Squirrels Fear The Unknown Too

Pierre Francois dutifully protects ripening fruit.

It is embarrassing when my mother teaches me a practical gardening technique that I should have known about, especially if the particular technique is as simple and downright silly as what my mother does to protect ripening fruit from squirrels. A friend of hers suggested it; and it seems to be significantly more effective than the few fancier ideas that I recommended.

I should first mention that there is nothing new about repelling animal pests with effigies of other animals that they are afraid of. Scarecrows and stuffed snakes and owls have been around for centuries. As the name implies, scarecrows scare crows who perceive them to be potentially troublesome people. Rats and terrestrial rodents avoid snakes. Squirrels and some birds are afraid of owls.

When I was in about the fourth grade, I remember that National Geographic World magazine (which is now National Geographic Kids) featured a silhouette of a predatory bird that could be cut out and taped to windows to deter birds that might otherwise break their necks as they tried to fly through the clear glass. The associated article explained that the cut-out silhouette was effective because birds instinctively knew what to fear. A silhouette of a harmless seagull would not have been as effective.

However, some deterrents are not so specific, but instead rely on the fear of the unknown. Beach balls outfitted with decals of huge eyes look weird in the garden, but work because so many birds have bird brains that think such contraptions are big, scary and possibly predatory animals. Flash tape and old compact discs work simply because birds do not know what the reflected flashes are.

Scarecrows and other inanimate effigies should be relocated occasionally so they seem to be alive. They should stay near what they are in the garden to protect, and not loiter when it is gone. For example, if protecting ripening fruit, they should leave after the last of the fruit is gone. Otherwise, the target pest animals realize that they are fake or dead. Beach balls, flash tape and compact discs are more animated, so need not be moved so much, if at all, but are too tacky to stay all year.

All this may seem complicated, but can be simple enough for my mother to master with . . . well, allow me to explain.

Pierre Francois is a cute, fuzzy and seemingly French plush toy bunny made in China, who knows all about protecting ripening fruit from squirrels. (‘Stuffed animal’ is no longer politically correct.) After seeing how expensive a fake owl would be, my mother put Mr. Francois in the peach tree. He and his sort are free if borrowed (stolen) from the grandchildren, or very cheap at garage sales or thrift stores. Although cute and soft to us, Mr. Francois is big, intimidating and unfamiliar to squirrels. Before the squirrels get acquainted with him, the peaches will have been harvested, and Pierre Francois will have been reassigned to an apple tree.

Moles Are Different From Gophers

Gophers are more destructive than moles.

Wildlife belongs in the wild. Many of us appreciate it there, and get pictures of it to share with others as if it is rare and unusual. Deer, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, gophers and so many other residents of the wild are not so appealing in home gardens. They all need to eat. None are tactful about it. Some eat foliage. Some eat fruits. Moles eat larval insects.

That seems like it would be beneficial to the garden. In some situations, it is. Not only do moles inhibit the proliferation of grubs that damage roots, but they also aerate dense soil. The problem is that they heave soil as they excavate just below the surface. This activity damages lawns and shallow ground cover. Uninhibited grubs might cause less damage. 

Gophers often take the blame for damage that moles cause. However, gophers are much more destructive. They excavate more substantially, and generate larger mounds. While moles consume mostly detrimental grubs, gophers devour roots and any other plant part within the soil. Gophers do not hesitate to kill the most important plants in the landscape. 

Like gophers and other rodents, moles can not take much time off for hibernation through winter. The weather is just too mild. Although they are less active during cool weather, or while there is less to hunt, they never stop excavating. They merely become more active now because, as the weather warms, they can plan for a family, and find plenty of grubs.

Mole excavation generates distinctive small ‘berms’ of displaced soil within lawns. Such berms extend randomly in no particular direction, but are impressively consistent in form. Mounds of expelled soil are small and sporadic, or may not be evident. Moles often push their way below the surface of firmly rooted turf, without expelling any soil to the surface.

Unfortunately, moles can be about as difficult to dissuade as gophers. The most practical means of repellent is to eliminate the grubs that they crave, which can be difficult without insecticide. Blood meal and bone meal are fertilizers that can supposedly repel moles by their objectionable aroma, but require frequent application. Traps also require diligence, as well as precision.

Vermin Run Amok In Spring

Gophers are busy with homemaking projects.

No one really hibernates here. Well, ground squirrels might, but they are unlikely to be a problem in refined home gardens. Winter weather is sufficiently mild for most of the most troublesome vermin to remain active, even if somewhat subdued. Some are more active in autumn before food gets scarce. They store food for later, and eat more to gain weight.

Now that it is spring, vermin are more active than they are at any other time of year, even autumn. Gophers, squirrels, rats and mice want to party like it is 1999; well, like spring of 1999. Although they all fattened up last autumn, and stored plenty of food for winter, they now want to exploit abundant spring vegetation. So do raccoons, skunks and opossums.

Generally most vermin, which most prefer to describe more politely as ‘wildlife’, are not a problem for home gardens. Some might be beneficial. Skunks may trench into lawns, but only because they want the grubs that would otherwise cause more damage from below. They also eat snails and slugs. Opossums eat snails and slugs too, as well as baby rats!

However, skunks and opossums can do more harm than good. They eat vegetables and fruits as they ripen, and pet food. Raccoons cause more significant damage, and can be very dangerous to pets. These three types of vermin are nocturnal, and therefore difficult to dissuade or confront directly. Fortunately, they are not very common in urban gardens.

Conversely, squirrels are everywhere except the harshest desert climates. Although they cause significant damage to new spring growth, and will later damage developing fruits, they are more tolerable than other vermin. Some people actually feed them to draw them to their gardens! Rats and mice are less tolerable, probably because they lack fluffy tails.

Gophers are likely causing more damage than other vermin now. Their growing families voraciously devour many of the fresh roots that disperse in spring. Now that their tunnels are not too muddy, gophers are remodeling to expand accommodations. Young gophers do not live with their parents for very long, so will eventually infest new adjacent territory. Lawns and vegetable gardens are most preferable.

Gopher It!

P00412
Honey badger don’t care. Neither does the gopher who did this.

Deer do not eat all plants. There are a few that are toxic to them. There are more that deer simply dislike. With a minimal bit of research, it is not difficult to find a few lists of plant species that deer are supposed to avoid. The problem with such lists though, is that deer do not read them. Only toxic plants are reliably safe from deer.

It would not be so bad if only deer were a bit more cooperative. They would be welcome in gardens if they ate only weeds that no one wants anyway. We all know that they can eat weeds, they just choose not to do so while they are in our gardens.

For that matter, gophers would not be such a problem if they ate only weeds, and aerated only soil that needs it. Instead, they seem to target the most important plants they can find, and excavate primarily in lawns. There is no effort to cooperate.

For as long as people have been growing vegetation, whether as agricultural commodities or in landscapes, people have been competing with wildlife of one form or another, or several others. Wildlife is no more cooperative now than it was many thousands of years ago. Some animals are even less cooperative than their ancestors were. Some are downright defiant!

Gophers have been known to push traps out from their tunnels, without springing the traps. Some will emerge from their subterranean tunnels to step over the tops of root cages that are designed to exclude them, just to get to the roots within. The gopher associated with the excavation seen in the picture above was not so defiant, but was certainly undeterred.

The foliage at the center of the picture is gopher purge. Although not planted here intentionally, it used to be planted around vegetable gardens to deter gophers. It has a caustic sap that is very irritating to gophers if they try to excavate through the roots. However, the picture clearly shows excavation to the left, to the right, and behind the gopher purge.

Rodents Will Never Give Up

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Warming weather brings out the gophers.

None of the most problematic rodents here hibernate completely. Only ground squirrels hibernate, but they are rare, and tend to avoid home gardens and refined landscapes. Some other rodents are less active through the cooler parts of winter, but never completely stop eating, chewing and digging up what they want from our gardens. Many will become more active with warming weather.

Gophers are the most destructive rodents right now. They might still be excavating the mud of last winter from their tunnels. They will find plenty to eat as warming weather stimulates root growth of their favorite plants. Young gophers are growing up and leaving home, to excavate more tunnels and consume more vegetation elsewhere. They are more numerous now than they will be all year.

Squirrels are not so industrious. For now, they are destructive only if they dig out recently planted seedlings and bedding plants, or eat flowers and freshly emerging foliage. They should otherwise be temporarily satisfied with acorns that they hid late last year. They will become more of a problem as they eat ripening fruit, nuts and maybe vegetables later in summer. Some might chew bark.

Rats are sneakier than squirrels. They are not as destructive to ripening nuts and stone fruits, but do eat some of what falls to the ground. Although not a problem for the garden, well fed rats infest adjacent homes, where they cause serious damage. At this time of year, rats sometimes ruin citrus fruit. They eat the pulp out from the rinds of oranges and tangerines, and the rind off of lemons.

Rodents are nearly impossible to exclude completely and safely from gardens. Poisons are too dangerous to be practical around the home, particularly if there are dogs or cats anywhere nearby. Traps are safer and effective, but require diligence. Also, some traps are difficult to set. Each type of rodent exhibits distinct characteristics. That which controls one type is ineffective for another.

Sanitation and vegetation management deters some rodents by depriving them of sustenance and nesting sites.

Six on Saturday: More Gopher Problems

 

Even underground, gophers must know what time of day or night it is. Otherwise, they would not know when to “lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans” (Micah 2:1). Why do they bother being so sneaky with their exploits? They know that there is not much I can do to stop them. Why are they so creative with their damage? Is it just to flaunt their ability to get away with it? Gophers enjoy this too much.

1. Only the Heavenly bamboo to the right in the background is standing upright to show off its red new foliage. The other four (with two in the background) are suspiciously flopped forward.P00229-1

2. It was as if they were just set on the surface, with no roots to hold them down. Removing their carcasses was like picking up litter. They flopped forward because of wind a few hours prior.P00229-2

3. This is all that remained of the roots. It is amazing that the foliage was as fresh as it was. This much damage did not happen just recently. Foliage should have started to desiccate already.P00229-3

4. The worst of the four demonstrates how thorough the damage was. It was like a mean prank. It seemed as if someone pulled them up, whittled the roots away, and plugged them back in.P00229-4

5. Yarrow gets partially eaten by gophers too, but somehow survives. Supposedly, only the thick tap roots get eaten, while lateral roots are ignored. Gophers do not seem to be so discerning.P00229-5

6. Daffodil is how I should end this mostly unpleasant six. No one eats them. Many are still blooming. I probably should have posted pictures of flowers, instead of what gophers are killing.P00229-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Gopher Architecture

P90922If gopher burrows had windows, this burrow would have hillside views. If gophers had better eyesight, the one who lives here could enjoy the views from such windows. Of course, views are not a concern for any gopher. They just want to burrow through the soil to eat the many roots they encounter. They do not often emerge from their homes for more than the ejection of soil.

If it happens in gardens and landscapes, the consumption of roots by gophers is a serious problem. It can kill substantial plants faster than associated symptoms become apparent. Agaves and yuccas that are safe from grazing animals that might want to eat them from above have no protection from gopher who attack from below. Small perennials and annuals get taken whole.

Excavation such as that in these two pictures is a major problem too. When I see soil accumulating here, I wonder where it came from. Should I expect a sink hole to appear somewhere else? Soil displacement can enhance and promote erosion, and displace pavers. Holes and volcanoes (mounds) are tripping hazards in lawns, especially if the holes do not appear until stepped on.

The damage seen here is not yet as serious as it looks. The only roots for gophers to eat here are those of black locusts that I must eradicate anyway. Gophers will not bother the bay trees or redwood trees; and if they do somehow bother the bay trees, I would not mind. However, I don’t want gophers to eventually find and kill any of the lauristinus that I just installed nearby.

It all would be so much easier and mutually beneficial if inconsiderate gophers could be trained to be neater and discrete with their otherwise sloppy excavation, and to eat only weeds and other unwanted plants.P90922+

Another One Bites The Dust

P90825If this looks familiar, it is because it is the second big camellia to be killed here in the same manner in not much more than two months. The damage is not fresh, likely because the gopher that caused it started chewing on the roots as soon as the other camellia was removed. The other camellia succumbed about two months after a similarly damaged cherry tree was removed.

We are now concerned for a remaining third camellia in the same spot, as well as others in the vicinity. There is also concern that the gopher may take interest in something else, such as the birches. We would typically find and destroy any gopher that causes such problems. The difficulty here is that the area is thoroughly covered with a dense layer of Algerian and English ivies.

All evidence of gopher excavation is obscured. Even if we could locate such excavation, it would be very difficult to cut through the thicket of ivy without collapsing the tunnels that we would need to put the traps into. It would be excellent to get rid of the ivy as well as the gopher, but that would be a major project for another time. As voracious as gophers are, they don’t eat ivy!

For now, we can only watch the adjacent camellia and other camellias in the vicinity for distress. Of course, by the time a problem is noticed, it will likely be too late to do much about it. We could only apply blood meal, and hope that it works as a repellent. These camellias get blood meal as fertilizer anyway, so would only need more applied off schedule and around the trunks.

The remains of the deceased camellia were removed from the site, and respectfully interred into the green waste recycle bin.

Gophers Go For Spring Vegetation

90424thumbHibernation is a luxury enjoyed by different animals in different climates, where much colder weather inhibits activity through winter. Gophers take no such extended time off here. They merely work less diligently through the cooler and rainier times, and maybe get out of the way if the soil they live in gets too saturated. Their minimal damage had probably been easier to miss or ignore.

Now it is spring! The weather is warming. The soil is draining. All the roots and vegetation that gophers eat are growing. The gophers that were here and somewhat active all through winter are really making a scene now, as they clean mud from their homes and excavate new tunnels. Babies are growing up fast and leaving home, and excavating new homes of their own. What a mess!

Many of the primitive techniques that were used in the past to mitigate gopher problems are ineffective, impractical or even dangerous. Pouring gasoline into tunnels and waiting a few minutes to ignite the fumes can start fires anywhere such tunnels resurface, and possibly out of view! Bare razors dropped into tunnels are potentially dangerous to anyone who happens to dig them up later.

Traps take some work and experience to set properly, but are still the best way to deal with gophers. They do not involve poison that can be dug up and eaten by someone else, or eaten by a gopher who staggers from underground to get eaten by someone else. As long as dogs are not allowed to dig them up, traps are likely only be dangerous to gophers and those setting the traps.

Conventional traps are set in pairs, in each of both directions of a lateral tunnel that is found by excavating back from the tunnel under an active gopher volcano (pile of displaced soil). Once set, the tunnels must be back filled to eliminate air circulation into the tunnel, which would warn a target gopher of intrusion. A bit of weedy vegetation added before back fill might help attract a gopher.

Setting gopher traps is easier to read about than to do safely. It is best to learn how to do it from someone who is proficient at it..

Kenny

 

 

If you watch Southpark, you shouldn’t.
If you do anyway, you shouldn’t admit to it.
If you happen to know someone who watches Southpark, you might have heard indirectly about Kenny. He dies in every episode. Actually, he typically dies a few times in each episode, and typically does so violently. Experts claim that there are two episodes of Southpark in which Kenny does not die, but proof is all too conveniently scarce.
There is also an opossum named Kenny. Like Kenny of Southpark, Kenny the opossum dies in every episode.
Apparently, Kenny startled someone who was working too intently in the garden to notice his approach on top of a fence directly behind where this unnamed someone was working. This unnamed someone grabbed a stick and clobbered Kenny right across the backside. Although the blow was not terribly aggressive, and not intended to be harmful, Kenny surprisingly died violently in a fit of hissing, gnashing and flailing. After falling to the ground, he smelled as if he had been dead for quite a while.
The surprised unnamed assailant went to find a box to put Kenny’s remains into for a proper ‘burial’, but upon returning to the scene of the incident, could not find Kenny.
Others briefly observed Kenny frolicking about in the same garden later, but when the unnamed assailant came within view, Kenny again died in a violent fit of hissing, gnashing and flailing, accompanied by the aroma of well aged death. Again, the unnamed assailant was unable to locate Kenny’s remains after retuning with a box in which to put them.
After a few more similarly violent deaths, it became apparent that Kenny was merely playing possum, likely in response to being clobbered with a stick by the startled unnamed assailant during their primary encounter!

I apologize for the length of the video. My attempts to trim it compromised the quality of the imaging. The important part of the video is between ten and thirty seconds. This is not the real Kenny anyway, but merely a random opossum who happened to be frolicking in the garden.
I also apologize for posting this at noon rather than at midnight when I typically schedule my articles for the day. For midnight, I posted a short excerpt from an old article from the gardening column instead.