Voles

by Vijai Pandian, UW-Extension

The meadow vole can nest in a variety of habitats.

vole JCFreezing nights and shortening daylight in the fall tranquilizes the landscape — not counting the insatiable meadow vole that remains active throughout the year. The vole, also called a meadow mouse, is a ground dwelling rodent with a chunky grayish brown appearance, tiny ears and short tail.

Commencing in late fall and continuing through winter into early spring, voles cause a variety of damage to landscapes. Runways and seemingly endless tunnels in lawns, shaved tree bark and roots, and the mysterious disappearance of flowering bulbs and tubers in spring are classic blueprints of vole damage. Under snow cover, voles can venture safely to any part of the landscape, and quite often homeowners do not notice the damage until the spring melt.

Vole DamageMowing and cleaning up the yard can limit destruction and being vigilant and taking proactive steps in the fall is the key to controlling voles.

Ponds, stream banks, orchards, old fields, fence rows, pastures, hay fields, grassy weeds and ground covers are ideal habitats for voles. Backyard logs, undisturbed compost piles, tall ornamental grasses, bushy evergreen shrubs and debris in the urban landscape can also provide a nesting place for voles.

Trapping or any other control strategies when the snow is on the ground has proven ineffective. Here are a series of tips for managing this pest.

The landscape should be scouted in fall for voles. Sightings of fresh grass clippings, tunnels, droppings around large grasses, nests, and chewed fruits are telltale signs of their abundance in the landscape.

Advertisements

Trees and Shrubs

by Sharon Morrisey, horticulture agent in Milwaukee County

Tu-BShevat-tree-planting-by-Canopy-Photos-jpgFall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Warm soil encourages root growth and the cool air reduces the demand for water. It is said that the planting is the most important 10 minutes of a tree’s life. Years of scientific study have produced improved techniques, so follow these instructions closely.

  1. Find the root flare first. It’s that place at the base of the trunk where it widens before going into the soil.
  2. Remove soil from the top of the root ball, if necessary, until the flare can be seen.
  3. Measure the depth of the root ball after finding the flare.
  4. Dig the hole no deeper than this, trying not to disturb the dirt at the bottom, so the tree will not settle later and become too deep. Make the hole two to four times wider than the ball and gently sloping.
  5. Cut off the container, if there is one. Cut away the wire basket if it’s a balled-and-burlapped plant.
  6. Gently roll it into the hole without holding it by the trunk. Now, cut away as much burlap as possible without letting the root ball fall apart.
  7. Fill the hole halfway with the same soil that came out of the hole. Do not amend that soil. Otherwise, the roots will stay in that soil, growing around and around, instead of moving out into the surrounding soil.
  8. Do not stomp on the soil. Instead, fill the hole with water and allow it to settle before continuing to fill the hole.
  9. Water again.
  10. Form a rim of soil around the outside edge of the hole to hold the water.
  11. Cover the rim and root ball with 2 inches of shredded bark or wood chips. Do not allow the mulch to touch the trunk or the bark will rot and kill the tree.
  12. On slopes or windy sites, use one or two stakes pounded into the undisturbed soil beyond the root ball. Loosely secure the tree trunk to the stakes using webbing with grommets made especially for this purpose. Do not use wire or rubber hose, since these will damage the bark. The tree should be able to sway back and forth because this actually strengthens the trunk.

 

Pumpkin Seeds

pumpkin-seeds-1375500_960_720It’s the time of year to start carving out those pumpkins in any number of fantastic designs and shapes — even just plain jack-o-lanterns. When you’re sitting on the floor with your arms up to the elbow in pumpkin guts, remember to separate and keep those seeds! Fixed properly, they’re a low-calorie, high-mineral snack that’s just irresistible and recommended by the World Health Organization as a tasty way to get your zinc!

Pumpkin_soup_with_ginger_and_roasted_pumpkin_seeds

Fresh pumpkin soup garnished with pumpkin seeds

Everywhere on the internet and in health magazines you can read about the benefits of eating pumpkin seeds, and it’s easy to incorporate them into your diet:  in cookies, on salads, as a snack. While pumpkin seeds are available year-round in the grocery and health food stores, why not take advantage of making your own? It’s easy to do, and the aroma in your house will almost be reward in itself.

Directions

Seed the pumpkin: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Using a spoon, scrape the pulp and seeds out of your pumpkin into a bowl.

Clean the seeds: Separate the seeds from the stringy pulp, rinse the seeds in a colander under cold water, then shake dry. Don’t blot with paper towels; the seeds will stick.

Dry them: Spread the seeds in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet and roast 30 minutes to dry them out.

Add spices: Toss the seeds with olive oil, salt and your choice of spices (see below). Return to the oven and bake until crisp and golden, about 20 more minutes.

Sweet Toss with cinnamon and sugar (do not use salt in step 4).

Indian Toss with garam masala; mix with currants after roasting.

Spanish Toss with smoked paprika; mix with slivered almonds after roasting.

Italian Toss with grated parmesan and dried oregano.

Barbecue Toss with brown sugar, chipotle chile powder and ground cumin.

 

Beyond the Blooms

by Jess Wickland

When you think of landscaping or putting together a small flower garden, many people don’t think past the flower colors and bloom times. However, there are many different aspects that plants provide that will increase interest in the garden, whether it’s seedheads, or different leaf textures, or (my favorite) fall berries and fall color. When the green foliage bursts forth in spring and gives life to the boring winter landscape, I often breathe a sigh of relief. And while flowers do provide plenty of color in the landscape and often leave me giddy with excitement over their blooms, nothing can compare to the breathtaking yellow, orange and red hues of a sugar maple tree in the fall.

Speaking of blooms, there are two shrubs that wait to hold their flowers until almost everything else has gone dormant for the season: witchhazel and seven-son flower. Witchhazel is a native shrub that grows quite large — almost 15 feet tall — and waits until October to send out its spiderlike yellow blossoms. Many times, the blooms occur as the shrub’s foliage has changed to the bright yellow color, or has dropped off already. Seven-son’s fragrant flowers blooms white in late September or early October, but perhaps the best show isn’t the blooms, it’s the pale red calyces that appear after the flowers have dropped off. This is also a fairly large shrub, growing to 15 feet tall and wide as well, and grows best in part shade conditions.

hawthorne-tree-866513_960_720

The bright red berries of the Hawthorn stand out against the frozen branches

Many shrubs get berries as well, clinging to the branches and giving the landscape splashes of color throughout the fall and winter seasons. I always enjoy watching the hawthorn berries develop and change color in late summer. The red berries aren’t often eaten by birds in summer (they’re too busy devouring the serviceberries), and persist into the winter. After a fresh snowfall, I enjoy photographing the vibrant red berries blanketed by the glittering snow. An added bonus: hawthorn trees have a variable fall color, ranging from orange to red to maroon. Another fantastic red berry is found on Ilex shrubs: holly and winterberry. While holly are a little more finicky about growing conditions (though it can be done!), winterberry are tough shrubs that wait until the rest of the landscape is dormant for their moment to shine. In fall, clusters of bright red berries cling to the upright branches. They are offset by the yellow fall color of the shrub. Both holly and winterberry look like a picture off of a Christmas card after a new snowfall.

Chasing fall color throughout the state used to be my grandparents’ favorite thing to do in October, and I think I inherited that gene from them as well. I can’t believe the different shades of red, orange and yellow that erupt as the daylight hours get shorter. I can’t wait to go outside to see what I might capture on my camera’s memory card. Perennials aren’t just for flowers anymore, either. Gillenia trifoliata, a native perennial commonly known as Indian Physic, isn’t very showy throughout the summer. The green foliage set underneath the star-shaped white flowers may cause a passerby to glance at it a second time. In autumn, however, the foliage changes to a pale orange that gives the plant a whole new look. Mukdenia rosii also changes from emerald green to dark red and even maroon, rivaling its cousin, Heuchera, in color wars.

1024px-Fothergilla_major_JPG

Fothergilla blazes it’s colors during Fall

My favorite shrub for fall color is Fothergilla. While the fragrant white spikes of flowers and robust foliage (tinged just a hint in blue-green) are attractive, I haven’t met someone yet who didn’t fall in love with it in the fall. The foliage is much the same as a sugar maple, keeping us guessing as it changes from yellow to orange to red. It’s like watching a 4th of July fireworks show; many people “ooh” and “ahh” at the beauty cast by this wee shrub (the dwarf species only reaches 3 feet tall and wide).

21860829963_4329c15234_b

The familiar sugar Maple leaves

As you may have guessed by how much I’ve brought it up, my favorite tree for fall color is the sugar maple. Serviceberry isn’t far behind because although the berries are long since picked off by hungry robins and cedar waxwings, the fall color still rivals the maple in terms of orange and yellow coloring. An interesting plant for fall color is the larch, or tamarack. It’s a deciduous evergreen, meaning it has needles, but sheds them each year. The golden yellow needles in fall are gorgeous, especially near the end of the day when the sunlight hits them just right.

I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond the blooms, and try to plant a few trees, shrubs or even perennials

Putting Your Garden to Bed

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

garden-waste-1047259_960_720After a long summer of enjoying your garden, it is time to put it to bed for the winter. This task may not be as joyous as the excitement that you experienced in the spring, but believe me, if you properly tuck them in, your springtime gardening will be a much easier transition if you follow these easy tips.

Vegetable Garden

Carrots, potatoes, & beets can be left in the ground and then harvested in early winter. You may want to mark them with a stake so you can find them. Pull all plants such as tomatoes, peas, beans, and squash, and add them to the compost bin. Do the same with weeds. Take extra steps to eliminate disease by either burning or bagging anything suspicious and disposing of properly. By lightly turning over the soil, you will help to eliminate a lot of pests that would overwinter in your soil.

A Good Time for Soil Test

Why not take a soil sample to your nearby county extension office or coop? This is a great time to learn if your soil needs to be amended. As a last step, either add compost such as leaves or well-rotted manure, or consider a cover crop of winter rye which will add nutrients to your garden.

Rosesimage_1_large

This is the time of year to discontinue fertilizing your rose bushes. They no longer need to be fed in order to encourage blooming. It is time for them to go to sleep for the winter. Do prune back any damaged or dead canes. Mulch generously just above swollen area (sometimes referred to as the onion.) Protect your rose bushes from rabbits and voles by using a type of lightweight wire fencing which you can find at a garden center.

Perennials

After the first frost, your hosta plants will shrivel and be easy to clean up. Wear some waterproof garden gloves because they will feel a bit smarmy. And the stalks of day lilies should be removed although you can keep up with this during the summer too. Once the lily plants go dormant, they can be cut back to about 4 inches.

Trees

Don’t forget to wrap the trunks of young trees to protect them from rabbits and other nibblers.

Give Them a Drink

Be sure to water generously. My gramma always said it is good for the plants to go to bed with their feet wet!

55d70e9ac4dd4d4eb3843097d66bcaa0--winter-plants-winter-gardenNot Everyone is Ready for a Winter Nap           

My preference is to leave coneflowers, aster, goldenrod, and ornamental grasses over the winter so the goldfinches and other birds can feast on the seeds.   An added bonus is by not cutting back your grasses as well as shrubs such as hydrangea, you will smile as they peak through the glistening snow adding a splash of winter interest!

Growing Pine Nuts

Pinyon_cones_with_pine_nuts

Yummy pinyon nuts from P. edulis

Who else loves pine nuts on salads? We live in Wisconsin where we have tons of pine trees, so why not just harvest our own, right? Uh, no! Turns out that the most famous variety (pignoli) comes from the Italian stone pine, Pinus pinea, a handsome umbrella-shaped tree that is native to the Mediterranean.

Dr. Peter Del Tredici, the director of living collections at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, said the best bet for our cold weather climate is P. koraiensis. It is the source of those ubiquitous Chinese pine nuts, and it is a very tough character, able to withstand high winds and temperatures of 20 to 30 below. But before you go rushing out to plant a few, bear the following in mind.

pinus_koraiensis_siemen_goteborg_jreinikainen.midview

Cones from P. koraiensis

Nut-bearing pine trees tend to be slow growers, and though grafted plants might bring your wait for the first nuts down from 15 or 20 years to something more like five or six, it’s going to take a good long time before you see much of a crop. When it comes, the crop will be encased in extremely hard shells. The shells will be tightly clasped in the cones, and the cones themselves will be well fixed to the upper branches of the trees, from which you must wrench them at the appropriate time. (You can’t wait for them to fall of their own accord; by that time the blue jays and squirrels will have beaten you to the nuts.)

Has Dr. Del Tredici ever harvested nuts from the well-established specimens at the arboretum? No, he said: “The cones are unbelievably sticky, for starters — just to handle them is a commitment.”

Planting the trees is a commitment, too, of space as well as time. Though our pinyon-nut bearing Southwestern native. P. edulis, can take bush form, and some P. cembra cultivars are modest in size, P. pinea is a big tree, and P. koraiensis is huge. Dr. Del Tredici saw some in China that were more than 100 feet high.

The Fruits of Orchard

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lynne Finch

After moving into our house with fruit trees in the backyard, I envisioned gently dropping ripe fruit into a basket while my smiling children danced around. Seductive aromas would drift from my kitchen as I baked magnificent pies and canned and froze our bounty. That was the dream.

In our first walk-through of our orchard, we saw an apple tree with a five-inch diameter trunk only a few feet away from a young cherry tree. A few steps away stood a pear tree. Nearby grew a plum tree partnered with another apple tree.pear-453828_960_720

These five small trees stood like a wee forest in the equally small backyard behind the kitchen. Even to a new gardener like me, they looked a bit too cozy. The cherry and plum trees were young enough to be transplanted to the big spacious side yard. The other apple tree had to go to make way for our vegetable garden. This gave the pear and apple trees some breathing room.

The cherry and plum staged their annual contest for best springtime bloom with the plum always coming in second. Not only were the plums not tasty, but a nasty winter killed the tree. As for the traditional Christmas dessert, did you know there are no plums in plum pudding?

The cherry tree looked good year round, the bark a smooth purplish-brown. Cherry blossoms in spring ripened like little red ornaments during the summer. The squirrels scampered on the branches, hanging upside down eating until their faces dripped red with juice.

With the abundant fruit on the tree, I filled my basket and started pitting. Alas, for each pit there was at least one worm. Never did make a cherry pie. A few seasons later half the tree died, then the year with no blossoms or buds. Cannot lie about it; we cut down the cherry tree. Sitting in front of the fireplace, the kids would wave glowing branch tips while cherry aroma filled the room.

Now we were down to two fruit trees. The pear tree produced for several years. Each fall I lined up the canned jars in the basement. Then the tree split and lingered a bit, the last year standing forlornly with a few pears dangling on a single branch.

apple-tree-1593216_960_720The lone survivor is a full-size mature apple tree, greeting us each morning through our bedroom window. Each spring the blossoms tell a different story. Many blossoms, few blossoms, early ones, late ones, fast petal drop, slow petal drop.

The trunk is now nearly 20 inches in diameter with strong branches reaching out like fingers on giant hands. My kids climbed in and sat like birds in a nest. Now my grandkids settle in an even bigger nest. A visitor once commented on the great bones of our apple tree. Indeed, it is a magnificent sculpture that spreads itself out to shade our porch.

The apple tree and I continue to travel through the seasons together; blossom time, petal drop and the progression of windfalls that I faithfully pick up. The tree peeks in through the kitchen window as I mix its tart, sweet flavor in pies and applesauce. When all other trees stand bare, the apple tree hangs on to its leaves, determined to be the last one to give up and settle down for the winter ahead.