Flowering Plums, Flowering Pears, and Gophers ~ Oh, My!

02/28/2014 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener In the Garden, Tips, Trees, Uncategorized

Purple Thundercloud PlumIn their full glory this week are two trees that each spring are the first to show off their floral splendors.  The tree covered in pink blooms is the purple ‘Thundercloud’ plum.  This beauty does not bear fruit but is blessed with fragrant pink blossoms well into April.  Its flowering is followed by vivid ruby red foliage that turns the tree a profuse purple for the rest of the season. Growing to only 15 feet high, this showy tree is small enough to fit any yard.  Landscape designers grow them in large jade green pots and use them as bold statements down driveways and patio entrances.  It appears as a landscape extravagance but with less water use than other star performers, and it tolerates deer and rabbits.

Announcing the arrival of spring, the 'Aristocrat' flowering pear bursts forth with an explosion of bridal-white flowers.The ‘Aristocrat’ flowering pear is the other “show-off” tree of the season.  White flowers cover this tree until it resembles a huge bridal-white cotton ball.  Also non-fruiting, this pear will bloom for a month followed by dark glossy green leaves with unique wavy edges.  A vigorous grower with an upright central trunk, it excels at lining streets and driveways, and as a specimen for spots of shade in the yard.

Sadly, the arrival of spring flowers also announces the resurgence of garden pests.  Two in particular already have raised their ugly heads: pack rats and their subterranean cousins the pocket gophers.  Pack rats are the first vermin to gnaw their way through a compost pile, out of their nests under the built-in grill, and moving on to stripping wires in the attic.  This pest is controlled easily by strategic placements of the ‘No Escape Baited Glue Trap’.

Pocket gophers truly are the most vicious menaces to mountain gardens.  Actually burrowing rats, they live underground and destroy gardens in two ways.   They chomp plant roots and ruin soils by destroying worm counts and beneficial fungi.  Their devastation includes decimating tree roots to the point that large trees can blow over in one of our powerful spring windstorms!

Over the decades I’ve learned that gas, traps, or poison are the only weapons for long-term eradication of these underground vermin.

Gopher gassers are miniature road flares that are stuck down into the rodents’ holes, ignited, and then buried.  They are extremely effective if gopher activity is caught early, but woefully inadequate for large colonies of these buck-toothed terrors.  If you have more than one mound rising in your landscape, flares won’t do the job; you must move on to more drastic measures.

Gopher traps are the tried-and-true weapons of hard-core gardeners.  They really work, but they demand a lot of time and effort to get ahead and keep ahead of these tunneling marauders.  At one point in my gopher killing career, I set 12 traps each morning and again at dusk.  On average I killed 12 gophers per day for over a month before declaring victory.  However you do the math that’s a lot of rodents and a lot of traps set on one property!  Keep in mind that you never have just one gopher but entire families of these pests relishing their destructive paths through your garden.

gopher probeIf your garden looks like the aftermath of an air raid, it is time to break out the big guns.  I know whereof I speak, because at times it seemed that these pea-brained ground dwellers had out-smarted me. That’s when I turned to the ‘Gopher Probe’, my ultimate weapon!  This T-handled tool lets me administer a corn-laced attractant directly into the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the garden.  Here’s my battle plan:

Step One – Knock down all existing mounds so you can see where the pocket gopher currently is working.  The average family of gophers has a house with many rooms that can expand under more than 150 square feet of garden and lawn.

Step Two – With the Gopher Probe gently tap in around each new mound until you feel the needle’s tip slip quickly and easily into the ground.  This indicates that you have entered directly into the gopher’s realm.  Use the tool’s ingenious handle to release the gopher killer under the soil’s surface.  Hidden underground the gopher family feels safe to ingest the delicious corn-laced poisonous feed.  Before morning they will feel under the weather and put themselves to sleep forever. This may seem harsh, but it’s the most effective way to deal with rodents, and your gopher problems are cured without ever witnessing a dead body.  No carcass to deal with, no dead corpse smell, no fuss, and highly effective.  Way to go, Gopher Probe!

CAUTION – Zinc Phosphide is the poison you want to use with the Gopher Probe.  Please, please, please stay away from strychnine baits.  Strychnine is so dangerous that I would not dream of handling it, much less using it where my dogs and children run free, and where wild birds fly.  Also, zinc phosphide does not keep on killing like strychnine does.  The gopher eats the zinc, is knocked out, and never wakes up.  If a coyote should find and eat the body of a gopher downed by zinc, there is no secondary kill.  The coyote is unharmed.  Enough said.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.