Even when you do it all the right way…

Published 7:08 pm Thursday, August 24, 2023

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I have an Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer who says growing fruits and vegetables should be more of a hobby. There are so many things that can go wrong and if you look at growing a garden as a hobby, you won’t be as upset when things don’t work out. I really think that he was on to something. Sometimes things happen beyond what you can control in the garden.  So many things can go wrong; from disease to pests to environmental issues such as hurricanes or tropical storms. The odds are genuinely stacked against you.

But your extension agent should know what to do, right? There are times when problems even get past us. I’ll be the first to admit I make mistakes and I don’t know everything. However, we usually have a specialist on campus or another agent that we can go to who will help diagnose these issues. Horticulture is such a broad discipline that it is nearly impossible to know it all. That’s why we have specialists.

We have been dealing with voles in our teaching garden the whole season. They were there last year and we thought we had eradicated them but they came back with a vengeance. We have lost so many plants from inside the fenced area and our raised beds. They come like a thief in the night to steal, kill, and destroy. We tried trapping, baiting and even pestering them by flattening their tunnels. Nothing seemed to work.

There are two different kinds of voles in our area; meadow voles and pine voles- not to be confused with moles. Moles are mostly carnivorous, as such, they are after things like white grubs and earth worms in the soil. Voles on the other hand are herbivores meaning they eat only plants. You can look at the characteristics of how they are eating your plants to tell which you are dealing with. Meadow voles tend to come out of the tunnels to feed. They also really like tall grass where their tunnels will be half in and half above the soil surface. Pine voles on the other hand will typically consume the roots and stems of your plants from under the soil surface. Their tunnels will most often be completely underground. Pine voles may even pull entire day lilies into the tunnel.

So, what can you do? When dealing with meadow voles, using a mouse trap baited with peanut butter or an apple is fairly effective. Place the baited trap perpendicular to one of the exposed tunnels with the trigger end in the tunnel run. Rodenticides can also be used but great care needs to be taken so as to not affect off-target species such as squirrels or your beloved cat. Dig in like the grounds keeper from the movie Caddyshack because it’s going to be a rough summer dealing with these jokers.

At the Beaufort County Center, we have been dealing with pine voles, the ones that like to eat from under the soil surface. They’ve had a field day and we haven’t had much success in knocking their numbers back. They found their way into to our vegetable beds, ornamentals, and most recently took out one of my beloved peach trees. Roughly two to three inches under the soil surface, the voles had girdled the entire circumference of the tree. Anytime the tree is girdled, meaning the bark has been cut all the way around the tree, the conductive tissue under the bark is cut off. This stops all the nutrition and water coming from the soil from reaching the leaves where it is needed.

It is such a sad sight to see a defoliated, dead tree among all the beautiful plants we have there. I should have known to check it but never gave it a thought. Once this happened, I did some research and found an older publication targeted towards orchard growers. The publication stated that zinc phosphide was labeled for use on voles and it is quite efficacious. I found some at one of the local garden stores. The label (always read the label before using a product) stated that the zinc phosphide should be placed in the tunnels and covered with a shingle. Tunnels need to be checked and rebaited frequently.

The Master Gardener Volunteer I was talking about earlier found a great article targeted towards homeowners from Rutgers Extension. This article mentioned adding a 12 inch diameter layer of gravel that is three to four inches deep around the tree trunk. The gravel will collapse the vole tunnel to prevent access to the trunk. If you are dealing with a major vole infestation, let’s talk.

NC State Extension provides unbiased, research-based, University information to you the consumer or producer. If you have not visited your local Cooperative Extension Center, you may be pleasantly surprised by all of the information, workshops, and programming we offer We will have a fall veggie class September 9 (please register by following this link: https://go.ncsu.edu/2023fallgarden) and veggie sale Saturday September 16. Call our office or look on the Beaufort County Master Gardeners’ Facebook page for more information. If you are interested in the Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer (EMGV’s) program training, now is the time to call our office or visit the website (beaufort.ces.ncsu.edu) for more information. We will be having a training session in the latter part of September. We will meet Tuesdays at the Beaufort County Center from 9:00-12:00 beginning September 19. Please send in your application

If you are having an issue in your home garden or landscape, send your questions to Gene Fox, Consumer Horticulture Agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, please email Gene at gene_fox@ncsu.edu or call at (252) 946-0111. Learn more on Facebook at the Blacklands Area Horticulture page or visit the Extension Office located at 155 Airport Road in Washington, NC.