In the Garden – July 2021


Damn deer! Blasted squirrels! Nefarious voles! Sometimes gardening is a battle. Who’s your most infuriating nemesis?

In my previous garden, the main mammalian culprit was the two-legged kind. The kind that steals your flowers and actually digs up entire plants, or takes off with your garden hose when you are not looking.

For years, my primary opponents here were raccoons. They rummage in your garden looking for tasty bits or sometimes just for a bit of fun. Is there fresh, open soil? Well then, something tasty must be under there. You get the drift.

Same thing with those pesky non-native Eastern gray squirrels. I keep telling them that they are invaders – more recent arrivals here than humans – but they just don’t listen. They don’t listen to the scolding of our native chickarees (Douglas squirrels) either.

I’ve taken to armoring my tulip bulbs in underground baskets and mesh to protect them from gray squirrels. Too bad that doesn’t stop them from chewing the buds and flowers once those emerge. But I must admit that I was touched and amused one spring to notice that some squirrel had left a delightful offering of shredded tulip petals at the foot of my Buddha statue. A peace offering, perhaps?

Neither squirrels nor raccoons can resist fruits that tempt us also. Figs often disappear just before they reach that perfect plump ripeness. I also figure that squirrels must be color blind because I am constantly sweeping up bits of unripe strawberries that they spit out.

Last year and this year, I covered my entire strawberry patch with 30 percent shade cloth netting – dense enough to thwart squirrels but not open enough to entangle birds.

Last year, the strawberry plants even seemed to thrive with the less direct sunlight and greater soil moisture retention that the shade cloth netting provided.

One thing I’ll grant squirrels is that, without opposable thumbs, they don’t carry things very far. Not like raccoons. I swear that, one day, I will find a raccoon’s treasure chest of stolen garden ornaments, pump filters and other small objects left unattended in the garden.

The other four-footed fiends? Well, the local bush rabbit (most likely eastern cottontails) is not usually a pest. But they do go after succulent leafy greens if they are in easy reach.

Since I grow most of my edibles in raised beds, I consider them innocuous garden companions. However, some of my friends beg to differ. I admit that sometimes I wonder what happened to some of my seedling herbs and veggies when there are no signs of marauding squirrels or raccoons thrashing around – not that delicate nibbling is their style anyway. Perhaps I should stop blaming slugs and wood lice, and keep my eyes open for fluffy pests.

My other pint-sized peeve is the creeping vole, particularly in population boom years. Short, tubby, mouse-like rodents, I hear the little devils squeaking and moving under ground cover. Unlike the aforementioned pests, voles are surreptitious and almost never seen alive.

They spend their time underground and undercover, preferring to eat plant roots under the cover of darkness or soil. I have lost many  treasured rockery plant to them. But I consider myself more fortunate than a friend who lost his entire beetroot crop to them one summer. And other friends found a large stash of hijacked species tulip bulbs in a hidden vole nest.

Like their Arctic near-cousin the lemming, voles have boom-and-bust cycles. I have not kept track, but my suspicion is that we are working rapidly toward a boom year. If not this year, then next.

In their last boom year, I did a lot of research on vole control. The eventual answer? Get an outdoor cat. Our boys are indoor cats, but I have high hopes for our new neighbor’s ace predator cats.

(Please, just leave the birds, snakes and chickarees alone!)

You might have noticed that I have not mentioned deer, which are the bane of many gardeners.

Well, I personally have not had a big problem with them in my garden, although the occasional one munches fruit shrub foliage or punches great big holes in my garden soil as it wanders through.

I am more than happy with the minimal damage they cause in my garden because the only true deterrent seems to be a very high fence.

But if you consider yourself an expert on gardening in deer country, I’m sure that the readers of the All Point Bulletin would love to hear from you.

And I might too, since past behavior is no guarantee.


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