The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

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2016 Garden Hits and Misses, Part II

Joys and victories are always so much more enjoyable to share and savor. But the losses–painful as they can be–are learning opportunities. My 2016 garden was not without its challenges, some of which I have not resolved. I’ve been on a true learning curve since I began gardening and the lessons aren’t always easy. Below are my “Misses” for 2016.

The Misses!

dscn4865Containers. I knew when I bought this adorable galvanized can planted with playful petunias that those plants were going to fry on my south facing fence in St. Louis’ hot summer. And I was right.

While this lesson only set me back $10, it’s a valuable reminder about trusting my gut. Imagine a $200 tree biting the dust because it’s in the wrong spot. That means leading with your head and not your heart. I can be a sucker for a nursery and its well tended plants and vignettes that say “buy me, buy me, take me home.” I mean, how cute is the container below?


dscn4649I love petunias for their enduring blooming nature (minus the example I just gave). But I let them get leggy because I don’t take the time to pinch them back. The end result was containers that looked leggy. I had to show this because these are volunteer petunias and volunteer milkweed. They were beautiful in June, not so much in August.DSCN4578Voles. I’d like to declare war but I’m not sure what weapons of mass destruction I would use. My vole problem is affecting multiple garden beds. I called a mole company and they said they did not handle voles but I also hear that the traps really don’t work. I called a yar fertilizer type company and met with the same response as the first call. What works is chemical warfare but that’s not friendly to owls who eat the voles. And as I mentioned in my last post, owls hang out in the neighborhood.

DSCN4589These guys creep me out. I’ve stumbled across two or three of them and all I can say is yuck. I have not located all their tunnels but they seem to be in the front yard, back yard and side yard. But something has to give: I won’t abide by daisies, coreopsis, penstemon, phlox and more falling over and splayed out because their tasty roots are being devoured. Truly a continuing dilemma for 2017.


egg carton growing (960x1280)Growing from Seed. I admire those stalwart gardeners who begin their veggies from seed. But as I discovered in 2016, I’m not one of them. I tried it and realized I was in the wrong league. This route comes with no short cuts here (and I love a short cut)–a grow light is essential for success or your plants get leggy. I did manage to coax one very small lettuce head from two cartons of egg shell-filled seeds. That was a salad worth enjoying.

DSCN4483Instead, I will satisfy my fresh garden delight habit with small plants acquired at the nursery. Last year, peppers and spinach plants did well. The only caveat to this story is that I did scatter zinnia seeds with success.

dscn4642Tomatoes. Have you seen the number of articles, books and web posts out there on growing tomatoes? Who could fail with all these resources? I’m trying. Honestly I am. I like a great tomato as much as the next gal. But I think tomato growing is best left to someone else. I thought I had learned my lessons from 2015; I had that pot secured with netting like Ft. Knox and the @!##**!@ squirrels still invaded and took off with the ripening fruit. And the plant was l-o-a-d-e-d with tomatoes. I got one green tomato. No more. Produce stand here I come.

Garden Bloggers Fling. I attended my one and only Fling in 2015 but missed the fun in Minneapolis in 2016. This event is for gardeners who blog (what a great fit!) and the 2017 Garden Bloggers Fling will be hosted in the Washington, DC region beginning June 22. It’s a great way to put a face to the bloggers you’ve been reading and connect even further on this great joy we all share.

Happy 2017 everyone!



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Beware of the Vole in Your Garden


My beloved penstemon is taking a beating.

Ugh. Something is making itself awfully comfortable in my yard and gardens. And I believe it is a vole–or more accurately, voles. Given their voracious habit of reproduction, I’m sure it’s the plural form of this noun.

Regardless, they are beginning to wreak havoc on some of my garden favorites, like my penstemon, which is listing and appears to have some heavy root damage.


First sign of damage: plant laying down and roots exposed.


Close up of root damage.

At first I thought it might be moles, but my research leads me to believe it is voles, commonly referred to as the meadow mouse. Apparently moles will leave mounds of dirt resembling small volcanos in its wake. Not so the vole. Multiple small holes are the hallmark of this rodent. Because both like to tunnel throughout the yard, the mole is often blamed for the havoc of the vole.


Clear over on the other side of the yard, the coreopsis has fallen over and the roots appear damaged. Note the small hole on the right near the edge of the plant’s foliage.


When I first saw the holes they were near the edge of my raised bed and I thought it was just signs of the soil settling. I even added new soil this spring. The beds were installed last year.

In casual conversations with friends, I’m learning voles are relatively prevalent in the area, at least the 3 of 3 conversations I’ve had in the past two days would confirm that. In fact, it was not 1 hour after talking with a friend who has voles, that I actually saw on the creatures–clearly startled by my presence–quickly dive into its hole by the flagstone. All have cautioned me to take swift action. My research via the Missouri Botanical Garden website confirms that as well. Apparently voles can do some very serious damage to the garden. On anthother note, one of my friends told me she and her husband have a “vole guy.” I had to laugh at that and get his number.

On a high level, here is what I’ve learned:

  • Voles are herbivores, not like the mole, which is a carnivore.
  • They begin reproducing at three weeks of age and don’t stop until they die., with litters of two to nine created monthly. Fortunately, their life span is only 16 around months in the wild.
  • They overwinter in their tunnels, enjoying the food they store in hollows near their nests.
  • They make elaborate tunnels throughout the yard.
  • They enjoy the tender roots of young herbaceous plants and the bark of young trees.
  • Habitat management, traps, repellents and chemicals are treatments to rid voles. Chemical warfare to rid this pest is probably not that effective in the spring/summer when the vole has lots of food choices at its avail.

Have you treated your yard and garden for voles?