What plants do your critters love to eat?

victorine72(7a)April 8, 2012

Hi there. I live in a mostly wooded neighborhood and am in constant battle with voles, moles and chipmunks. In my experience, if a vole doesn't just eat a given plant's roots outright, one of my many moles or chipmunks will tunnel straight through them. I started planting most of my vulnerable or expensive plants in hardware cloth critter cages several years ago. Since then, I haven't lost any plants to critters.

The other day I was detailing this strategy to a neighbor, who is also a serious gardener, and a debate ensued about which plants were considered tasty to voles. We both agreed that moles and chipmunks will burrow through anything, but we had very conflicting opinions on vole-susceptible plants. I've based my critter cage usage for certain plants in my garden on info I've read online. Please take a moment and let me know which plants you've either found it necessary to protect, or, can let grow without worry.

Many thanks!!

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Liatris spicata,Eryngium, Lilies, Hostas are vole magnets. If you count slugs which can burrow themselves under the crowns of the plants: delphinium, ligularia.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 4:29PM
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Never had vole or mole issues. A chipmunk lives in my yard despite my attempt to eject it. I notice that it spends most of the time gathering fallen seed from the bird feeder, so I don't consider it to be that big of a pest.

The biggest damage in my area are rabbits and squirrels. Most of the time. The rabbits chew on barks of the bushes and the squirrels dig up stuff for no apparent reason. I lost an Aster plant from their digging activity. Today, they started digging up my ranunculus in the pot. I probably need to invest in some hardware cloth until they bud.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 9:14PM
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I don't have trouble with voles or other animals eating my plants (knock on wood,) but the neighborhood cats like to poop in my flower beds. Perhaps it's because of the cats that I don't have any critter problems. If that's the case, I guess I could tolerate a little bit of cat droppings.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 9:27PM
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The voles in my garden eat many things . . . it might be easier to list what they don't eat.

They have killed several shrubs: a couple of Cornus alternifolia (pagoda dogwood), some Andromeda polifolia (bog rosemary), and a Pieris 'Brower's Beauty' (AKA andromeda or lily of the valley shrub). They seem to like some clematis better than others: a robus 'Venosa Violacea' was eaten completely and a second one seriously damaged and they also damaged a 'Walenberg' while others nearby were untouched. Every winter the Siberian iris and the Carex 'Ice Dancer' get well chomped, though they are fibrous and tough enough to survive regardless. They seem to find the white-variegated Heucheras particularly tasty, though often several of the others get eaten as well. Dianthus (pinks) seem to be a favorite. Tulips, muscari, and crocus are the most often eaten bulbs in my garden while reticulated iris, daffodils, and alliums don't seem to be eaten much.

I have noticed that I seem to have less damage on plants that have strong odors like lavender, Nepeta, Agastache, and Salvia, and I have noticed no problems with my rhododendrons or any of the roses. Daylilies, phlox, and perennial mums are fairly untouched.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 2:10AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you have to plan your attack according to what the vermin eat ..

just a bunch of random thoughts ...

e.g. i THOUGHT moles.. eat worms and grubs.. obviously.. they are not attacking your plants ... but ONLY digging under them ..

with my irrigation.. chippies were burrowing underground.. along the irrigation lines in august.. and tiny hosta would sink into the tunnels in fall/winter and die from being buried too deep ..

in addition.. being starved for water ... they were nibbling the tape.. and causing endless irrigation problems ...

i thought i had a bazillion hyperactive chippies .. and went after them with rat traps with almond wired on.. and/or peanut butter.. i think i got rid of about 4 or 5 .. over 2 acres of hosta . .. and the problem went away.. whats that all about .. lol .. i still saw some around .... it was just a population issue ...

when you survey the garden.. you step on a hole ... and perhaps mark it with a landscape flag.. and the next day ... a hole is reopened ... that is were you would set a trap ... since they tend to work in the dark .. i would set a rat or mouse trap .. and invert a large black pot over the trap ...

i doubt.. that most of these things are going to wander into a critter cage ... you are going to have to become more heartless ... i sum it up by saying.. this aint no disney movie ... vermin are vermin.. not cute cuddly characters ...

good luck


    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 8:46AM
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jan_on zone 5b

For more than 35 years we have had a groundhog living in our yard. He (and his ancetors) used to live in a farm field, but the city came calling. He eats the crocus flowers, my tulips have squared off leaves and certain colours have no flowers, he enjoys grazing some clover in the lawn, and I have never been able to grow echinacea. But hey, a fellow has to eat. Too bad he seems to avoid garlic mustard and invasives like lamium and lily-of-the-valley! The good news -- we don't seem to have voles.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 8:50PM
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Thanks everyone. That confirms a few of my assumptions. My voles have never eaten my lavenders, agastaches, any type of salvia, lily of the valley, daffodils, crocosmia, monardas, mums, yarrow, peonies, pulmonarias, oxalis, arums, crinum, helleborus, hydrangea, polygonatum or nicotianas. Everything else seems to be fair game though.......

Nothing is off limits to the moles and chipmunks. I've lost more plants to non-consumptive tunneling than anything else.

Sometimes the tunneling in my garden (and lawn) is so bad, it feels like I'm walking on quicksand. We have several neighborhood cats (whom I try to encourage with strategically placed pots of catnip), a few red-shouldered hawks and even a great horned owl in our neighborhood (he loves to sit in an old oak just outside our bedroom window and keep us up a night) but the critter population never changes. Poisons and lethal traps aren't an option for us, nor are catch and release traps-- I tried that one season, and I felt like a chipmunk taxi service.

I've probably made 200+ hardware cloth cages over the years. If I never made another one, that would suit me just fine. Nothing else seems to reliably protect my plants, though. $1,000,000 prize to the person who invents a weather-proof, broad spectrum, single application critter repellant.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 10:19PM
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Last year at a fellow gardener yard, I noticed that some of her plants had sweet gum seeds all around them. She told me how she use have a terrible time squirrels digging up some of her plants. She started using the sweetgum seeds around them until they reach a certain size and then removes them. My problem is they were digging up plants that I had just planted. So I tried it, worked like a charm.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 3:51AM
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That's rather odd. How does it work? I thought squirrels love eating sweet gum seeds.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 5:08PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Victorine, I just bought a roll of hardware cloth to encircle some of my special Echinacea seedlings etc. to protect them from the vole(s). Can you tell me what size you make your vole cages and how you install them?

Last Spring the rodent population exploded around here, probably because of the deep and persistent snow cover from winter 2011, which protected them and insulated the earth. The voles seemed to prefer my favorite native cultivars, because they ate most of the Baptisia 'Twilight Prairie Blues', Helianthus 'Lemon Queen', Echinacea, Eupatorium 'Gateway', and Liatris. They also ate most of Salvia 'Black & Blue' and a couple of random Hostas by late summer.

My cat caught DOZENS of voles, moles and chipmunks last summer. This seemed to largely bring the population under control. But there was still one running amok in the front garden this past winter. The cat doesn't hunt up there because it's too close to the road. So the vole ate the Phlox paniculata, Eupatorium 'Chocolate', half the huge Buddleia 'Black Knight' and wiped out most of the the bulbs, everything except Daffodils. Most of the Muscari, Hyancinthus, Crocus, and Lilium in the front garden are no shows.

My little vole patrol -

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 6:43PM
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terrene(5b MA)

They also wiped out the Sedum in front...I had some really nice Matrona and Purple Emperor. They were also munching on some of the roots of my huge Miscanthus Gracillimus.

However, they didn't touch the Yarrow, Iris, and Daylilies. Now I have read websites that said that voles will eat Daylilies, so maybe they don't prefer them, but will eat them if there's nothing else.

They do seem to favor the thicker more tuberous roots.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 6:53PM
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Don't get me started on chipmunks, those things were desperately trying to burrow into my house. I awoke one morning with one chirping in the dining room! Now I despise them.

Between the chippers and rabbits, they tend to eat any sort of asiatic/oriental lily or anything that resembles a daisy. I'm actually trying to make an enclosed garden this year to see if that helps against the rabbits. Sometimes my daylily foliage is nibbled, but not very far down and usually not the flowers. Also delphinium (not the tall stalk version but the shorter smaller flowered version)and tulips. Mums/asters are devoured to the ground.

Squirrels don't eat much but dig up my bulbs.

In winter the rabbits have a feast on my bushes. I now have to cover all the smaller bushes in burlap. They even chow down on the rose bushes with their thorns.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 2:15PM
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The photo of your vole patrolcat is too cute-- fluffy little face stuffed full of critter.... I *love* it. My own (indoor) kitty friend is sitting on my lap as I (try to) type this. He's giving me a look that says "don't get any big ideas, woman.".

I make my critter cages in all sizes. It just depends on the plant. I've found that an 8" diameter, 10" deep cage is sufficient for a lot of plants. I could make them bigger, but my soil is crazy compacted clay and full of tree roots, and I just don't have time to spend 30 minutes digging each hole. The roots grow through the hardware cloth eventually, but even if the critters mess with those, you've still protected the main tap and lateral roots.

I would suggest starting out with 1/4" hardware cloth-- it's much easier to cut than 1/2". A good pair of tin-snips will also make your life easier, as will some nitrile coated knit gardening gloves. They are thin enough to give you good dexterity but still thick enough to keep your hands from being torn to shreds.

As for installation, there really isn't that much to it. Dig a hole larger than the cage, put it in the hole and fill with plant and dirt. At first I planted them with about 1" of the cage above the soil, but I got tired of stumbling on them so now I place them at soil level. Thus far, no difference in critter "activity" between the two planting depths.

If you need to plant something very shallow rooted, like crocus, and are worried about digging from the top down in, then get some crushed oyster shell (aka crushed poultry shell) and work it into the top 1" of the soil. It will keep the critters from digging down into the cage...... until all the birds have eaten it. Plan on reapplying it once or twice a season.

Daylilies and iris were two plant types my neighbor and I couldn't agree on. I thought daylilies were critter-proof, but not iris. She thought the opposite.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 5:20PM
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terrene(5b MA)

DPC, I just purchased 2 bags of Milorganite today at the nursery to spread around the few choice plants that the deer and rabbits love. This inluces my Jewelweed, Aster laevis, and all my Liatris seedlings! Milorganite is human sewage sludge - yes there might be a yuck factor for some people (not me, it's composted), but I won't use it on edibles, it is a good fertilizer and the smell is supposed to repel rabbits and deer.

Thanks Victorine, I was wondering if you had to have the hardware cloth come up out of the ground. Because if so, it would be somewhat unsightly in my most ornamental front garden! Haha Are you sure you have to go down 8 inches? Have you ever experimented with less depth? The voles/moles don't seem to burrow that deep.

I bought 1/2 inch grid, but haven't opened it yet, so I think I'll return for 1/4 inch. I have tin snips, no problem - I'm a single mom many years who is a landlord/property manager and have a big Craftsman tool chest and WAY more tools than clothes or jewelry!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 7:35PM
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Balloon flower is one of my favorite perennials--it never got bothered by any kind of pest. Then the past couple of years it's gotten bitten down to the nubbins, I think by rabbits. When you deadhead balloon flower, it smells exactly like fresh peas, so I can understand the attraction. I'll have to smash some garlic cloves around them this year...

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 8:28PM
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Terrene - thanks for the tip about milorganite - I'll give that a try! Yuck factor not is an issue, I was just mixing up a bag of cow manure based compost today with some top soil :)

Rabbits just deadheaded all my parrot tulips yesterday (before they could even bloom!!!) so I'm certainly looking to try anything to keep them at bay.

Lisah - Interesting about the balloon flower. Love them myself. The gluttonous rabbit that lives in my yard likes to rest under a short juniper in one of my settings. There's a balloon flower plant inches from its mouth and it never touched it. Then again, my yard is probably like a smorgasbord, so maybe he's developed picky tastes ;)

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 1:34PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I believe that squirrels only find soil that has been disturbed of interest. So I am careful about newly potted plants that I leave in the shade and newly planted bulbs, I always just lay a square of hardware cloth over them until they come up the next spring.

We have a chipmunk that basically stuffs his face IN the bird feeder. I was hoping that with no snow cover last winter, he had become someone's dinner, but no such luck. He is back as of today. He uses the upper railing of our stockade fence as a highway. I have an abandoned hole from where he was last year that I am filling with rocks and gravel. I think he was eating my tomatoes last year. I can't seem to keep him out of the birdfeeder. He managed to climb right in and can empty the feeder in an afternoon. I had to stop filling it last year.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 6:36PM
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I don't think the vole/moles burrow that deep, but my chipmunks definitely do. Their tunneling systems are pretty impressive, I have to give the little s***s credit for effort.

The depth to which I make/plant the critter cages is also due to size of most nursery pots. Most of the plants I buy tend to come in 2.5qt pots or larger, which are usually about 8-10" deep. It may be overkill for some plants, but I don't mind it if a cage is a bit too deep-- it forces me to dig a deep hole, which is probably better for the plants in the long run.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 7:34AM
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terrene(5b MA)

OMG, the chipmunks wreaked havoc last year! I had no less than 3 yellow jacket nests in chipmunk holes last year, maybe more in back where I don't go, as well as 2 holes burrowing against the foundation. They can indeed enter your house and cause major damage, just as mice and other rodents can. I got stung by yellow jackets 3 times last year while mowing the lawn, kept forgetting one of the friggin' nest holes was in the middle of the front lawn!

This year the chipmunks are scarce. :)

As for voles, I just went and exchanged the 1/2 inch HW cloth for 1/4 today. It was a bit more expensive, but I already have some 1/2 inch anyway. I want to protect the special Echinacea seedlings I started last spring and have over-wintered very well (Pow wow wild berry, Bravado, and Primadonna white). Think I'll go down 6 inches with the wire.

There is still a vole hitting a plant here and there in the front garden. Discovered most of my Phlox 'David' in the decimated! Ugh! At least I have other 'David' plants, including a small clump from last year's swap, some seedlings from 2 years ago, and some sprouts from this year.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 7:11PM
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terrene(5b MA)

PM2 the squirrel/raccoon baffles I have on the feeder poles also keep off chipmunks. I enjoy watching squirrels or chipmunks go up a pole, up under the baffle, and a minute later, come back back down the pole. The baffle probably "baffles" them!

Oh and so far the voles have not touched the Peonies or Foxglove - of course, probably NOTHING eats Foxglove. Another totally poisonous plant. So one can always have a garden made up of daffodils and Foxglove and nothing will touch it.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 1:14AM
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