Tuesday, April 29, 2008

THIS Is What They Do!

This is Baptisia 'Purple Smoke.' Last spring I planted seven of them. They developed a fungus on their roots and leaves, and died back in early autumn. I've never had a single problem with baptisia grown in previous gardens. I've found them to be tough, reliable perennials not subject to mildew, black spot or other fungus that can plague other varieties such as phlox, roses, and monarda. They've bloomed beautifully for me in part sun in previous gardens.

In the past I've planted the species, and it's possible this cultivar isn't as sturdy. The baptisia still haven't emerged, and I feared the garden had suffered more casualties. I dug up this one to inspect the roots. I found some dead spots and trimmed them off, and found no visible signs of the fungus from last year. I also saw, much to my delight, some small signs of new growth. After trimming the roots, I lovingly replanted the baptisia. Two days later, this is how I found it.

Evil yard monkeys had struck again. Anytime I have new transplants, I check them daily and too frequently find them dug up by the squirrels. Sometimes, with smaller transplants, they cart them off, never to be seen again. Fortunately this one was left behind. I replanted it, saturated it to settle the soil, and piled several inches of mulch around the disturbed soil. Squirrels seem to smell freshly-dug soil, gravitating to new transplants and digging them out before the roots have an opportunity to knit into the soil. Heavy mulching seems to throw them off. I leave only as much bare soil around the crown as needed to allow top growth to emerge. I didn't initially mulch this baptisia like that. But replanting it the second time, I didn't make that mistake. So far, it remains undisturbed.

Sometimes the silly yard monkeys replant their finds elsewhere. Last spring while planting a few hosta divisions, I found two missing astilbes replanted under an overgrown yew hedge. It was generous of the squirrels to reconsider stealing them, and so helpful of them to replant them and thus prevent the roots from drying out. Unfortunately, they haven't learned how to replant them crown side up. These two poor astilbes were trying very hard to emerge in spite of their dire circumstances. I rescued and replanted them. Also unfortunately, I didn't find them in time and they ultimately succumbed.

The squirrels are busily building their nests in our cedars. Next, as the maples leaf out, more nests will appear. We usually have at least five nests between the maples and cedars, with an average of 2-3 litters per nest per season. Like juvenile primates, young squirrels are often even more mischievous than their adult counterparts.

I have a friend who enjoys squirrel stew, and I've often fantasized about inviting him over for some backyard hunting. My friend also enjoys rabbit. Since the rabbits often eat what the squirrels don't destroy, I figure, why not let my friend cull the rabbit population as well. Don't be alarmed, it's just a fantasy, one I don't really intend to carry out. But on days when they pull stuff like THIS, my harmless little fantasy brings me some comfort.


  1. I can so relate and feel your pain. I too have had those fantasies. When we lived in the city the squirrels were horrible, just as you described. We moved in the country and we don't have any. They are across the street with the neighbors hickory nut trees. LOL I glare at them when I go to the mailbox just DARING them to come across and they haven't yet.

  2. patientgardener1:50 PM

    How fustrating. We have squirrels but so far they only take the food I put out for the birds and bury peanuts around the garden. I think I would go mad if I had your problem

  3. We have no wild rabbits in Norway, but we have some squirrels.

    Have a nice day :)

  4. I hear you on the squirrel stew! :) They can sure be devilish little cretins!

  5. I've resorted to laying chickenwire over newly planted things to keep the squirrels out. My garden ends up looking like a mini Alcatraz for a while, but at least that gives the plants a chance. The rotten little bushy tailed rats!

  6. Oooh, you must be furious with those squirrels! Have you considered live trapping them and relocating them to a wilder area?

    My husband's grandfather was so fed up and convinced they were coming back after he set them loose in the country. So, he actually started trapping them, SPRAY PAINTING an orange stripe down their backs to identify them, and then relocating them!

    Around here the worst the squirrels do is raid bird feeders and drop fir cones on lawns. I think they have quite a different diet and habits.

  7. Like MMD, we use chicken wire on the bulb plantings. For plants in pots, I put a large flat rock on each side of the roots. Sometimes the squirrels try and go under the rock, so it has to be at least the size of a paperback book. This works very well for pansies and violas, something they seem drawn to. Hope your baptisia makes it. Ours are just showing the color, we have white, blue and yellow ones.

  8. That is frustrating for you .. I love my baptisia .. it is the standard False Blue Indigo .. but it is a favorite of mine .. I'm glad you made a point of saying not to mulch too heavily .. thanks ! I will watch that for sure.
    Good luck with those little so and so's !

  9. Brenda, you are SO lucky! It's hard to hate the varmints, they're so darned cute.

    Patient Gardener, it sure is frustrating. The good thing is once the roots of new plants start spreading into the soil that hasn't been dug, they don't dig them out anymore.

    Marie, we have lots of rabbits around here. One snuck into our garage last winter while my husband was snow blowing the driveway. It chewed everything in sight. We tried to leave the door open during the day on the weekends for a couple of weeks, but it never left. Once the weather warmed up, the garage started to stink. Last week while doing a heavy-duty garage cleaning, my husband found the dead rabbit behind the rakes and shovels. Poor thing probably starved to death, or died of dehydration.

    Nancy, it might be less fantasy and more reality if it was politically correct to shoot squirrels around here!

    MMD, chicken wire sounds like a good solution! I don't like the pine nugget mulch we have, can't wait for it to break down enough to replace it with hardwood mulch. Or maybe I'll try shredding and using our abundance of maple leaves. The good thing about it is the squirrels don't like it either, and if I pile it up high enough, they leave new plants alone. I finally figured this out last spring. I just have to remember to do it. I might not work as well with finer mulch, but it works great with the pine bark.

    Amy, I don't swear at anyone, but I swear at the squirrels. I'm always chasing them out of the garden. George, my dog, helps too. He's such a good boy, he stays out of the garden. He charges at them from the patio and sidewalk, and they take off.

    LOL, that's a great story about your husband's grandfather!

    Frances, I hope they make it too. The roots look viable, but so far there's no growth on top. It's not looking good for them, but I'm not giving up hope yet.

    Joy, that's what I should have gotten! I do love blue flowers, and that's the kind I had before.

  10. As long as there's new growth, there's always hope. Okay maybe I'm too optomistic, but it works for me most of the time. Don't give up on those poor plants yet!

  11. Good luck with those Baptisia, they hate to be disturbed. Here, they are just breaking the ground now, they are always one of the latest arrivals in the garden.

    'Purple Smoke' is an amazing variety but it took 3 years before I realized that. It must be a very slow grower.

  12. Cinj, I sure hope they make it! That's a lotta plants to lose, and I do love baptsia.

    Melanie, at least only one was disturbed. That was the reason I got seven of them instead of just 2 or 3 that I could divide, since I remembered from when I had them before that they didn't transplant well.

    I'm glad to know yours come up late. That's reassuring. It's been about 10 years since I've had baptsia in my garden. I didn't remember them being late arrivals. I wouldn't be as concerned about them if they hadn't died back so early last year after showing signs of a fungus. I'll leave them alone and keep my fingers crossed!

  13. I had to put big rocks in some of my containers to keep them from digging my plants out. Skew Stew sounds good to me. Sorry about the Fungus among sometimes and other soil and root problems. We gardeners deal with a lot to grow old together.

  14. We have several resident squirrels--and I do mean resident, though after three years of tense negotiations we have managed to convince them to move from our attic to the garage--but I don't think they've ever disturbed anything in the garden. (The cats are another story.) They do, however, feast on the compost heap. Do you have a compost pile? If not, maybe offering them something other than your seedlings would keep them occupied? Good luck--

  15. Hi Kate, Ooh! I think I'd rather have them digging up a plant every now and then rather than living in the house or the garage.

    We had a rabbit living in our garage last winter, and that guy was VERY destructive - chewed everything in sight. There was no real food in the garage, nor water, and after a couple of months of subsisting on cloth, plastic, wiring, and leather, the rabbit died. I figured it was dead because after once again sweeping up the droppings one day, suddenly there were no more.

    As the weather warmed, we could smell something funky in the garage. DH did a thorough cleaning, and found the dead rabbit behind a stack of unused garbage cans. We tried leaving the doors open several times, hoping it would leave. I felt sorry for the poor little thing, but also felt sorry for us, because he did a lot of damage before he went to that big carrot in the sky.


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