Gardener 4, Voles 146

– Posted in: Pests, Plagues, and Varmints, What's up/blooming

Last fall, I planted 150 species tulips. My last words on that post were “it will still look beautiful next spring.” Boy, was I wrong.

Four tiny species tulips in a 15 foot long bed of peonies.

Four tulips bloomed amongst the snowdrop and crocus foliage. Click to enlarge

The snowdrops that I had divided came up. At least some of the crocus that I divided came up. And four tulips emerged and bloomed. Four. Out of one hundred and fifty.

Why Didn’t They Bloom?

At first I thought that a few tulips must not have been planted quite as deeply as the others, and so came up sooner. But as the days and weeks went on, no other tulips showed up. I realized, much to my dismay, that four was all I was going to get.

Pink and yellow small tulip seen from top

Three of one hundred Lilac Wonder tulips bloomed

Rose pink species tulip, seen from above

One of fifty Little Beauty tulips bloomed

It was possible that they could have rotted. After all, this bed is right next to the driveway, and snow that is removed from the driveway gets piled here. However, in the top picture, near the furthest back tulip, I noticed what looks like some kind of onion. Now, I didn’t put that there. I suspected, quite strongly, that a rodent put that there. And if a rodent put a bulb there, it just as easily could take a bunch away.

Well, I’ll Be…

And it would have remained speculation on my part, except for what happened today. I was getting a bunch of miscellaneous chores done and happened to walk by the purple smoke bush. I’ll be the first to admit that the shrub bed has been neglected the last few years and there is quite a mix of grass, dandelions, goldenrod, and Vinca minor acting as a er–ground cover, until I have time to attend to it. As I was passing by, I glimpsed a bit of pink amongst the grass. I don’t know of any weed blooming pink at this time of year, so I stopped to take a closer look.

Small tulips about to bloom

Seven or more tulips the voles forgot to eat

Doggone if some of my missing tulips weren’t getting ready to bloom thirty feet from where they were planted! Once I discovered them, I pulled the grass and other weeds away from them. Trust me, they’re much easier to see this way.

Now I am wondering if I should try to relocate them back to the peony bed after they are done blooming, or just leave them be. What would you do?

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.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

christina July 12, 2010, 9:25 pm

I have been battling voles for a couple of years to no avail…they have eaten over 20 hostas, numerous annuals and perennials, and 17 knockout roses…I have tried mouse traps, deterring granuals and liquids, chewing gum, noise makers…was about to try poison but have not wanted to injure my cat who occasionally catches one. So grateful to hear that the poisons really can harm the cats-don’t want that!! I try to keep all debri out of my gardens so they can’t hide. Would love to see more snakes and owls…Help!

Karen June 26, 2010, 10:19 pm

Just found your website. We garden in Washington state on three acres in the country.
Moles, voles and some years rabbitts.
I’ve had the same problem with tulips but last fall I read about using moth balls. I’d dig a trench to plant the bulbs then tuck a moth ball about every four inches along the trench.
I was careful not to let the moth ball touch the tulip bulb. Every single tulip and crocus came up.
I thought the moth balls would disinigrate in our wet soil but as I’ve been digging around this year I’ve uncovered several. They’re a little smaller but still have their aroma. We’ll see what happens next spring.

Irrigation Systems May 17, 2010, 3:51 am

If they aren’t causing any trouble where they are then go by the rule that if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it. I planted one tulip in a pot this year and all I got was leaves. However, you should definitely take action against your nocturnal garden helpers. The suggestion of a getting a cat could be a very effective answer as well as being decorative.

Garden guy May 16, 2010, 9:57 am

Even though I love animals of all types I would have to say buy some traps.

The next best bet is to get a cat, but in no way would I use chemicals to get rid of the problem they can leech into other areas of the garden. Do you also plant a veggie garden? Are they giving you a problem there also? I read somewhere they do not like HOT peppers.

Daryl May 15, 2010, 2:34 pm

Folks here are having good luck planting vole-favored plants in PermaTill, a sharp-sided expanded slate product. It’s the only way some of us can grow Hostas. PermaTill is the same stuff they’re using for many green roof applications, so it might be available in your area.

I can also vouch for Victor mouse traps baited with peanut butter (put a box or flower pot with a cut-out over it to avoid catching birds and such).

We had a feral cat take up with us last year. He’s taken out voles, moles and chipmunks, but ignores the birds, even when Mockingbirds dive-bomb him.

irrigation global May 13, 2010, 6:21 am

So sorry about the tulips, that’s a real bummer!

GwendolynGarden May 12, 2010, 5:18 pm

VOLES! I can’t stand the critters! I’d leave the tulips be for now- they’ve probably had enough trauma. Although I know you aren’t lucky, but luckier than I: the darn voles ate EVERY LAST ONE of my 100 parrot tulips. I’m calming down now. Sorry about your tulips.

Mary Schier May 12, 2010, 10:16 am

So sorry about the voles, Kathy. My next door neighbor had the same problem this year. Dozens of tulips planted and a very spotty display. Mine were not touched, however, which I attribute to the presence of a snake family that has been living under my driveway for several years. We live near a nature area in a fairly new development, and I have battled pocket gophers, voles, and moles. Chemicals have never worked. What has worked: traps, snakes, and neighbor boys with BB guns.
.-= Mary Schier´s last blog ..A $10 Greenhouse =-.

Meghan May 12, 2010, 9:40 am

I’ve got voles chewing up plants in my yard, also – they chewed through the blue fescue for certain, and I think they’re behind the stem-chewing of several of my new tomato seedlings… they’re certainly behind the 5 new holes I found dug into the dirt in the tomato raised bed!! But I still wouldn’t advise getting an outdoor-hunting cat. First, because they will also decimate the songbird population in your area, and any other rare, small mammals (my parents’ cat brought home, one at a time, the corpses of an entire nest of baby flying squirrels, then the mother and father). Second, at least in our neighborhood, one neighbor puts out poison for the squirrels and rodents, and a different fellow neighbor lost at least three outdoor cats to poison after they caught and ate poisoned critters. Not a good mix.

I have heard that having a dog that spends time in the yard really seems to deter the critters; supposedly even when the dog isn’t actually outside, the smell of a predator makes them veer away. Can’t speak from experience, though.

I’d certainly love to hear follow-up stories if you find anything that seems to help. I’ll be caging my raised tomato beds tonight, now that it’s finally stopped raining!

Jeff Ball May 12, 2010, 8:56 am

I kill using a standard old fashioned wood mouse trap by Victor. I bait it with peanut butter and place it in the affected area, near a vole tunnel if you can find it. I cover the trap with a large container so the cats don’t get access. It works most of the time.

Kathy Purdy May 12, 2010, 9:10 am

I guess that’s what it’s come to. I’d rather get a cat to do the dirty work for me. Anyone have tips on how to find a cat that’s a good hunter?

PlantingOaks May 13, 2010, 12:22 pm

Mousing is one of the few cat traits that is taught, not instinct. A good mouser will be a kitten raised by a mother who is a good mouser (though obviously, some of them don’t catch on).

Ask farmers about barn cats, and don’t take kittens too young. If you can get them to part with an adult with proven mousing skills, that’s your best bet.
.-= PlantingOaks´s last blog ..The hyacinths are back! =-.

Daisey May 12, 2010, 8:13 am

I use to have a problem with rodents…no longer…. If you truly love tulips, which it appears you do….150 bulbs…..the ambition to just plant that many!! Well, living in the country of northern New England we have all kinds of wildlife wanting to feast on our gardens. To solve the rodent problem small hole chicken wire fencing works great. The holes need to be real small. I actually made “cages” that had removable tops (not the easiest thing to make). Basically cut 4 pieces of the wire to the length and height I needed and used the ends of the wire as prongs to attach it to the other pieces leaving the top off. You want the cage to be large enough so that the bulbs will be far enough away from the holes..couple inches..on all sides. If the holes aren’t small enough for the rodent your dealing with, line the bottom and sides with stone or crushed shell as you add the soil. This will still allow for drainage but deter the little guys from getting “in”. After adding the bottom soil add a real good amount of blood
meal (rodents hate the smell). Be generous. This doesn’t harm the bulbs. Place the tulips in the middle of the cage, cover with some soil, add more blood meal, cover with soil completely. The top of the sides of your cage should come about 1/2 an inch below the surface of your garden. The plants will grow right up through the holes in the wire fencing. However, if the tulips are large, the top fencing may need to have larger holes than the rest of the cage. Small tulips, bit bigger than crocus, are fine with small holes. Regular size tulips need larger holes. Large enough so the full size stem can easily fit through.
Place the top on the cage and then cover it with soil to hide the cage and make level with garden surface. This should be only about 1/2 in soil. If you used larger hole wire fence for the top and you’re dealing with voles, place a small hole piece of wire on top with some rocks to keep it in place. This will only be through the winter. Come spring this top piece is removed .
The cages can be left in the ground indefinitely. If you wish to change bulbs just plane right inside the cage.

It can be a pain to make but it does work.

I have other things I’ve done with raised beds that have been successful. If your interested let me know….don’t want to make this any longer than it is…Kind of hard to describe and be brief…..

Best of luck….happy gardening!

Kathy Purdy May 12, 2010, 8:33 am

Thank you, Daisey, for your lengthy reply. I did try that cage method before with a smaller amount of larger size tulips. It does keep the rodents out, but after a couple of years the tulips petered out. I found it difficult to remove the cage at that point, because all sorts of perennial roots had interwoven themselves through the fencing. There’s still pieces of it in there, and I sometimes cut myself on broken wires while weeding. I suppose if you are going to treat your tulips as annuals and remove the cage when you remove the tulips it makes a bit more sense, though I have to agree, it is a royal pain in the neck.

I don’t love tulips enough to wire cage 150 bulbs, especially when I am interweaving crocus and snowdrops. I guess that’s why I wasn’t concerned about rodents when I planted those tulips, because I knew I had crocus in there, which they also love.

Gardener on Sherlock Street May 11, 2010, 10:46 pm

I’m so glad I don’t have voles.
Is there something they don’t like that you can plant with the tulips?
I’d leave the transplanted tulips.

Sylvana May 11, 2010, 9:43 pm

Ugh, voles! I have seen a few around my garden, and probably lost whole groups of tulips to them. It’s easy to keep squirrels from getting them – not so easy to keep voles from getting them.

I would say, leave them. Maybe there is a good reason why the voles didn’t eat them – maybe they hid them too well. Why take them out of a possibly protected spot?
.-= Sylvana´s last blog ..Morel Hunting =-.

Salix May 11, 2010, 9:22 pm

Kathy, I’d kill them too, if I only knew how. I’m a pretty patient and non violent person – but our first year I planted 300 tulips in a bed in front of the house, and not ONE came up, not one little shoot! Don’t know if they rotted (it’s wet around here, but not that bad along the house). I wasn’t aware of the voles or mice that year, but boy do we have hoards of them now! You tell ME what to do.
.-= Salix´s last blog ..Living willow Fence + Hedge = Fedge =-.

Susan in the Pink Hat May 11, 2010, 9:22 pm

Get a snake. Or traps. That’ll take care of your vole problem. Just don’t be tempted to use chemical warefare. Seriously.
.-= Susan in the Pink Hat´s last blog ..You may have seen this elsewhere. But I couldn’t help but… =-.

Jean May 11, 2010, 8:52 pm

My, I have no idea what I’d do. I have neither voles nor the right zone to plant tulips (except for species tulips which I currently don’t have). I have a hard enough time with the squirrels so I can’t imagine having a critter who moves bulbs around!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter May 11, 2010, 8:51 pm

I’d dig them up & replant them in wire cages. Stupid little pigs.

Rundy May 11, 2010, 8:02 pm

Me, I’d kill the voles…

Kathy Purdy May 11, 2010, 8:04 pm

Easier said than done. I suspect some of them were killed. That’s why those tulips showed up.