The Q&A Archives: Wildlife

Question: I found a portion of a well established azalea bush wilting; the rest of the plant was in excellent health. I believed it was caused by moles or something similar. The agriculture agent said to increase compost around the base of the plant and look for a compound that that had cod liver oil. None of the anti-mole products I found had their contents listed. I have since heard that scilla can deter these pests and I have some scilla peruviana that will grow here to plant. Can this work?

Answer: Sudden wilting of just parts of rhododendron and azalea plants is usually attributed to Phytophthora root rot, a fungal disease. I'd inspect the roots of the plant. If they're off color, rusty or mushy, poor drainage is the culprit and the cause of the wilting. If the roots on the affected part of the plant look healthy, it's possible gopher or mole tunneling caused the problem. If you can eliminate disease problems after inspecting the roots, your best course of action is to trap the critters causing the damage. You can do this by setting a trap (deterrents such as cod liver oil aren't all that effective). To set a trap, find the tunnel by probing the earth near your azalea. You can use a wire coat hanger as a probe. Simply straighten it out and plunge the end into the soil around your plant. If the earth is solid, you'll meet resistance; when you reach a tunnel, the wire will give and you'll be able to penetrate deeper into the soil. Once you've found the tunnel, dig a hole to access the tunnel, set the trap according to the directions on the package, and then cover over the trap with cardboard, etc. to eliminate sunlight. You may have to set and reset the trap but eventually you'll catch the critter. Best wishes with your project!

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