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Friday, March 18, 2011

Springtime vole damage to trees and lawns

While I am not a turf expert I am inevitably asked during many spring landscape consultations, "what has killed my lawn?"  The short answer is "nothing."  The longer answer as to what cause this short lived damage is, "voles."
What are they?  Voles are rodents that are very common in our New England landscape.  According to the Massachusetts Audubon Society optimal vole habitat can support up to 300 voles per acre!  Voles are often confused with moles, but in reality they are very different.  The easiest way to remember the difference is that moles are meat eaters while voles are vegetarians.  Moles are feeding on grubs and insects underground.  While voles are feeding on tree bark, grass shoots and crowns.
Signs- You know you have voles in your landscape if you see runways or grooves in your lawn once the snow disappears.  Or if you see bark chewed off of young or newly planted trees.  Snow is great cover for voles in the wintertime.  So any winter when we have months of snow cover will likely lead to lots of winter time vole activity.
Damage- When it comes to lawns the damage is short lived.  Moles while feeding on crowns and shoots rarely eat the vital roots.  The best thing a homeowner can do at this point is to simply rake the spot of vole activity then give the grass time to regenerate.  If you are really concerned you can over seed the area with grass seed and put down a very light application of turf fertilizer.  But in most cases this is unwarranted.  Damage to trees is another story.  Voles will often girdle (chew a ring around) the trunk of young smooth barked trees often killing the trees.  This can be overcome by putting up a simple inexpensive rodent guard that wraps around the base of the young trees preventing the voles from chewing the bark.
Control-  While there is a myriad of chemicals, mini-guillotine, etc... available on the market few of these controls work.  While many of them catch and kill not targeted animals.
Solution-  Live and let live.  Voles do little long term damage to lawns and young trees can be protected by a simple rodent guard.  While chemicals rarely work nor do we need more chemicals in the landscape.
Happy spring!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Let me introduce myself...

Jim McSweeney is a certified arborist, certified horticulturist, licensed pesticide applicator and professional landscape designer with over 15 years experience.
Here you will find timely gardening tips, from a pro in the field, that can be easily used by both avid and novice gardeners. The tips will attempt to be clear, concise and usable without a lot of "fluff". While I live and work in Zone 5 (Western Massachusetts), many of the basic horticultural principles covered are useful in almost any zone/climate.


The dirt on dirt

"How to Make Compost" is a title that is often seen in the "gardening information" world.  Some people even write whole books on how to make dirt!  This can lead to 300+ pages on one of the most simplest processes on earth.  Let me try to simplify it for you in 5 steps...

1) Take all household food scraps (no meat or bones please...unless you want a catamount in your back yard) from your counter top compost bin and throw them into some obscure unused corner of your yard.  Whether you put these scraps in a $200 designer compost bin, $20 worth of scrap wood shaped into a square, or directly on the ground is largely irrelevant.

2) Throughout the gardening season, save your weeds, leaves, lawn clippings, and garden thinnings/waste -- whatever you have that is from nature -- and add them to this pile.

3) Turn the pile over a half dozen or so times during the warm months, and within 6-12 months you will have compost!!!

4) Then, take a wheelbarrow or two of compost (stuff at the bottom of your pile is usually better), and add it to your gardens. Any un-composted materials can be picked out and just put back in the compost pile. Then you just keep piling stuff on top..

5)  You can facilitate this "breaking down" process by doing two things: 1) water the pile if it hasn't rained in a while, and 2) sprinkle a couple cups of lime over the pile once a year.

But remember, were not baking a cake. It's really hard to go wrong when you only MAKING DIRT.

Not rocket science was it? When I give paid talks for New England Wild Flower Society, which are normally 2-3 hours in duration, I always start by saying, "I could sum up this talk to the important essentials in 15 minutes but since they pay me by the hour were here for 2 1/2."  But in this blog no one is paying me so i have gotten right to the point.

If you are located in Western Massachusetts and are looking for some top quality compost check out my friends of Bear Path Farm.