Beware the Voles! Radicchio’s Toast, but it’s not too late to Protect Trees and Shrubs

One more misery for this week: The valiant radicchio that made it through multiple nights down to 5 and 6 degrees was no match for the hungry voles, voles no doubt obscenely cosy in the warm double tunnel that was protecting the row. Wretched creatures have gobbled every single head.

Notice the nibbled edges on this baby and the large dark hole where a full sized head used to be.

I haven’t had the heart to look at the row  – on the other side of the garden – that I harvested extra carefully and then left covered in hopes of a super-early  spring crop. (Cutting the heads off just slightly above the base often results in regrowth, so if the weather is with you – and the voles aren’t – you get a flush of leaves and sometimes a whole new head as soon as the garden wakes up.)

Complete and utter carnage; somehow the scraps where a healthy root should be cause particular pain.

Too late now for the radicchio, but a good reminder to go out and check the viburnums and plums and

just about everything with a trunk and bark but particularly the fruit trees.

Protecting woody plants from mice and voles is a fall chore, not a midwinter one. But better late and all like that – there’s still a chance they haven’t yet hit or at least haven’t yet done permanent damage.

In the ideal scenario, I run out now and wrap wire mesh collars about 2 feet tall around all the tree trunks that don’t have collars already. Meanwhile, Bill is busily re-spraying repellant on all the shrubs, this time with rodents rather than deer in mind.

We’ll see how much of this actually gets done. Right now, Bill’s in fruit tree pruning mode and not to be disturbed; and I have to go out and buy more mesh before I can wrap it around anything.

BUT snow is the great vole-enabler, so even if don’t get around to doing anything else I will be more conscientious about keeping a ring of bare soil at least a foot wide around the most vulnerable plants. Two reasons:

1. Small rodents really go to town when they’ve got a blanket of snow to hide under. They have to be really starving before they’ll venture out in the open where predators can see them.

2. Bark at the very base of trees is tougher and (marginally) less appetizing than younger bark that’s higher up. A pile of snow is an elevator, if you’re a vole.

newly pruned apple tree in snow (last year)

It’s beautiful, all right. But that tidy collar of snow – especially the heap on the North side – looks even better to the voles than it does to us.  I went out shortly after the picture was taken and gently removed just enough to create a no-voles-land.

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