Something is destroying my garden!

mcphreakJune 4, 2008

I'm hoping someone out there can help me figure out what the heck is destroying my garden. Here are the details.

I live in Baltimore City near Patterson Park. I built a 4'x12'x3' wood planter box in my back "yard" (if you can call it that). It sits on a bed of concrete, so nothing can get in from underneath. On top, I have bird netting covering the entire box.

Three days ago, I noticed that something had uprooted and destroyed two of my eggplant seedlings. At first I thought it was a rat, so I installed chicken wire around my yard and I believe it's done it's job in keeping the rats out. However, every night since then, something is still destroying my vegetable garden. Whatever it is seems to favor my tomato plants (now that the eggplant's gone) and to a lesser extent my bean plants. My lettuce, peas, and carrots appear untouched. What's strange is that it's going around simply breaking limbs off my plant, and in one case, broke the entire top half of one tomato plant off. It will then take a couple bites out of the leaves and then move on to breaking the next limb. Some of the broken limbs look like they've been physically pulled down as opposed to chewed off, but I'm not entire sure about that. I've secured the bird netting over my box such that I don't think something as large as a rat could get in without my noticing.

Whatever this creature is also digs shallow holes in my garden (about 3 inches deep and about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. My coworker suggested that perhaps I have a vole in my garden, but I can't see how that's possible considering that I live in the middle of the city. I don't even know if there are voles in Baltimore. I'm thinking that it might be a mouse but if it is, I don't see how it can take down my tomato plants (about 18" tall right now). Anyway, I've set some snap traps in my garden and baited them with peanut butter, but haven't had any success catching anything yet.

Any thoughts/suggestions?

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If you have squirrels in the area, they of course have excellent climbing ability, and one of their behaviors is to prune the tips of tree branches off, presumably in the course of feeding...which sounds similar to what is being done to your tomatos. After one particularly bad spring, my whole neighborhood was littered with branch tips thrown down by squirrels.

Squirrels and chipmunks also both dig random holes here and there in the search for food, or--in the case of chipmunks--preparatory to making a nest. If you used mushroom or any other form of loose mulch, you may have imported a mouse, rat, or something else along with it, in which case it is probably living in the garden itself. Therefore, the protective screening would of course not solve the problem. Repellants might do a better job if that is the case, but if your garden is the only feasible home in the area for the critter, it will probably resist leaving.

I know that chipmunks can climb up an entire sunflower stem to eat the sunflower's seeds; maybe other rodents besides squirrels also have climbing abilities.

The random nipping and destruction sounds suspiciously like a groundhog (they like to take nips out of things as a sort of turf-claiming thing), but unless you have ever seen one of them around or have a mound with a rather large groundhog-sized hole, you can rule that out, especially in the city.

If your mulch is from a more rural location, I would incline toward the chipmunk theory. They are also quite territorial, and used to demolish the contents of some of my plant pots-- mainly because, I think, they didn't like where I had placed them. Chipmunks like to clear certain areas so they have a clear line of sight. If your mulch was from a more rural location, a chipmunk could have made a burrow in it, and been swept up along with the mulch.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 10:11PM
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Thanks for the reply.

I also considered squirrels/chipmunks, but didn't think they were nocturnal. The damage is happening between the hours of 1-8 am.

The soil I'm using is mushroom soil. However, I shoveled all that soil into my box shovelful by painful shovelful so if there is a resident in there, it probably got in there after I filled the box.

What sort of repellant do you suggest?

Thanks again for the suggestions!

    Bookmark   June 5, 2008 at 8:20AM
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There's plenty of daylight before 8AM, and the chipmunks will happily climb. There was one climbing up the chainlink just today to get at my finch feeder, and they regularly climb up the tree and the shepherd's hooks to get in the bird feeders.

If your bird netting and/or chicken wire has holes as large as an inch, that's easy pickings for a chipmunk.

I don't have any useful suggestions other than to fill a bird feeder on the other side of the yard with seed and watch to see who comes to eat. If you've got a chipmunk, you'll most likely see it investigate, then attempt to empty your feeder, and you should be able to see where they go.

Hope this is of some use - I know there are others with much more critter experience!

Lynne in Bowie

ps..Voles are entirely possible. If you have dirt enough for a garden, you have dirt enough for critters..

Here is a link that might be useful: This looks like it might be helpful...

    Bookmark   June 5, 2008 at 5:42PM
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JohnnieB(Washington, DC 7a/b)

Sounds exactly like what squirrels do in my garden and as Lynne suggests, they are up with the dawn and can do plenty of damage before 8 am.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2008 at 12:45PM
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Don't forget, flying squirrels are nocturnal, and they live in Baltimore. I don't know whether they eat off the ground or stick to the trees, though.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2008 at 9:29AM
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opossum maybe???

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 12:10PM
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