A few days ago Toby called me from Mississippi, where he is doing prescribed burning for 6 weeks. One of his coworkers lives in New Meadows, and his wife had found mouse damage girdling their fruit trees. “Can you check our trees?” he asked.
Our trees are still under 3 feet of snow, and I have bronchitis.
I gingerly walked across the packed snow with a shovel and climbed through the garden fence, loosened by the winter. I check the first lump of snow I came to, a robust Honeygold we had planted the year before. I slowly dug down until I came to the branches, and brushed away the heavy snow with my hands. Branch after branch that I reached had been sheared from the trunk by the weight of the snow. Out of some childlike hope I fit some of the branches back into their homes. The damage was pretty severe. I quickly dug out 5 more trees…the two sour cherries, with a few additional years on them, were high enough to miss most of the damage. They only had one or two broken branches. The first plum looked okay, the second looked like we had gone nuts pruning it, leaving only a few branches. Outside the deer fence are two hardy peaches and a crabapple. They lived inside their own personal fencing, tubes of welded wire held up by t-posts. The peaches were okay. They are built like willows, extremely thin and flexible for their height. The crabapple had seen better days, but it wasn’t a big tree to begin with.
That left one apple tree inside the fence, a Honeycrisp. It had thrived since we planted it last spring. Now I couldn’t even see the telltale hump in the snow that would give away its location. I lined up with the other trees and carefully started digging.
I had a pretty good hole by the time I found it. I was a little wheezy flinging snow out of the 3 foot pit. It was down pretty deep. I dug around it like I had the other trees, feeling for branches. THEY HAD BEEN EATEN!!! Unlike the other trees, this one, right in the middle, had been the victim of severe rodent damage. Their droppings were mixed into the snow around the trunk. We had put tree wrap around the trunk up the branches, and that is where the mice had their bark feast. There wasn’t much left. Panther and Charlotte had come out to watch me dig and to look in the holes, and Panther jumped in next to the Honeycrisp carcass to investigate. Yes. He agreed there had been mice here. I hoped the cats knew mouse season was officially open. (I put Charlotte down in the hole so she would also know mouse season was open, and she looked upset about why she was in the hole. I do NOT know what Charlotte does when she is outside.)
I called Toby to give him the State of the Trees Address. It was grim. I sent pictures of each of our poor branch piles. I thought it was ironic that the peach trees, bought on sale on a whim at the end of the season, had made it through nearly unscathed. I thought perhaps the God of Pear Trees had smote us for not planting his (reputedly) cold hardy and easy-to-grow fruit. I worried about the three gooseberry bushes. I thought “HOW do we avoid this in the future?” Toby and I debated. Do we dust off our trees after each snowstorm? Tie them up like the landscaped bushes at the Shorelodge?
It turned out one of the plums had been girdled by mice as well, and had to be replaced. All winter I had felt safe knowing my trees were tucked in to a blanket of snow. They were protected from the danger of below-freezing temperatures early on, and there has been a pile of snow on them all winter. The last several weeks has been warmer, and the snow has been packing down. It seems like there will always be something else to add to your fall prep.
- Based on this winter, it seems like tree wrap tape might be a good option for the McCall area. Next year we will wrap higher than we think we need to!
- We debated putting a can of mouse poison next to our trees before the snow fell…it’s hard to justify putting poison into your garden system when you have pets though. We might change our minds if all the strawberries have been eaten!
- It never would have crossed my mind to clear snow off the trees all winter. I guess we’ll have to think about that until the branches have enough girth to withstand the weight of the McCall snowload.
Don’t forget to check on your orchard this spring, and let me know how your trees did and your tips for getting them through the winter!