ringneck pheasant in early springIt has been a very long winter with little sight of spring even though it is the end of March. Normal spring garden chores are difficult to get done as the garden is under snow or still has frozen soil. Although the snow provided a good back drop to see a ring necked pheasant wandering through my yard this past week. They are non-native game birds that are sometimes released for hunting purposes, but flocks rarely survive to create sustained populations, it looks like this male made it through the winter just fine.

Some of my garden perennials were not so lucky this winter. It appears the voles and chipmunks have been busy feeding and tunneling their way through parts of the garden. The moles have created lots of heaved up tunnels in the lawn which sink when step on or tripped over. The heuchera below will need to be dug up and replanted. Fill in any tunnels such as the one on the right. Mouse traps sent in the runs might as a control measure. Cover the trap with an up-side-down bucket to keep out birds and cats.

Antsy gardeners can do much harm to the soil by working the ground if it is frozen or wet. Compaction will result and soil structure will be ruined. Soil structure is the way the soil parts are arranged and adhered together. Soil parts do not stack neatly like Legos or Lincoln Logs. They are non-uniform shapes with needed air spaces in between the particles to provide spaces for oxygen and water to hangout that are necessary for roots to access. Working wet or frozen soil squishes out those spaces, cramming the soil particles tightly together resulting in compaction. Once compacted soil dries, it is like a lump of cement. Plant roots have a very hard time breaking through compacted soil. Lightly rake to remove last year’s foliage, taking care to not damage new emerging shoots can satisfy the need to be outside and work in the garden.

daffodil foliage emerging

Daffodil foliage emerging.



If you do have an area of compacted soil, deep tap-rooted plants are a great natural way to break it up. Plants with deep tap roots are strong and thick, working their way down to access nutrients deeper in the soil. Nutrients are moved through the plant up to the leaves, stems and flowers which will eventually senescence, dropping dead above ground parts on the top of the soil. Those plant parts will decompose leaving their nutrients in the upper range of the soil where weaker rooted plants will be able to reach them. Kind of like a natural rototilling moving soil nutrients. Plants with deep taproots are dandelions, comfrey and horseradish.

dandelion 1

Dandelion helps break up compacted soil.

Rhubarb is the earliest of the three perennial vegetables to awake in the spring. Horseradish follows shortly after, and asparagus takes at least another four weeks to send up shoots. Make each of these areas to avoid damage to their crowns. Better yet have designated beds for each crop. Horseradish can be an aggressive traveler so planting it away from other crops is recommended.

rhubarb emerging 2018

Rhubarb emerging March 30, 2018.

There is still time to remove, crush and kill gypsy moth eggs from tree bark. Hope for a wet spring to develop the fungus that infects the young caterpillars after they hatch from any egg masses which were left.


Gypsy moth egg cases, p.cooper photo.jpg

While cleaning up garden debris, watch for beneficial insect overwintered eggs like the praying mantid’s egg case below. Carefully remove the stem and egg mass to a safe place outside so it can hatch naturally when the weather warms. Do NOT bring it into your home unless you want it to hatch inside your heated house!

praying mantis egg mass

Praying Mantid Egg Case

Another spring chore can be done inside the home. Cut the top six inches off of leggy houseplants to give them a good pruning. Repot any that need it to get them ready for another year of growing. Stick some cuttings in a vase of water to get them to produce roots. Some plants do respond better than others and it is worth a try to produce new, free houseplants to share with friends.

roots in water

Pothos cuttings rooting in water

-Carol Quish





Marsh Marigolds blooming in a stream in early April 2015

Marsh Marigolds blooming in a stream in early April 2015

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!

Sitting Bull

I always look for marsh marigolds Caltha palustris L., also known as cowslip, along boggy woodland streams, in early April, and they were certainly blooming within the normal time period this year. Last spring they were late arriving, perhaps because of a snowfall in mid- April. Who knows? I am just glad to see them as they are a limpid herald of spring. Bloodroot is also an early bird, and I have some in my garden. But flowers have not opened fully or they close without good sun, so maybe soon we will have less gloomy gray days and I can see the flowers.

bloodroot 2011

Well, spring is trying to get started here in Connecticut and we seem to be on average ten to fifteen days behind normal plant development so far, according to the UMass Landscape Message report for April 24, 2015. After a winter that saw high snowfall over frozen ground, and topped off by continual cold temperatures after a two- day tease of high 60’s a couple of weeks ago, we all need a break from cold, gray days. That should happen soon. Maybe.

Lawns took a big hit this winter and spring from snow molds, voles and soggy soils causing the death of some areas of the lawn. Green up and recovery has been slow as soil temperatures are only in the upper 40’s. Regrowth is spotty at the moment. Of course, grubs are up and at ‘em and have been for a few weeks. Worms are near the surface and so are the moles that eat them. Robins are always a good indicator of the presence of earthworms near the soil surface, and so is mole activity. Vole damage may have killed large areas of lawns, readily seen where they clipped off the tops of the grass while under the protection of snow cover. If crowns were eaten, then raking up the dead material and reseeding will be needed.


Vole-and-snow-mold-damage-in April from 2015  winter snow cover


The time frame between forsythia full bloom and lilac bloom is typically when pre- emergent crabgrass control is applied. Be careful not to be too late or too early. Last year older forsythia cultivars were late and were in full bloom at the same time as lilacs. This year may prove to be similar. Hardy forsythia cultivars are already in full bloom, while the older ones are in sparse to no bloom as of today (April 28, 2015). If that is the case, make sure to apply pre-emergent products before lilacs bloom and some already have leaves and flower buds appearing.

As for the birds- I participate in the Audubon Spring Bird Count every year, which takes place from the last week of April through the first two weeks of May. The idea is to count species during this time frame, so many migratory birds make the count interesting as they pass through on their way north. So far even the birds that breed here are slow in arriving. Got one wood thrush, the first I saw this year, on Saturday. Savannah Sparrows are just arriving here in Storrs, so Bob-o-links and Meadowlarks should arrive soon as well. Pileated Woodpeckers, the Holy Cow! Behemoths that are here all year, are regular visitors to my backyard woods. Last week I was able to get a shot of a male and female on the same tree. How often does that happen?

Savannah Sparrow on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs April 28, 2015

Savannah Sparrow on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs April 28, 2015

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers in my backyard woods

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers in my backyard woods

Hummingbirds have been spotted in southern areas of Connecticut, so get ready with hummingbird feeders. Usually they arrive as apples are blooming or the early Azalea cultivars. Keep in mind that hummingbirds eat insects as well, and often can be seen in the woods, especially around oaks because these trees attract many insects. So the hummers will not starve if you are late with your feeders.

Bluebirds have built their nests already, or at least have picked out a good nesting spot. If you have a large open area near woods where you know bluebirds live, but have trouble with sparrows consistently taking over any house you may put up, consider putting up two or three houses 25- 30 feet apart.  At my golf course, and here on campus on Horse Barn Hill we put up three birdhouse in the same area and every year we have a tree swallow, a bluebird and an English sparrow in each box. Clean them out by early to late March as bluebirds select nesting sites early even though nest building may not occur yet.

Male Bluebird on this year's selected nesting box

Male Bluebird on this year’s selected nesting box

Insects are slowly but surely making their presence known. Butterflies seen so far are Mourning Cloaks, Spring Azure hairstreaks, Commas and Question Marks, and Cabbage Whites are migrating in this week. Bees and wasps are now common where flowers are blooming, and so are many flies. Lily leaf Beetles will appear as lily host plants start to grow, so be prepared to deal with that pest. Boxwood leaf miners should be in the pupal state soon, and adults should fly by mid May. Look for pupal cases that are exposed on leaves as the adults emerge to gauge when egg- laying may occur. Fireflies are also in flight, but are not in flashing mode yet. Six- spotted tiger beetles should be out and about. Check for these along open dirt roads or woodland paths- their brilliant green metallic elytra make them easy to spot. And tent caterpillars are emerging from their egg masses and using silk to make their tents at forks in cherry branches.

Tent caterpillars just hatched and in daytime shelter
Tent caterpillars just hatched and in daytime shelter

There is too much else going on to even think about, but I am glad that  green and other colors are on the landscape palette again. Here’s hoping we have a great growing season with lots of rewards for our hard labors.

Pamm Cooper                                    All photos copyright 2015 by Pamm Cooper

Tracks in the snow are signs that somebody has been out and about. Cold and snow tends to keep us humans inside warm homes, but animals stay active in search of food and mates, especially as their circadian rhythms turn to spring thoughts. After a fresh snow is the ideal time to go out looking for prints.

Animals walking leave their foot prints, often identifiable by their shape, and walking or running pattern. Larger birds coming in for a landing will leave wing prints in powdery snow. Turkey wing prints are especially beautiful. Tunnels can sometimes be noticed when they are freshly made or more often, noticed as the snow cover melts. Tunnel trails are tale tell signs the area is home to voles and mice.

A blanket of snow can be deceiving, bringing us to the thought most animal is sleep.  A walk around the Storrs campus this week found a few tracks below proving animals are active.

Deer have a distinctive cloven hoof. They place the majority of their weight on the front portion of the hooves, leaving a deeper imprint towards the front.

Deer Track, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Deer Track, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Deer Tracks leading to tree branch, UConn, 2-4-14, CQuish

Deer Tracks leading to tree branch, UConn, 2-4-2014 C.Quish photo






















I watched this squirrel bound through the snow, leading up and off the ground with his front paws. He landed with the front first, then with his back feet almost touching the front, his back arched and legs springing him forward once again. This action left the prints below.


Squirrel tracks, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Squirrel landing tracks, UConn 2-4-2014, C.Quish photo

Squirrel track leading to tree, UConn 2-4-14,CQuish

Squirrel track leading to tree, UConn 2-4-14,CQuish

Mr Squirrel UConn 2-4-14 Pamm Cooper

Mr Squirrel UConn 2-4-14 Pamm Cooper photo


























I spotted a serpentine trail winding its way over a large, open lawn area. It originated from a stone wall that ran parallel with the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, I found it to be raised up snow from a tunnel below the snow. There were a couple of open holes where it appears the small rodent popped up from the tunnel for a look around. A vole or mouse probably made the trailing tunnel.


Vole tunnel in the snow, 2-4-2014, UConn, Pamm Cooper photo

Vole tunnel in the snow, 2-4-2014, UConn, Pamm Cooper photo










-Carol Quish


I’ve always rather liked most rodents. There’s a shy rabbit that we see in the back yard at times and sometimes I find a white-footed mouse or two in the garden shed or in a bird house. As both a child and a mom, I was charged with taking care of several guinea pigs and found them to be quite affectionate and affable pets. They did eat a lot though! But not as much as the voles in my yard do – or so it seems!

Damage by voles seems to run in cycles. Last winter’s snows keep them safe from predators and I had a fair amount of vole damage in my garden beds. Mostly they ate the hostas and crocus bulbs, a few sedums and a balloon flower. They also undermined a Korean holly which died a slow death as I did not notice the tunnels underneath it until it was too late. On top of that, my crocosmia finally produced a single brilliant orange flower cluster this year and I noticed a few days after it began blooming that it looked wilted. Of course, it pulled right out of the ground as the bulb it was attached to was now gone – part of someone’s 4 course dinner I assume!

Japanese holly undermined by voles.

Japanese holly undermined by voles.

So what do we know about these varmints? Most likely they are meadow voles, although there are a few other species of voles in Connecticut. These eating machines range from 3 ½ to 5 inches and believe it or not, only weigh a couple of ounces. Meadow voles are much more stockier than a mouse and have a somewhat shaggy grey to brown fur. They also have relatively short tails and almost hidden ears. Meadow voles are found throughout the northern third or so of the United States and forage even in Canadian territories. They tend to be active year-round both during the day and at night – would we all be so lucky to have this much energy!

Meadow Vole by Pamm Cooper

Meadow Vole by Pamm Cooper

And what do they eat? Aside from the roots of many plants, meadow voles apparently enjoy grass and clover, the shoots, stems, tubers and even flowers of many plants and of course the bark of trees and shrubs, especially fruit trees. When they feed on the bark of fruit trees or other woodies, they can easily be the demise of the plant. Under the visible bark of the tree lies the xylem which carries water from the roots to the upper parts of the tree and the phloem which carries carbohydrates and sugars created in the leaves through photosynthesis to the roots and other plant parts. When voles feed on this inner ‘bark’ they basically cut off the circulation of water and food in the plant and it will die.

Meadow voles can construct an elaborate tunnel system with both surface runways and underground burrows and they may even use mole tunnels. They may nest in underground chambers or in warmer months on the ground’s surface under a vegetative cover.

Unfortunately for us New England gardeners, it is said that the meadow vole is believed to have the highest reproductive rate of any mammal!!! Female voles can begin to breed at the age of about one month and can have between 5 to 12 litters every year with 3 to 10 pups born in each litter. One captive vole actually produced 17 litters over the course of a year. So each pair of voles could potentially add somewhere around 15 to 120 more voles to your yard every year – and probably even more if all their young live and reproduce.

Luckily for us, voles are a delicacy to just about all native carnivores which explains their high reproduction rates. Owls, hawks, snakes, foxes, bobcats and other native species could keep the vole population within bounds if we could provide for their needs. With the fragmentation and elimination of their habitat, however, vole populations can build up to the point where we gardeners find them incompatible with our desires.

I have seen a number of gardening articles that advocate cats as the solution to vole and mole problems. This is going to put me on many people’s black lists but cats are not the answer. I am a cat lover, cat rescuer, non-kill cat shelter supporter, and cat owner of many years. My cats are not allowed outside. Cats are an invasive species that kill at least 1 billion songbirds each year in the United States. Plus, if allowed outside they get into fights with other cats or get killed by coyotes or cars. It totally astonishes me that people bemoan the destructive forces of bittersweet, garlic mustard, Asian long-horned beetle, emerald ash borer, zebra mussel, purple loosestrife, milfoil and the like and never consider their cats as another part of the invasive equation. Our native bird species have not evolved with foreign cat species and so continuously fall prey to them. Cats are great but keep them inside and let our native animal species live!

Tiny Tim snoozing on his window bed.

Tiny Tim snoozing on his window bed.

Personally, I am not an advocate of poisons or physical control options. You can call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (877) 486-6271 to discuss these topics. I have chosen to plant bulbs like snowdrops, hyacinths and daffodils and a wide variety of flowers and shrubs to try to find plants that voles are not particularly fond of. I had placed quarter-inch wire mesh collars around the 2 apple trees in our yard when they were young. Since I really wanted a tulip-lined front walkway, I tried adding a Volebloc barrier http://www.permatill.com/home-garden-products.php?cat=10 to the two narrow beds. The tulip bulbs survived the winter and were coming up nicely with large fat flower buds – until the deer ate them! Sometimes, you just can’t win!

Vole Bloc sharp gravel from www.permatill.com

Vole Bloc sharp gravel from http://www.permatill.com

Good Gardening to You!