What’s Going on with this shrub?

– Posted in: Pests, Plagues, and Varmints, Plant info
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What's up with these broken branches?

What's up with these broken branches?

This is my purple-leaved smokebush, Cotinus coggygria ‘Nordine Red.’ I purchased it in 1996 as a small potted plant, and it has always been a strong grower. However, in the last five years or so, branches have started breaking off for no apparent reason. Let me restate that. The branches that break off always look like someone applied a strong downward pressure to break them off. When I discover them broken, it’s usually a day or two after we’ve had a fairly strong breeze, but certainly nothing gale force, nothing that damages any other plant. So to me, it doesn’t seem like it is wind damage, but that is the closest proximate cause that I can discern. The branches that break off don’t show any signs of disease or decay. At least one of the branches has rooted where it touched the ground, and that’s one reason why I’ve left some of the others. (The other reason is I just didn’t get around to cutting them off.) If anyone knows why these branches break off, or can send a link my way that explains it, I’d sure appreciate it.

This garden bed reflects the neglect of the past two years, when I was physically just not up to gardening. This year I hope things will be different, starting today! After I finished taking this picture, I severed the one horizontal limb that was clearly dead. Then I started clearing away all the dead grass, and guess what I found? Vole headquarters! There is a vole tunnel that runs almost the entire perimeter of this bed, as well as some tunneling under the grass around this shrub. I should mention that most of the time, voles do not throw up dirt when they make their tunnels, and, especially under snow, the tunnels aren’t even completely subterranean. That is one way you can tell whether you have mole or vole trouble. The chart here summarizes the main physiogical differences between these and other small rodents, and this article gives suggestions for control. I have tried trapping voles before, with limited success. I mean, I do catch some, but enough to make a difference? Right now I am just trying to expose as many tunnels as I can to make the job easier for predators, and now that the snow is gone, I hope the neighbor’s cats will come hunting.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

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