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Trauma in a Small Kitchen Garden

There’s plenty of good stuff for a rodent to eat in and around my yard, but apparently sour cherry and pecan tree twigs are the tastiest of all. Still, the rodent left healthy leaf buds any of which could become a new leader for the tree.

My small kitchen garden experienced some trauma this week: someone bit off the tops of some of my new trees! I mentioned those trees in an earlier post about new pear trees. In that post, I explained the importance of protecting young trees from rodents who would be eager to chew on them during a snowy winter.

Well… those rodents were more eager than I expected. I had looked for tree tubes at local gardening stores, and, failing to find any, had come up with a possible alternative I figured to make out of trash. But, no rush, I thought: there wouldn’t be snow for some time and there are plenty of tender shoots and leaves still available to any foraging critters who might wander through.

I made my nearly cost-free tree tubes out of two-liter soda bottles. First, I rinsed the bottles thoroughly; I don’t want residual sugar or artificial flavorings to attract rodents to my trees. Using a utility knife (scissors would work), I cut the tops off above where the bottles start to taper—so the cut bottle tapers a little. I cut off the bottom above where the indentations start. This leaves the bottom of the cut bottle wider than the top; the upper end of each cut bottle can slide easily into the bottom end of a cut bottle.

Stupid Rodents in my Small Kitchen Garden

I get about 9 inches of tube from each bottle. So, I stacked 3 bottles to make an 18-inch tube. As my trees grow, I may add another bottle or two; the tender bark will need protection for several years. I’m not concerned about removing the tube in the future. When the tree branches and the bark is tough enough to withstand rodents, I can simply use a utility knife or scissors to cut the thin plastic away.

Rodents around here don’t think the way I do. While they had been perfectly happy with lawn grasses, weeds, meadow plants, and forest undergrowth until this weekend, apparently they wanted something different during the holiday. Someone cleanly snipped off the tops of the three new trees I’d not yet protected with fences or tree tubes. This is an impressive accomplishment considering that the trees are well apart from each other in different places in my yard… and there are intervening shrubs that didn’t receive similar pruning.

So, my sloth proved my point: young trees are vulnerable and you need to protect them! I’m discouraged, but not crushed. My young trees are several inches shorter, and they no longer have terminal buds. They do, however, have many lateral buds, and chances are they’ll make it through the winter if I protect them. Without a terminal bud, a young tree will send branches up from the main stalk, letting them vie to become the tree’s new leader.

My job, should the trees survive winter and send up these new limbs, will be eventually to prune off all but one so it can become the tree’s trunk. The trees’ future growth will “absorb” the bumps made by these side shoots so the trees appear straight—or nearly straight. This isn’t a great way to grow a tree, but it happens time and again to wild trees, and they don’t complain much about it.

Cheap Small Kitchen Garden Tree Tubes

I prefer soda pop from a 12 ounce can; I don’t drink it quickly enough to empty a two-liter bottle before the stuff at the end goes flat. This is one reason I didn’t make and install tree tubes immediately after planting my trees: I didn’t have any two-liter soda bottles available.

This tree tube concept wouldn’t have occurred to me had I not known about duct tape. I don’t worship duct tape, but there it is: I held the tubes together with a single wrap at each joint. Honestly: this is the first do-it-yourself project I’ve done where duct tape was truly the best solution.

Having bought several two-liter bottles, and picked up some empties from my dad, I was going to test my home-made tree tube idea this week. I started today… just a weekend too late. But I’m happy to say the makeshift tubes are perfect for my needs, and I hope they keep what’s left of my new trees alive through the winter. If you’re adding young fruit trees to your small kitchen garden in the near future, you might save some hassles by creating and installing tree tubes immediately after planting.

I held the tree tube in place with two bamboo sticks. If the marauding rodent that bit off my trees’ tops wants more cherry tree, it won’t have to push hard to topple my creation. I’m holding fast to the old axiom, out of sight, out of mind, and I hope the stupid rodents do as well.

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4 Responses to “Trauma in a Small Kitchen Garden”

  • Oh no! That really stinks! I’ve had a lot of success using recycled plastic bottles to keep other types of pests off my plants, thankfully I don’t have any rodents nibbling on my plants. I have seen a marsupial hanging around though. Thankfully he is the only opossum known to man to NOT play dead when startled. He ran off and never came back.

  • admin:

    Fern: lol! It’s a constant siege of rodents in my neighborhood. I lost a 3-year-old pear tree many years ago when rodents ate all reachable bark from the trunk during a snowy winter… As I said in my post: I didn’t expect the rodents to munch on my baby trees before the snow fell.

    I’d love to see a possum hanging around my yard; they’re kind cool/creepy critters. Maybe I’ve been blaming rodents when it’s been marsupials all along (but I’ve seen woodchucks eating my peaches, so I’m pretty confident they’re the rascals).

  • That is a really clever and resourceful idea.

  • That’s a very clever idea and a great way to recycle. I wish I could think of something equally clever to keep the raccoons out of my pond. Durn critters!

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