Even When You Do It All the Right Way…
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I have an Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer that says, “Growing fruits and vegetables should be more of a hobby. There are so many things that can go wrong, if you look at growing a garden as if it is a hobby you won’t be as upset when things don’t work out.” I really think that he was on to something! Sometimes things happen that are beyond the scope of what you can control for in the garden. We have so many things that can go wrong from disease to pests to environmental issues such as hurricanes or tropical storms. The odds are genuinely stacked against you.
But, your extension agent should know what to do, right? There are times when problems even get past us. I’ll be the first to admit, I make mistakes and I don’t know all that there is to know! However, we usually have a specialist on campus or another agent that we can go to that will help us diagnose these issues. Horticulture is such a broad discipline that it is nearly impossible to know it all, that’s why we have specialists in the first place.
We have been dealing with voles in our teaching garden over the course of the whole season. They were there last year and we thought we had eradicated them from the area but this year they came back with a vengeance! We have lost so many plants from inside the fenced in area and from our raised beds. They come like a thief in the night to steal, kill, and destroy. We tried trapping them, baiting them, and even pestering them by flattening their tunnels. Nothing seemed to work!
There are two different kinds of voles that we deal with in our area, meadow voles and pine voles. Now these are not to be confused with moles. Moles are mostly carnivorous, as such, they are after things like white grubs and earth worms in the soil. Voles on the other hand are herbivores meaning they eat only plants. You can look at the characteristics of how they are eating your plants to tell which you are dealing with in your landscape. Meadow voles tend to come out of the tunnels to feed. They also really like tall grass where their tunnels will be half in and half above the soil surface. Pine voles on the other hand will typically consume the roots and stems of your plants from under the soil surface. Their tunnels will most often be completely underground. Pine voles may even pull entire day lilies into the tunnel.
So what can you do? When dealing with meadow voles, using a mouse trap baited with peanut butter or an apple is fairly effective. Place the baited trap perpendicular to one of the exposed tunnels with the trigger end in the tunnel run. Rodenticides can also be used but great care needs to be taken so as to not affect off-target species such as squirrels or your beloved cat. Either route you go, dig in like the grounds keeper from the movie Caddy Shack because it’s going to be a rough summer dealing with these jokers.
At the Beaufort County Center, we have been dealing with pine voles, the ones that like to eat from under the soil surface. They have had a field day and we have really not had much success in knocking their numbers back. They found their way into to our vegetable beds, ornamentals, and most recently, they took out one of my beloved peach trees. Roughly two to three inches under the soil surface, the voles had girdled the entire circumference of the tree. Anytime the tree is girdled, meaning the bark has been cut all the way around the tree, the conductive tissue under the bark is cut off. This stops all the nutrition and water coming from the soil from reaching the leaves where it is needed.
It is such a sad sight to see among all of the wonderfully beautiful plants we have around there is now a sad looking defoliated, dead tree. I should have known to check it but I never gave it a thought. Once this happened, I contacted our tree fruit specialist on campus and asked for help! I didn’t get him but I did some real researching and found an older publication targeted towards orchard growers. The publication stated that zinc phosphide was labeled for use on voles and it is quite efficacious. I went on the search and happened to find some at one of the local garden stores. The label (always read the label before using a product) stated that the zinc phosphide should be placed in the tunnels and covered over with a shingle. Tunnels need to be checked and rebaited frequently.
The Master Gardener Volunteer I was talking about earlier did some research on the subject as well and found a great article targeted towards homeowners from Rutgers Extension. This article mentioned adding a 12 inch diameter layer of gravel that is three to four inches deep around the trunk of the tree. The gravel will collapse the vole tunnel to prevent access to the trunk. If you are dealing with a major vole infestation, let’s talk!!
NC State Extension provides unbiased, research-based, University information to you the consumer or producer. If you have not visited your local Cooperative Extension Center, you may be pleasantly surprised by all of the information, workshops, and programming we offer! We will have a fall veggie class coming up on September 9th (please register online) and veggie sale on Saturday September 16th, call our office or look on the Beaufort County Master Gardeners’ Facebook page for more information. If you are interested in the Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer (EMGV’s) program training, now is the time to call our office or visit the website (beaufort.ces.ncsu.edu) for more information. We will be having a training that will begin in the latter part of September. We will meet on Tuesdays at the Beaufort County Center from 9:00-12:00 beginning on Tuesday September 19th. If you are interested please send in your application!
If you are having an issue in your home garden or landscape, send your questions to Gene Fox, Consumer Horticulture Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, please email Gene at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at (252)946-0111. Learn more on Facebook at the Blacklands Area Horticulture page or visit the Extension Office located at 155 Airport Road in Washington, NC!