Something Wicked This Way Gnaws


Base of a crab apple tree with bark stripped away.

Base of a crab apple tree with bark stripped away.

TS Elliott was wrong, I think. In Iowa, it’s not April, but March that is the cruelest month. The transition from harsh winter to warmer spring is fraught with peril in the garden. It’s the time of year when fresh apple buds may flower out, only to be nipped by some untimely killer frost.

Of course, that can happen in April, too. Heck, in Iowa, I hesitate to note it but it’s true, it’s not terribly unusual for the final snow of the season to fall early in May.

Another view of plant carnage.

Another view of plant carnage.

Hang on, Midwesterners. Your Florida and Seattle friends are posting Facebook pictures of warm weather and spring flowers while we look out our windows and see a sea of white. It should dip well below zero tonight, and that’s Fahrenheit, with bitter wind chills in the morning.

I put out the last of my bird seed this morning. I may buy some more. It’s going to be an unusual March—even if this month normally includes some winter cold, it also usually includes melting and bare ground and therefore food from last fall that birds can forage for.

Not, so far, this spring, off to a very wintery start. I noticed some unusual damage to shrubs and trees in my backyard when I went to fill the bird feeders. A Sargent Crabapple that just bloomed for the first time last year has been attacked by something gnawing at its bark. Ditto some bushes by the back deck. As February has turned to March, I think the critters are getting a bit desperate—this long winter must be tough on all creatures great and small.

In recent days, I have had to dispose of several dead mice. We usually get a few when seasons change—fall being prime mouse killing time in my area as the cold weather starts to drive the rodents to seek indoor refuge and I set traps for them. I don’t recall March being such a killing season before.

I anxiously await the coming of spring, as do all of you Iowans, I’m sure. I hope most of my young trees survive and come back. Frankly, I think most of them will—plants that are used to this climate simply stay asleep until the warmth returns. Some previous harsh, snowy winters have been followed by surprisingly nice springs as the period of cold seems to encourage fall bulbs.

The defense, but after I deployed it I also put out bird seed, so if it was squirrels, they at least got something else to eat.

The defense, but after I deployed it I also put out bird seed, so if it was squirrels, they at least got something else to eat.

I don’t think girdling will be good for my trees, however.

I put some chicken wire around the crabapple. Any mouse or vole who nibbles below the snow surface will probably still get to it, but I hope this helps stave off much further damage. I’m leaving the bushes by the deck to their fate—I plan to get rid of some of them anyway—so gnaw away, critters. And hang on.

I’m 80 percent sure spring is coming, and 75 percent sure it will be here before June.

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