It’s a Wild Life!

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by

As gardeners we not only face the challenge of trying to provide our plants with adequate water, nutrients, and a suitable growing environment, but battle pests in the landscape as we grow. The first that come to mind are insects, diseases, and weeds, but all too often we forget wildlife! Moles, voles, deer, squirrels, birds and the list goes on. These critters are often difficult to catch in the act of doing damage and fairly difficult to control.

Deer will annihilate most buds, leaves, and stems of ornamental plants and many herbaceous plants as well. To determine whether deer are responsible for damage to your plants, look for the following easy to tell signs:

Deer tracks – Deer have distinct tracks that make it easy to tell what’s been walking in your landscape beds. Look for hoof prints with “two toes” on each foot. The front and back feet look similar, except the front feet are slightly smaller than the back.

Jagged or missing leaves – When deer chew on leaves, they leave a jagged margin on the leaf. Often, entire leaves will be missing from the plant and only stems are left.

Height of damage – Deer may dine on a plant to up to 6 feet tall. This high eating height will rule out rabbits and other munching animals.

Catch em’ in the act! – With deer populations increasing and urbanization of land, deer are more present in our neighborhoods in addition to forests and farms. Deer are quite bold! You may actually catch them having an early morning munch if you keep your eyes peeled.

Another common culprit to missing plant parts is the vole. Voles are actually field mice that make their meals by feasting on plant parts below. They are known for eating plant roots and sometimes snapping plants off at the soil surface. Voles enjoy a life underground and can be identified by their damage as well:

Plants without roots! – As voles chew on plant roots, plants will start to die. If tugged on lightly, usually the dying plant will be easily pulled up at the ground and visible gnaw marks around the base of the main stem will be observed.

Tunnels and holes – Voles, like moles, make underground tunnels in search of food. Unlike moles who are after grubs and earthworms, voles are on the lookout for vegetation, like roots. They create tunnels and will sometimes leave small holes in the ground near plants they are feeding on.

Missing plants – Occasionally, gardeners will find missing plants in the yard and a hole where the plant used to be. Although it is hard to believe, if a plant is small enough, a vole can eat the roots and snatch the rest of the plant underground for dessert.

If you have deer, voles, or other critters in your garden and would like information on identification and control, contact the Cooperative Extension Office at 919-775-5624.