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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.


2004 Editions

01-13-05 Fungus gnats; deer protection for trees
01-19-05 After cutting down trees: to chip or not to chip? Also: starting seeds indoors for spring planting
01-27-05 Excessive plant growth in ponds; problem trees and/or problem sites
02-11-05 Diplodia Tip Blight on Pine trees; caring for African violets
02-14-05 Caring for Ficus in winter; indoor pests: larder beetles
02-14-05 bonus! Fertilizer for gardens - designer vs "regular"; why gardenias don't like our houses 

This week's HomeGrown

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When the snow melted off my lawn, there were these weird trails clipped into the grass. The trails wandered all over. They weren't under the soil; they were right at ground level. What is this?

Welcome to the wonderful world of voles. That's with a "v" and not an "m." They are also called meadow mice. They are approximately the size of a mouse but more stocky in appearance. They don't have a long tail. It looks like it has been pruned to about half of the length of the body. They come in shades of brown and black. Unlike mice, they have fur on their ears and ears don't project much farther than the hair on their heads. They are fanatic eating machines. Since winter isn't the best time to feed, they are taking advantage of the snow cover and mowing the lawn. There is double good news in this. The lawn is rarely damaged because they don't eat the crown of the grass. This is the portion of the plant where the top and roots come together. It's also where new growth originates. Once the snow melts, the voles also melt away to other locations. If they were out mowing the lawn without snow cover, they would become owl or hawk snacks almost immediately. There is bad news to go with the good news. You need to take a look at some of your young trees and shrubs. Voles would be delighted and honored to chew the bark off these at ground level. Once these woody ornamentals are girdled, they won't recover. Voles will burrow through mulch if it piled against of a trunk and chew bark off. They will be looking for young trees and shrubs with thin bark. This includes maples, fruit trees, birch and a number of shrubs. If there is no damage, consider surrounding the base of these with a cylinder of hardware screening to block vole attacks. Make sure that the screening is snug to the soil surface. If there is some damage, still do this to prevent more happening. Chewing will continue into the next month or so. You could also consider setting mousetraps to smack your voles. The important issue will be protecting the traps so other critters don't get caught or injured. Snap mousetraps baited with crunchy peanut butter will catch voles. The protection involves using a cardboard box as a cover. Tear a hole at either end of the box. Flip the box upside down so you now have a little railroad tunnel. Put it over the box and weight the box down with a rock or brick. Mice and voles will go in but birds and cats won't fit. Check traps every day. If you catch a vole, run the trap under hot water before resetting. Move the location of the box. Your next vole shouldn't suspect it is walking into a trap, even though it is.

I have a nice plant called a succulent and my cat knocked it off the windowsill. A bunch of parts broke off. Is there some way that I could get these parts to grow? A long time ago, I tried to root a piece of this plant in water and it rotted. So what's the trick?

The trick could best be called benign neglect. Succulents and cacti will literally rot into a mushy lump if the freshly cut or broken pieces come in contact with moist soil or water. You need to let the pieces dry for a period of time before putting them into soil. Check the broken or cut ends and wait several days to make sure that the cut ends are completely dry. Bigger pieces could take a week or so. This drying over is called callusing. Without the callus, succulents decay long before roots are formed. If you forgot about the parts for a month, not much would happen. When potting up your callused pieces, put them into a well-draining soil that is just slightly damp. Don't bury the pieces too deeply. They should be in no deeper than a half an inch for roots to grow.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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