10 Plants That Voles Will Avoid

Iris flowers in mixed colors.

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It's easier to control voles through repellents, etc. than it is to grow only plants that voles don't eat, simply because they feast on so many different garden plants. Your plant-selection possibilities are greatly reduced if you limit yourself to growing vole-resistant plants. But if you do choose to grow only what these critters avoid eating, be sure to select the prettiest such plants.

One of the things that make voles so nasty is that they do a lot of their damage in winter, when gardeners aren't paying much attention. They prefer to do their eating with plenty of cover, so that a fox or other predator can't detect them and sneak up on them. Their shallow tunnels give them some cover, but the snow in winter provides much better cover.

Thus buried under soil and a layer of snow, voles can eat plants' roots in peace, to their hearts' content. Even when the pests aren't chewing on plants, they can damage them in the process of tunneling near them. The result of all of this wintertime activity is that gardeners, greatly anticipating the first flowers of spring, find, instead, dead plants.

  • 01 of 10

    Lenten Rose

    Lenten roses with light-pink flowers.
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    There's lots of reasons to recommend Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), starting with the fact that it's one of those first plants to bloom in spring. But this is one early bloomer that voles don't eat. It's also one of the easiest plants to grow. Since it bears tough sepals rather than delicate petals, its flowers last a long time. Its glossy, evergreen leaves would be reason enough to grow Lenten rose as a foliage plant even if it didn't have nice blooms.  

  • 02 of 10

    Trout Lily

    Trout lily in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    If you're the type of gardener who wants to grow the lesser-known plants rather than growing what everyone else grows, you'll love trout lily (Erythronium americanum). This vole-resistant corm plant is a North-American native. Under the right conditions, it will naturalize, allowing you to appreciate its graceful yellow flower year after year. 

  • 03 of 10

    Snowdrops

    Snowdrops with closed flowers.
    David Beaulieu

    Voles eat many of our spring bulbs and corms. These nutrient-rich, underground tubers are just too tasty for them to pass up. Crocus, Chionodoxa, tulips (Tulipa), and some kinds of hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) are among the plants that voles commonly damage.

    Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are one type that voles don't eat, happily.

  • 04 of 10

    Grape Hyacinth

    Grape hyacinth plant in flower.
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    The life cycle of grape hyacinths (Muscari botryoides) differs from that of other spring bulbs. Grape hyacinths send up foliage in fall. This foliage can get rather ratty-looking. But resist the temptation to cut back the unsightly leaves. Through photosynthesis, they are sending energy down into their bulbs, where it will be stored through winter. Flowers and new leaves pop up in spring, before the plants go dormant in summer.

    Grape hyacinths are a good choice for low-maintenance landscaping. Not only do voles not eat them, but they also last longer than do many other bulbs. With their tendency to naturalize, they'll also spread to fill in an area if left alone, or you can divide them and transplant them to other areas of the yard.

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  • 05 of 10

    Daffodils

    Narcissus Replete flower.
    David Beaulieu 

    Few flowers are better suited to woodland gardens than are daffodils (Narcissus). As poisonous plants, voles are repelled by them (as are all other pests, so you don't have to watch over them carefully to ensure that squirrels, etc. aren't bothering them). They want full sun, but the full-sun requirement isn't as difficult to meet as it is for many plants, since daffodils bloom in spring, meaning they can be grown under deciduous trees: They will get enough sun in the spring (before the trees leaf out) to grow and acquire the nutrients they need for the growing season. 

    There are many different types, including:

    • Ice Follies (white, with classic trumpet; 20 inches high)
    • Replete (double flower: creamy outer petals and a ruffly, peach-colored center instead of a classic trumpet; 12 to 18 inches high)
    • Tickled Pinkeen (creamy-yellow outer petals with a classic trumpet in a salmon-orange color; 16 inches high)
    • Professor Einstein (white outer petals with an orange cup in the center; 16 inches high)
  • 06 of 10

    Jack-in-the-Pulpit

    Jack-in-the-pulpit hood with stripes.
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    Often found growing on the forest floor in its native North America, jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is another corm plant that voles avoid. Jack-in-the-pulpit is a good foliage plant for spring and summer, but it also bears brightly-colored berries in fall. It is perfect for Americans seeking native perennials for shade gardens.

  • 07 of 10

    Crown Imperial

    Fritillaria has spectacular blooms.
    David Beaulieu

    It's understandable why voles don't eat crown imperial bulbs (Fritillaria imperialis): These plants stink. But gardeners love them for the height (3 to 4 feet) and impressive blooms they bring to the spring garden. While they are not the easiest plants to grow, they are among the most fun plants to grow.

  • 08 of 10

    Salvia

    Planting of many Victoria Blue salvia plants in bloom.
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    Salvia plants also stink; that's why voles don't eat them. There are both annual and perennial types of salvia. Most everyone knows about the (usually) red annual kind used as a bedding plant. But gardeners who prefer perennials have various types to choose from, including:

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  • 09 of 10

    Irises

    Iris flowers in mixed colors.
    liuyushan/Getty Images

    There's a type of iris to please just about everybody. Lovers of fragrance gardens appreciate that some types are among the most fragrant plants. If you have a wet spot in the landscape, you'll want the kind known as "blue flag" (Iris versicolor), which is a wetland plant.

    There are irises with small, delicate flowers such as the reticulated (Iris reticulata), but also irises with big, bold blooms such as Iris germanica Batik (24 inches tall, USDA zones 4 to 9, full sun). Its fragrant, purple flowers are streaked with irregular blotches of white.

  • 10 of 10

    Castor Bean

    Castor bean with dark leaves.
    David Beaulieu

    Castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) gives us the toxin, ricin. This fact is problematic if you have children playing in the yard, but it's great news if you're having trouble with voles eating your flowers. Even Northerners can grow this tropical plant, worry-free, in containers in summer and enjoy its color and stately form. Some vole repellents like Repellex actually use castor oil to drive these pests away.

Distinguish Voles From That Other Small, Underground Pest

It's easy to confuse voles with moles. Not only do their names sound alike, but they are also both small, furry pests that spend a lot of time underground. But here's an important difference between the two: Voles are rodents that eat plant material; moles are not. Moles cause unsightly damage on lawns due to the digging that they do, but you don't have to worry about moles eating the roots of your flowers.