Documents: Special Interest: Wildlife Gardening:

10 Neat Things About Wildlife Damage to your Garden
by Dorothy Dobbie
January 29, 2012

1. Runways in the garden!

Your lawn has two-inch-wide ridges running through it. What could this be? The likely answer is voles, which create highways just under or slightly above the surface of the earth, where their tiny feet pound out little pathways of the same width. This is not good news for your lawn. Voles like to eat grass stems and blades and they can damage the roots of shrubs and even trees. One clue? Little mounds of grass. Another clue? The plants start to lean. Voles also appreciate potatoes and flower bulbs.

2. Prolific little devils.

Voles, sometimes called meadow mice, live only about 12 months, but during that time, the females can produce five to 10 litters of three to six young each time. Fortunately their populations, quite naturally, peak and wane in a cyclical fashion.

3. Volcanoes in the garden.

At the end of ridge-like runways, you see little mounds of earth, looking like small volcanoes. This time, the culprit is probably moles.

4. What's been eating my trees?

Clean, sharp cuts are probably made by rabbits, which will attack woody plants in winter. They will prune back a spirea or a young ornamental plum to within an inch of its life. Tiny teeth marks, 2 mm wide, are probably courtesy of our friend vole.

5. The better to gum you with my "dear".

Ragged edges on damaged twigs indicate deer, which have no upper teeth in front, so have to tear their meal free from the plant. Deer have tough pads to replace their uppers. Their canines have moved close to the back of the lower jaw. Only about one per cent of deer have upper canines.

6. Oh no! My tree has been girdled.

Rodents will often chew the bark all around a tree, especially a young or a thin-skinned fruit tree, at the height they can reach - a clue to finding the culprit. This is called girdling and it can kill a tree. Girdling has been used to selectively kill trees that are felt to be "undesirable" in some situations.

7. Scarred for life.

While trees cannot "heal" themselves, they have their own method of dealing with wounds by isolating the damage. A corky callus starts to form at the edge of a wound, progressing towards the middle. The tree produces a fatty waxy substance called suberin that helps repel pathogens and insect invasion. The wood in the wound is now said to be "suberized". The isolated suberized wound is there for the life of the tree.

8. To dress or not to dress.

It is best to leave the wound alone. Tree wound dressings can cause more damage than good by encouraging the growth of pathogens already in place or by sealing in moisture that can cause decay. Dressings can also prevent the natural process of isolation and callusing.

9. Keeping the critters at bay.

Most commercial repellents contain thiram, a synthetic sulfur-containing fungicide that also repels rabbits, voles and deer because of its bitter taste. Skoot and Aborgard are two products that contain thiram. The products come in many forms. Avoid inhaling the powdered form, which can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation.

10. And then there's the gray squirrel.

In addition to its other repellent behavior, such as raiding birds' nests and even attacking and killing birds, gray squirrels can do considerable damage to trees, especially oaks. They strip away the bark for a winter meal. When food is scarce, they will also go after maples, pines and hemlocks. Reach for the thiram. They are no fun if they set up housekeeping in your attic.

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