Saturday, March 19, 2011

Triumphs and Tragedies

I don't know how it happened.  One day we were in the minus double digits and the snow was blowing, the next day the temperatures had sky rocketed and we were melting like a popsicle on a hot summer day.  It's actually made it possible for me to venture into our yard for the first time in months.  So, now that I'm able to walk around and check on the garden's progress it's now time to bring back Triumphs and Tragedies.

If you're new to Canoe Corner Triumphs and Tragedies is generally posted on Friday or Saturday of each week.  I take a walk around in my garden and discuss the week's progress.  The good and the bad.

This Week's Triumph

Well the weather alone is enough to make me jump for joy.  Where the snow was once 4 feet deep it's only past my ankles now (okay there's some drifts that come to my knees but I'm thinking positive!).  There are puddles of water, the sun is shining and it's warm.  Oh boy it's warm.  We've even gone a few days without a fire in our wood stove.  Spring has officially made it's presence known and not a minute too soon.  This has been one long stormy winter and my whole body is breathing a sigh of relief.

Hey look it's GRASS!

The branches on this lilac are full of buds just itching to burst


A couple weeks ago I was reading Laurrie's blog, My Weeds Are Very Sorry.  She talked about her trees being girdled by voles over the winter.  While reading I was struck by one of those 'oh dear' moments.  My trees were covered in snow, there are mice under that snow, and I did not think to protect my trees.  In fact, this is new to me.  On the west coast we don't have snow for very long, if at all.  Critters living under the snow are unheard of.  So I had no notion of what might happen.  Well my first walk out in the yard confirmed my fears.  Let's just say there was a very loud, very long, string of profanity that came out of my mouth.

Several inches of the trunk and an entire branch were stripped of bark
This is my beloved red oak.  A $50 dollar tree that I purchased and pampered last spring.  I worried about damage to the tap root and doted on it with water and compost and it did so well.  Growing almost a foot over the summer, it seemed well established, happy.  I was so proud of that darn tree and I've never felt more sick than when I saw this damage.  And it wasn't the only victim.  Several white birch were also chewed to pieces by those rotten vermin.

The entire bottom portion of the trunk was stripped on this
white birch and a small branch eaten to a nub
The birch aren't as expensive as the oak and I planted about a half dozen of them so while I was upset there were still trees to be salvaged.  The oak however was a single specimen and my prize purchase.  I put it in a prime spot for viewing it's lovely fall colour and I'm kicking myself so hard right now for not taking steps to protect it.  I don't think there's a chance it'll recover.  It's completely girdled right round the truck.  Heck they even gnawed around the branches.  So it looks like there will be another trip to the tree nursery later in the spring and this time I'll be buying those plastic guards to deter the mice.


  1. Ugh! How frustrating! I've lost shrubs and trees to voles who ate their roots and it was infuriating. Now whenever I see one of my dogs carrying around a vole in their mouth, I just think, "Adios!".

  2. One more thing - maybe you can save the tree by removing the girdled root. I've never done it but I've heard it's possible.

  3. I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach just reading this. Because my property is covered with mature trees and a gazillion seedlings pop up every year, I've never planted trees and didn't know about this type of damage to young trees. Now I understand what those guards on the young trees are about. On the bright side, if you replace the oak this year, you've only lost one year's growth. -Jean

  4. Trees have an amazing capacity to bounce back! I wasn't aware of this problem when I first moved from the Coast to the Prairies and had some damage to young trees. I covered it for the summer with a breathable fabric and they've mostly carried on fine. The ones girdled almost all the way around - not so much.

  5. oh Marguerite I really can imagine how you feel, it can really change how we feel about these creatures, I never knew plants could be eaten under the snow, like when you were in BC we just don't get that amount of snow so no experience, I have heard that rabbits can girdle a tree by eating the bark so I keep an eye on mine but as branches are low it would be impossible to protect them with the plastic covers I would need to build a small fence around trunk and low branches, I suppose they are looking for food and a young tree has more tender bark, I hope when your lilac blooms it will lighten your heart, is your red oak Quercus Rubra? only I planted 5 8 years ago, they are alive but have never grown any height the wind each winter kills off the summer growth, I should move them or put a wind break around them, the colour of the small bunch of leaves each autumn is brilliant, I think you are spuring me on the give them attention, when our weather moves back to spring as it is winter this last 2 weeks, Frances

  6. Oh that's so sad Marguerite, and so frustrating! I had no idea - I've never seen that before. Is it worse because of the amount of snow you had this winter? I went to Laurrie's blog and she had damage to even though she tried to protect her trees - it looks like the single trunk ones fare the worst.

  7. TS - When I used to see the cats killing the voles I felt bad but no more! Didn't realize they ate the roots too. I guess that's what Laurrie was saying about hardware cloth. I'm going to leave the trees in place for a bit and see if any shoots sprout out the sides. Often the birches have lots of shoots so some might be saved that way. If the oak doesn't show any signs of life I'll dig it up and see if anything can be done with the root.

    Jean - I've always wondered at those clear plastic sleeves on tree trunks and now I know. It is only one year's growth but I just wish it had been a somewhat less expensive mistake. No better excuse though to visit the nursery. Maybe I'll come back with some maples this year too.

    Aagaard Farms - it's true, there is a chance some will still make it. A few trees were eaten just on one side so I have good hopes they'll be okay. There's at least 3 that are completely girdled so little chance for them but who knows, maybe I'll get some shoots popping up.

    Frances - Yes that's the same tree. I'm surprised at how much wind damage yours have sustained. This one was in a pretty windy spot but the top of the tree looked quite well with plenty of buds. Of course that might have been proved otherwise had the voles not done it in. Given it's a hard wood I was surprised at how much growth it made last summer but I may have just lucked out in the spot that I chose for it.

    Jane - Good thing you found this out before you got planting. When you're setting up your timber stand make sure and invest in plastic sleeves! I do think the snow cover likely made things worse, there was less food for the voles to find and the high snow level allowed them to get high up the trunk

  8. The snow melted like butter on a baked potato here. Only the dense cedar woods holds any real amount of snow now. Mud season has begun.

    That looks an awful lot like the rabbit damage I see here. As the snow gets deeper the rabbits just move on up with their gnawing. A fence around here needs to be a lot higher than the snow cover.

  9. Aaaarghh. So frustrating. I have lost so many specimens, but it's just as bad to lose one "virtually" via another's blog. I am learning that nature wants us to plant lots and lots and lots of things, not just a shrub here and a tree there. Some will survive, many will not. I feel so bad about your oak.

  10. I like this post theme. It seems optimistic and hopeful to know good and bad can balance out. What a heartbreaking tragedy to have lost your oak! I have lost plants/bulbs to these little devils too. Tomorrow it is forecast to be warm and sunny here. I hope you will also get a warm day to to take care of the last of the snow.

  11. Yeah to the melting snow! and a big Boo to the voles! I know the frustration all too well. They have eaten numerous plants in my garden by the roots. I have never seen the damage like you have on your trees. I hope you will be able to save them!

  12. Marguerite i am so sorry you didn't know this happens .. we had it happen with our first apple tree (that I loved) but it was rabbits that had gnawed it away .. and I would find lots of bunny beans in the Spring .. but not so much any more .. our little blank areas are being built on so the local wild life has moved on .. except for raccoons .. eekk !
    I hope you find the trees you want and the plastic guards do help !
    Good luck girl : )

  13. Wiseacre - rabbits you say? I hadn't even thought of it. There are definitely rabbits on the island but I've never seen their tracks in our yard. More often it's dog tracks - whose dog? could be the neighbour dog, fox (which we have seen in the yard) or coyote (which ate the neighbours cat). But I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for rabbits now too.

    Laurrie - hubby had to remind me of when we planted these trees. I told him not all would survive and I was right. I just didn't think they would be killed by voles. I just wish they'd picked a cheaper tree to eat.

    Jennifer - I just read somewhere else that voles like bulbs and thought 'oh no not again!'. Luckily I planted Siberian Squill which apparently are not to their tastes. Cross your fingers.

    Karin - I keep hearing root damage! I didn't know about that either. Boy this could be an unpleasant spring. I'll just have to wait and see I guess - and then buy lots of chicken wire and plastic tree sleeves for next fall!

    GardenJoy - I'm going to go out today and check for bunny droppings. I haven't seen any tracks but that doesn't mean they haven't been here. Didn't even think it could have been rabbits.

  14. Well, there is something that I needed to learn in this sad story also. I had never thought that this could happen...sigh. So sorry, but like Jean said, at least it's only one years growth, not an accumulation.

    Is that your house, I am in LOVE with it. Tell me more! Is it a heritage?

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  15. Marguerite, I think part of my problem with the red oaks is where they are as none of the trees planted there have grown much including the rowan which is supposed to do well here, also I haven't pampered them at all as I don't want plants that need pampering but maybe I should until they get a better size,
    I agree with Laurie 'I am learning that nature wants us to plant lots and lots and lots of things, not just a shrub here and a tree there. Some will survive, many will not.'
    I used to plant giving the space between the 'experts' say you should but now I am planting much closer together so as they grow they protect each other, I'm determined I'm not going to let salt gales defete me :o) Frances
    p.s. this has been an interesting and illuminating discusion, thank you for starting it,

  16. Speaking up as the lone voice in support of species other than the humans.

    Little creatures need to eat, as well. They have as much right to live on this planet as we do. And the more we pave over their homes, the more they're going to be moving into our back yards.

  17. Sorry about your tree, Marguerite. We lost a wild apple tree a few winters ago; rabbits I think.

    I googled moles and voles earlier. Our lawn is a mess - apparently it's moles. *sigh*

  18. This also happened to us a couple of years ago. They ate our Damson plum tree but it started to regrow new shoots which turned into heavy branches. It came back beautifully. Don't give up on the oak tree just yet.
    Hubby has put a screen mesh around all our hardwood trees about 2 feet up and it has really done the job.
    You can also buy a brush on paint called skoot which the rodents don't like. I have never tried this but I do know someone who used it on her Japanese Maple and it worked really well.
    I feel you heartache not just about the money spend but the time we all put into planting these trees, watching them grow, and hoping one day it will become a beautiful shade tree for everyone to enjoy down the road.
    If you do buy the plastic guards make sure you also put a pull tie around them because I find with our high winds they will just blow off. I lost two Apple trees because of this.

  19. Jen - one thing about gardens, there's always something to learn. That is indeed our house. It's 100+ years and has a heritage orchard as well. You can check the page at top 'About the Corner' to see a little more about it. I did an inside post recently but haven't gone into much detail as renovations are ongoing and slow.

    Frances - I couldn't agree more about plants that need pampering. If a plant can't hack it on it's own I don't want it. One of the reasons I planted all natives. That said I did give my new trees plenty of water and compost last year to help get them settled. It's a big investment and if I can give them a push the first year or two hopefully they'll have a good start in life.

    Lisa - You're not a lone voice at all!! I guess this post sounds a bit anti-critter but the reality is I am supportive of wildlife. One of our goals is to get rid of the 3 acres of lawn that was here when we bought the house and turn it into a more natural habitat. The red oak I planted is a native tree that is becoming quite rare in these parts and was planted as part of the plan to have more trees and native plants on our property. I just didn't count on voles having such expensive tastes!

  20. Liz - I'm seeing the same thing on our lawn, trails through the grass everywhere. I guess they tunnel under the snow but you should be okay. We had the same damage last year and our lawn came back just fine. Grass is pretty resilient.

    Witch - How happy I am to hear that! I have a small smidgeon of hope that new shoots might come out of the rootstock but don't want to jinx myself just yet. Keeping fingers and toes crossed. You really hit on part of my frustration. The days spent digging holes and the hope that one day that tree will flourish for everyone to enjoy. I knew I would never see that oak to maturity but I love the idea that I'm planting something that will stay with this old house for future generations.

  21. Well, I'm so happy to hear that spring has reached your neck of the woods! But so sorry about your oak. It's just heartbreaking when we lose something we worked so hard to care for. Something (I think squirrels) is gnawing on one of my Japanese Maples and it is really irking me.

  22. Jess - I don't have a problem unless they're eating my trees! I'm not so thrilled about them now.

    Cat - I just wish I had known about this beforehand as I could have taken some preventative steps. It's all part of the learning experience though.

  23. Uh oh. We planted a maple last summer that I know lost some branches due to the heavy snows and winds. We've never protected our other young maple the winter before last and it was fine.

    We recently took our first trek to the woods behind our property and noticed the bark chewed off many young trees by deer (guessing). I suspect the rabbits nibbled on lower branches as well but I've never seen the bark stripped so high before. As well, this past winter there were no coyotes (coywolves... I've seen them and they are huge) howling in the back woods at night when I take the boys for their bedtime pee. Not that I mind. I get the willies when I'm out in the yard and they're yelping loudly not so far away. I would run into the house like a scared child.

  24. Oh no! I did not know about this sort of thing, either (our snow disappears fairly quickly). Is there *any* possibility of recovery? Sometimes, when I think a plant has gone to the great compost pile in the sky, I just leave it in the ground for awhile longer. Sometimes - just sometimes - I am surprised.

  25. I'm so sorry about your trees! Wretched critters. Lovely to see some ground free from snow though!

  26. Beansgood - We're so fortunate here on PEI as there's no deer so that's one blessing. But it seems there are enough other critters that want to eat the trees. I'm curious, is there an obvious difference between coyote and coywolf? I've only recently heard of the cross species and have only seen one coyote on PEI and it seemed rather larger than I expected. When we lived in Vancouver coyotes were quite common (I remember walking past one on my way to the bus stop one morning, strolling down the sidewalk like nobodys business) but they seem much
    smaller in my memory.

    On My Soapbox - You read my mind. I'm not pulling these trees out just yet, got my fingers crossed for a miracle. Some of them are stripped only on one side of the trunk so they should survive but the ones that
    are stripped completely round are likely goners. Tree sap flows under the bark and when that is disturbed there is no way for the sap to reach the branches, therefore the tree dies. My only hope at this point is
    that new shoots spring up from the root system.

    Janet - It sure is lovely to see ground! Given another week or two and I hope to be back in the great outdoors.

  27. Really sorry about your trees. We have slugs but nothing doing anything like that on Vancouver island.
    I just wanted to say that I love your house. Even though it really isn't the same, your house reminds me of the house in Practical Magic, one of my fave movies.