial wood- haven’t that term for a while- it is woodchips made from fine, high mineral content wood. Not really needed, but perhaps beneficial for an establishing tree.

Incidentally, I failed to mention that it is possible for mulch to supply excess potassium which limits a trees ability to absorb calcium. I’ve only had or maybe have had problems with this that I can see with specific varieties of apples. The problem causes corking and rotten spots- Honeycrisp is especially susceptible as is Jonagold. I believe the solution may be the application of foliar manganese.


I put my hardware cloth on after planting so just push it in as far as it will go, which probably isn’t far. I sometimes want to remove it so that works good for me. Sue


I like the hardware screen, because I can spray through it for white paint or dormant sprays. I have had the rodents still get a couple items when the screen tilted to one side and they got under it, so be sure to secure it to the ground. I haven’t found a good way to get rid of weeds inside the wire. I just reach in and pull the big ones that are accessible. The rest are “sunshade” for the trunk.



Thank you for your reply. I sincerely appreciate it. I should have properly referenced the two photos:

  1. The first is from Michael Phillips’ “The Holistic Orchard”.
  2. The second is from Dr. Dan Barney’s “Storey’s Guide to Growing Organic Orchard Fruits”.

I appreciate the caution about the ramial wood chips, and I read the article you hyperlinked. Around here we are generally deficient in potassium and high in magnesium- that said, I can imagine how it could certainly be possible to oversupply bio-available potassium. I will keep an eye on this. Some of the more interesting observations from the article (at least to me) included:

“To manage this crop characteristic of excessive potassium absorption, the obvious first step is to reduce, or in many cases entirely eliminate, all soil and foliar applications of potassium. Even a very small application — as little as 8 ounces of actual potassium per acre applied as a foliar during fruit development — can reduce calcium mobility into the fruit. This is especially true during critical early periods of fruit development, such as the cell division stage immediately after pollination.”

“When trees have a generous supply of manganese in the proper form, potassium does not move into the fruit as rapidly as when the tree contains a surplus of potassium, allowing calcium to move into the fruit more readily, and helping to prevent bitter pit challenges. More than 90% of all the orchards we have worked with did not have adequate manganese to provide this potassium regulation effect, or the manganese being applied was in a form that the trees could not absorb and metabolize.”

I had not even considered using the plastic tree wrap spirals, but that might be a viable option when considering the integration with a peastone ring.

Thanks again for all your help. I sincerely appreciate it.




Thank you for your reply. I sincerely appreciate it! I am coming to the realization that there may not be a fool-proof method of preventing pine vole damage to subsurface roots, but that the hardware cloth sounds like an effective method to mitigate girdling above the surface. I do sincerely appreciate your help, and have a great weekend.




Good point- I appreciate you pointing out another advantage of the hardware screen.

I have considered employing a product similar to IV Organics 3-in-1 Plant Guard (https://ivorganics.com/), and it would require periodic renewal- having the means to reapply through the hardware cloth makes good sense.

Thanks again for your feedback. I really do appreciate it.