What’s Eating Your Yard and Garden?
Now that spring is here, we can get a good look at our landscape and assess winter damage. Tunnels in the lawn, bark stripped from trees and shrubs, missing plants and broken, missing branches.
Is it snow and ice damage?
Hardly, try remnants of winter animal pests. Snow and ice mean less available food for wildlife, and this often causes problems in our lawns and gardens. Rodents, skunks, and deer will search out anything edible in our lawns and gardens with surprising ease.
Moles, voles, shrews and mice: Rodent pests can play havoc in your yard or garden year round. Before you decide what course of action to take against these pests, know the difference.
Moles can range from 5 to 7 inches in length, have powerful spade shaped front claws (about three times as big as their back paws) and tunnel a few inches below the surface. They have tiny eyes and no visible external ears. Moles seek out grubs and insects. A single mole can eat an equivalent of its own weight in insects per day!
A sure sign you have moles is a “spongy” feeling lawn under your feet. Since moles are predators, the best way to get rid of them is to get your lawn healthy and grub-free.
Voles are small and brown to black in color and are also about 5 to 7 inches long at maturity. Unlike moles, they have small front and rear paws. They are similar to moles in having tiny eyes and no visible external ears. Some people equate them to mice, but these have much shorter tails (about — to 2 inches).
Voles have sharp teeth and will bite humans if disturbed. Voles eat plant roots, shoots and will tunnel through several feet of snow to get at tree bark.
Voles travel in old mole tunnels or dig their own tunnels slightly below the surface. These 10- to 15-foot strips of dead grass or elevated soil are signs of voles.
There are two types of voles, meadow voles and woodland voles. Knowing which are which can help you more effectively track and get rid of these pests.
Meadow voles have tails longer than their hind legs and do more damage above ground than their woodland vole cousins. These meadow voles are responsible for the dead runways through your lawn and garden.
Woodland voles have tails shorter than their hind legs. These voles usually travel in established tunnels. Voles have been known to actually pull a plant through the soil, cartoon fashion, right before your eyes. Imagine seeing your plants “disappear” this way!
To find out if a tunnel is occupied, you can do something called “the apple sign test.” Bait the entrance with a slice of apple and cover the hole with a shingle. These animals mainly travel at night, so by darkening the entrance, you can monitor any activity. If you decide to trap or use a pesticide, keep the shingle over the hole to keep out other animals from this “bait station.”
Shrews are tiny insect-eating animals that will fit in a tablespoon. Shrews also cause some lawn and garden damage by digging. Like moles, they are beneficial to your yard by eating many insects, so the best course of action is to get rid of their food source.
Mice will eat just about anything and are difficult to control outdoors.
They can be distinguished from voles in their very long tails, about half their body length (for example, an adult mouse may have a body — inches long with a tail — inches in addition).
Clean up debris and any visible food sources. Again, if you trap or use bait, be careful to cover the area to keep pets and other animals away.
Snow and mulch make great insulators for rodents to get at tree bark. Keep the area around the base of your trees and shrubs free from snow and mulch. Make sure that mulch starts at least — to 4 inches away from the trunk and is no more than — inches deep.
Unfortunately most winter damage won’t be seen until spring. There are repellents and products on the market, but studies show that most of these do not work. Sonic devices sold to “drive away rodent pests” indoors and out were proven to have no affect on these animals. Unfortunately the only sure method is to trap and dispose of unwanted winter pests.
Skunks are basically scavengers. Besides the obvious odor problem, skunks can do a large amount of damage with their digging. Like moles, the best way to get rid of skunks is to get rid of grubs or to trap and dispose or release.
There are many types of home and commercial repellents on the market, but the effectiveness relies on two things: how hungry the deer are and the weather.
When food is scarce, deer will eat anything. More than one homeowner reported to her extension office that deer were eating her plastic plants.
Soap, animal hair and urine, bloodmeal, human hair and egg-based products will work up to about six weeks but must be reapplied after any rainfall. These items offer about a 3-foot radius of protection. Studies have shown that feline-based urine repellents are more effective than canine-based urine repellents.
Fencing is still the best way to try to stop deer from entering your property. Fencing can be costly, so some people choose to enclose only their most expensive or hard-to-replace plants.
There are several types of fencing on the market. Electrified fences work off a shock principle, much like electronic dog fences. These fences are either solar- or battery-powered and need constant monitoring. For the fence to be effective, you need to bait it with a strip of metal coated with peanut butter. The object is to mildly shock the tender part of a deer’s nose or tongue.
Woven wire fences set at an angle are actually better deterrents than electrified fences. The obstacle of getting over or through the fencing is often too much trouble for deer to handle.
Wooden, metal or plastic fencing set 8 feet or higher are the least attractive method for deer control. It is not uncommon for hungry deer to scale a fence.
Another option is to try planting deer-resistant plants.
A combination of the above methods may help save your lawn, trees or garden from hungry wildlife.