Ask a Question forum: Another "what's eating my plant" question.

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Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
jsf67
May 23, 2017 10:31 AM CST
My Hostas are mostly doing great (destroyed by both rabbits and deer a year ago). This year I had reapplied deer and rabbit repellent more often than the instructions suggest, but still not terribly recently (before doing it again after seeing this damage).

Three maybe related observations:

1) Something cut 3 leaves (half the total) off the smallest Hosta (one I transplanted there last year just before they were all eaten, so it had less chance for its roots to recover). All the nearby larger (long established) Hostas were untouched (I checked carefully).

The bottom of each of 3 leaves was gone while the stalk was still intact and the top of the leaf was on the ground beside the plant. That is a very different eating pattern from deer or rabbit last year.

This is the first Hosta damage this year.

2) I saw a mouse-size solid color brown rodent running down a big tree trunk early this morning and running on the ground elsewhere later. I never saw one before. Chipmunks are a little larger and not solid color. Mice are grey and nocturnal (obviously common here and outside far more than inside, but you NEVER see them outside). I don't know what younger chipmunks look like nor how they behave but I have no better guess.

3) The area near the Hostas usually has new holes of the size and general appearance of those I often see chipmunks digging elsewhere (so likely chipmunk holes but for some reason no dug while I'm watching). But more of those appeared in that area over night than ever before. As usual, there are no tunnels. I think chipmunks make a lot of test holes and find something wrong with the underground conditions in each place and try elsewhere and eventually (but not often) extend such a hole into a tunnel.


I think the chipmunks are not eating any plants. I see chipmunks eating all the time and can't see what they are eating. But when I inspect plants where chipmunks were eating I can see it wasn't the plants.
[Last edited by jsf67 - May 23, 2017 10:34 AM (+)]
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Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
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plantmanager
May 23, 2017 10:34 AM CST
I have the same problem We have deer, rabbits, feral pigs, chipmunks, mice, voles and moles. I have put up a game cam to watch areas where the plants are eaten. They can alert you or take photos and send them to your computer or phone. That way I can see what critter is bothering my plants. Most of those repell products don't work as far as I can tell.
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Name: Sue
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sooby
May 23, 2017 10:47 AM CST
jsf67 said:

2) I saw a mouse-size solid color brown rodent running down a big tree trunk early this morning and running on the ground elsewhere later. I never saw one before. Chipmunks are a little larger and not solid color. Mice are grey and nocturnal (obviously common here and outside far more than inside, but you NEVER see them outside). I don't know what younger chipmunks look like nor how they behave but I have no better guess.



I don't know if they climb trees but they do run on the ground and in daylight. Voles. Like mice but with a shorter tail. They can do a lot of damage in the garden biting plants/leaves off at ground level and either dragging them away or leaving them where they were felled.
Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
jsf67
May 23, 2017 1:37 PM CST
Before this, I never looked up what a vole is. Having checked, it seems plausible, though far from clear.

BTW, this was NOT the cut off at ground level style. In fact the entire stalk and a tiny bit of leaf was intact, vertical and higher than a vole on the ground could reach.

I think the rain had weighted the entire leaves down to temporarily flat on the ground (several of the Hosta leaves have done that: caught water like a cup and bent all the way to the ground and taken many hours after the rain before the water leaks out and the stalk pops back to vertical). Anyway, I expect something ate across what would be the bottom of the leaf while the whole leaf was flat on the ground. Then the part below that (in normal orientation) popped back up.

I'm pretty sure the rabbits here last year were eating the stalk and discarding the leaf. That is also a commonly discarded vole behavior, so this creature either is something else or didn't read that web site :)
[Last edited by jsf67 - May 23, 2017 1:39 PM (+)]
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Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
jsf67
May 24, 2017 6:23 AM CST
This morning I watched while a chipmunk dug three new holes through the mulch and a couple inches into the dirt below near the Hostas, and it nosed around the bases of several Hostas, but in all that it appeared not to eat anything.
So I think the earlier holes that looked like they were dug by a chipmunk were dug by a chipmunk (not a vole), and I think the chipmunk does not consider the Hostas to be food.
So I won't totally reject the theory that those leaves were eaten by a vole. But I think all the smaller holes were chipmunk. Also the online pictures I found of voles were multi color, not the solid brown of that one new rodent (which I haven't seen again) and I never saw any mention of voles running vertically on a tree trunk. So I don't really believe the vole theory.
Nothing ate any more Hostas. The recent brief rain flattened some leaves of two other Hostas onto the ground (I still think whatever ate the earlier leaves did so while they were pressed to the ground by rain) and those did not recover promptly when I tipped the water out.
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
Region: Canadian Keeps Horses Dog Lover Plant Identifier Garden Sages
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sooby
May 24, 2017 6:39 AM CST
Not sure what you mean by multi-colour, this is a picture of a vole and is what I see here.

https://www.google.ca/search?q...:

Since they girdle trees they must be able to go at least partway up a trunk, see:

https://www.google.ca/search?q...:

Here's a pic of one in a tree:
https://www.google.ca/search?q...:

My impression is that voles will also use chipmunk holes. Not that I'm disagreeing that your problem may well not be voles, I've seen chipmunks take bits off of plants as well, but they do less damage than a vole while being a lot more visible.
Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
jsf67
May 24, 2017 7:25 AM CST
sooby said:Not sure what you mean by multi-colour, this is a picture of a vole and is what I see here.


I meant like the first big picture reached by that link, that has brownish patches on top but appears to be mainly gray.

Contrast with the smaller picture on that same site (which I hadn't seen before) of an entirely brown rodent (like the one I saw) but the nearest title says "Voles Moles and Shrews" and doesn't say which the all brown rodent is nor where (while many pictures of gray rodents with brownish patches are clearly identified as voles here in Massachusetts.

Here's a pic of one in a tree:


OK, that was convincing. Fortunately nothing is doing that to trees here yet.

My impression is that voles will also use chipmunk holes.


All the chipmunk holes there are just holes, not tunnels. There are chipmunk tunnels elsewhere, as well as rabbit tunnels and tunnels of I'm not sure what else (but fortunately not moles). Thinking about it, I now doubt my earlier guesses that the many chipmunk holes-not-tunnels were either testing conditions for tunnels or digging for food. Maybe they are a defense against large predators. I think they might prepare an area with a few holes before foraging, then if a predator approached the nearest hole might be just deep enough to hide in. The brown rodent I scared on the ground ran far away, rather than ducking into one of several nearby holes. But that was a single incident and doesn't prove much.
We have so many chipmunks foraging everywhere that anything they even occasionally bite would be badly damaged from the large population. I've never seen a hint that they bite green plants in my yard.


[Last edited by jsf67 - May 24, 2017 7:26 AM (+)]
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