Home Gardening Blog

Is There A Doctor In The House?

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Is There A Doctor In The House?

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a Plant Doctor? It is a very interesting and enjoyable job if you have a curious mind and an investigative nature.  The Kemper Center for Home Gardening has a Plant Doctor desk staffed with sharp and dedicated volunteers who are eager to help with any problem you may be experiencing in your yard.  Here is an opportunity for you to take a shot at being a ”Plant Doctor” and diagnosing a problem I noticed in my yard.  Read on and see if you can figure out what is going on.  If you give up the answer is at the end.

Problem:  During the winter months I often find myself surveying the yard from the windows in my home; looking, dreaming, planning.  Gardeners will use this down time to feed their soul with new ideas for the coming season.   Just recently as I was inspecting my backyard from the kitchen window I saw the strangest thing.  Something was amiss with my row of Knockout rose bushes.  One was standing straight but the other 4 were leaning and pointing in all directions (see photo.)  This is a most unusual and unexpected look for these tall and tough bushes.  Curiosity had the best of me so on went the garden shoes and outside I went for a look.

Investigation:  On my way out I thought quickly through a couple of initial possibilities.  Have we had a lot of strong wind lately?  No, that does not make sense as they are leaning in all different directions and it would take hurricane force winds to blow down a large established bush.  Have we had excessive rain or snow to cause them to sink due to overly soggy ground?  That doesn’t make sense either for the type of winter we had and besides they are planted in a berm where the drainage is good.  What could possibly cause the plants to have such a strange appearance?  Have any theories?  When I arrived on the scene it didn’t take long to see what was going on.

Answer:  I scanned the shrubs from top to bottom and it was immediately apparent that they had been severed from the roots.  As a matter of fact the bushes had no roots! Who would do such a thing?  I have a tremendous variety of wildlife in my backyard but only one varmint comes to mind… voles!  I’ve had them eat a lot of plants before but never seen them wipe out a whole row of rose bushes.  They were working on bush no. 5 when I caught the criminals in the act.  The last bush had to be removed too.

So how did you do?  I’m sure plenty of gardeners could tell similar stories.

Over the years I have learned that one thing voles (Microtus spp.) or meadow mice love is ground cover.  My rose bushes were planted in an area where spreading lirope had been quickly taking over the bed.  Keeping the area below the bushes free of groundcover was obviously not sufficient and these hungry thugs will stop at nothing.  I have tried every method known to deter voles from my garden but most have worked a little and none have worked for very long.  Even the neighborhood cat retired.

I’ve decided Mother Nature is saying it’s time to keep the local nurseries in business and plant something new.  Before that I am going to have to find a buddy and remove all the groundcover in the bed.  Anyone available?

For tips on vole control see our Garden Pest and Problem guide on Voles and Mice

The Hummert International February 2015 Newsletter (Vol. 38) on Critter Control also outlines the differences between these garden troublemakers and the damage they inflict.

Final thoughts: I watched a big buck cut through my backyard a few months ago and realize things can always get worse!

Jan Gowen, Kemper Horticulture Assistant

Posted in: Spring | Tags: plant problems , voles , rose | Comments (0) | View Count: (1416)
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