Thursday, November 14, 2002
Steamboat Springs Halloween is over, but many gardeners in Steamboat seem to still have ghosts, goblins or something bumping around in the night causing havoc among bulbs, trees and plants.
My friend Laura watched her newly planted tulip bulbs disappear overnight. The roots of an entire row of dogwoods I planted last fall were eaten during the winter. Only two of 30 made it to a second growing season.
Who's doing this damage? Could be voles. Could be Northern Plains Pocket Gophers. Chances are, you aren't going to see these nocturnal rodents because they burrow and tunnel and spend most of their time underground. To determine whether you have voles or gophers, look for mounds of soil. Those are created by gophers. Also, those castings on the surface of your ground are most likely caused by gophers because voles are too small to create much surface impact.
In addition to bulbs and plant roots, these pests find the bark of ornamental trees and shrubs to be a diet delight. Generally the damage to tree bark occurs during the winter because they tend to nest at the base of trees and feed close to home.
That's why we recommend mulch and other debris be kept three feet away from the base of the tree. No sense providing these pests with a cosy nesting site for the winter.
There are a number of ways to control these garden pests.
Natural predators include large snakes, owls and weasels, which most of us don't find in our yards. However, the family cat will rarely pass up an opportunity to pounce on voles.
You can help curtail pest activity among your garden plants by waiting until the ground has frozen to put your mulch down. Because these animals tunnel, you can also create barriers around your bulbs and trees by using wire mesh screening and tree guards buried at least six inches.
Small, sharp pebbles in plant holes for bulbs are another deterrent, as is soaking the ground with a product such as Mole-Med (with a nasty castor-oil taste). Gayle Noonan, supervisor at Yampa River Botanic Park, has great luck with a cayenne pepper solution in which bulbs are soaked prior to planting.
Another trick is to put a garden hose in the burrow. C.J. Mucklow, our Routt County Extension agent, said, "You don't actually drown them, but the wetness makes them go away." He says keeping vegetation mowed close will also lessen the numbers of these rodents.
One beneficial aspect of tunneling voles and gophers is that their activities increase soil fertility, soil aeration, the rate of soil formation by bringing deeper subsoil to the surface. Personally, when I need extra soil in the garden, I often dig into the soft soil created by gopher tunneling. Beats trying to dig up hard clay.
Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail: email@example.com.