Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sneezing Chipmunks

(Some updates are included at the end of this post.)

Right next to the back door I have a pot of Salix yezoalpina, or dwarf pussywillow.

It's a plant appreciated close up for its glossy green leaves and it forms a tidy, shrubby shape. It makes a nice accent at the back door as I step out onto the deck.

When it flowers in early spring it sends up furry catkins, like extra-fat pussywillows.

I have struggled with this willow. It wants to be a groundcover and spread out, and in good conditions it will do that, reaching a spread of 5 feet wide, but staying low.

I planted a bunch of these as a groundcover along the east side of the house, but even though they got afternoon shade, they scorched badly and stayed brown edged. They really want all day shade and moisture.

When I took the scorched, struggling plants out, I discovered they have incredible, huge, deeply entrenched roots. Their roots went all the way to China, and were hard to dig up.

The one plant I have here in the container is in shade almost all day, and even though it cannot spread out and there is no way for its roots to get to China, it looks happy. It's doing well.

So I was alarmed to see dirt sprayed all around the base of the container a few days ago. I cleaned it up and packed the loosened soil back down around the base of the willow.

Then yesterday, when I opened the door to go out, I could see the whole plant shaking. Not just fluttering lazily in the summer breeze, but trembling all over like a minor earthquake was rocking the deck.

Damn chipmunk! He was in there, excavating, right under my nose. I chased him out, checked the pot, and discovered he had left a gaping hole where the roots should be -- the dirt and the roots are gone and there was nothing there.

Everyone is remarking this year on the infestation of chipmunks. I've noticed it too. We used to have a brave one that scurried across the patio now and then, but this year I see multiples everywhere, all day long, and they are not brave, they are criminally insolent.

They are constant flashes of activity, running here and chasing themselves there and bounding about.

They climb up on the patio table and camp in the bowl of strawberry plants eating the fruits. The birds are terrorized by them and fly off when the chipmunks are in the blueberry bushes, where they jump from branch to branch and eat the unripe blueberries. They dig giant holes under any annuals I plant.

They excavated a potted plant on the front porch too, leaving dirt all over the porch floor and holes where the roots should be. What are they after in my containers? Do they eat roots?

I need to get some chipmunk / squirrel repellant.

A two pound bag is $20 from Cedar Creek Organics. It's lemongrass, thyme, pepper and clove oil, with some lauryl sulfate detergent for wetting / adhesion. Apparently a strong smell deters criminal activity among chipmunks.

I ended up putting sprigs of purple basil in the willow container in the hopes that the strong scent of basil is just as deterring as the mixture in the bag would be.

I thought about putting basil sprigs in the strawberry bowl too, but would the strawberries then taste like basil? I might experiment with that -- assuming I can even get a strawberry to ripen before being stolen.

I also sprinkled ground Tellicherry black pepper in my containers, strawberries included. I hope to hear chipmunks sneezing shortly.

*  *  *  *  *  *
Update: this morning I noticed several unripe blueberries half buried in a pot of cosmos on the patio.  What are the chipmunks doing? Stashing food in my containers?

Another update: The damn chipmunks are storing unripe blueberries all over the patio. I find blueberries stuffed in the cracks of the stone wall, nestled in corners behind the grill, and stashed under the potting bench.

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