Spring brings buds and blooms — but it also brings moles, voles and gophers.
The small mammals bring gardeners to their knees to peer down tunnels, set traps and toss in everything from kitty litter to gum. They wage war against the critters before they know what they’re fighting, which can lead to frustration.
“How you deal with them depends on what you have,” said Dana Sanchez, a wildlife specialist for Oregon State University’s Extension Service. “The traps are different and so are the baits you would use.”
Moles, voles and gophers all create tunnels and are active underground, but what they eat and the damage they cause varies. They all improve the soil by aerating it and mixing nutrients, but sometimes their habits get them in trouble with gardeners.
Gophers favor bulbs and roots. Voles go for grass, but also gnaw on shrubs and stems near their holes and runways. Moles, which are rarely seen, prefer non-plant food.
“People say moles are eating my garden, but moles are adapted for swimming through the soil to hunt prey,” Sanchez explained. “They just tunnel through looking for worms, grubs and insects.”
Mole tunnels can cause damage to plants, though, when the runways create paths around roots. And the mounds of dirt drive homeowners crazy and interfere with mowing.
Gophers — about the size of ground squirrels — will eat whole plants.
“If you see a plant disappear,” Sanchez said, “it’s a gopher. They’re famous for pulling things below ground.”
Though voles live in little tunnels, they spend time above ground eating grass and nibbling on other plants. The mouse-size voles leave a lot of small holes and connecting runways through the damaged grass they’ve been dining on.
You can tell you have a mole if the mounds in your yard or garden take on a volcanic, rounded shape. Gopher mounds are flatter on top and fan-shaped with the hole off to the side.
“The important part is for people to assess the level of damage with the level of control,” Sanchez said. “Is having a few holes in the lawn enough of a problem that you need to take action?”
For those who choose combat, stick to research-based controls, she advised. Gadgets and homemade recipes have not been shown scientifically to work. And body-gripping traps are illegal in most cases in Washington.
In raised beds, you can repel moles and gophers by using a barrier of welded wire on the bottom. Tilling in rows between crops may also help. Using baits is an option, Sanchez said, but will be dangerous to pets and other animals. As with all pesticides, read the label carefully, she added.
Can I grow tomatoes in a 5-gallon container?
Q: I purchased a Super Sweet 100 cherry tomato plant. Can I grow this in a 5-gallon bucket with stakes/support? Online information says they grow to 5 feet. I have never successfully grown my own tomatoes.
A: You can successfully grow this type of tomato in a 5-gallon bucket. When planting, you want to pick off all of the side branches up to just the top few inches. Then plant it deep in the bucket, so that your start is only a few inches high with a few leaves exposed. All of those little hairlike structures on the main branch will develop into roots and provide a good system to absorb water and keep the plant stable over the summer.
With this size container, you will have to provide daily water when it gets a bit warmer and watch out for things like blossom end rot, which happen more frequently on potted tomatoes.
I grow most of my tomatoes in pots every year since I plant a lot of early-season crops that take up all of my garden space before the tomatoes are ready to be planted.
— Chrissy Lucas, OSU Extension agricultural outreach coordinator
Is there help for this rose tree?
Q: We have a double Knockout rose tree that is 10 years old. I started noticing spots on the branches. The leaves are also wilting on one specific branch, but not all of them. The spots are also on eight other double Knockout roses we have, but only one branch on a tree has wilted leaves that die. We have also cut off two branches that have suffered the same thing. What could this be?
A: It looks like you may have a canker disease on some of your canes. We have had a very wet spring, which can encourage the spread of disease. There are multiple types of pathogens that can cause cankers, and pruning them out as you have been doing is the best solution. Cut out the cankers below where you see wilting/discolored tissue and above a node. Also, cut the stem at an angle so water does not pool on the cut.
— Heather Stoven, OSU Extension horticulturist
Can you regrow carrots by replanting the tops?
Q: There is conflicting information on the internet about regrowing carrots from tops. I know you can grow the greens, however, can you grow the actual root vegetable again? And if not, what is the scientific reason why not?
A: You are correct that you can cut off the top of a carrot and regrow the leaves only. Once the taproot (carrot) is removed, it cannot grow another. When cut from the top, the growing point for the taproot is removed, however the growing tip for new leaves is not. The growing tip (meristem) that forms the leaves can also grow new adventitious roots (fibrous roots), but not a taproot. You would need to allow the top to flower and go to seed, and then plant the seeds in order to get another carrot with a taproot.
— Heather Stoven, OSU Extension horticulturist
Ask an Expert is an online question-and-answer tool from Oregon State University’s Extension Service. To ask a question, visit extension.oregonstate.edu/ask-expert.