This week, I had a backyard hobby orchard grower stop in the office. Extension has always been a resource for his father when he was growing, and now the son. While we discussed common pest problems of apples and pear this growing season, the grower also shared a "lesson learned" last winter.
During the establishment period of some fruit trees he used watering bags to help with consistent moisture during the growing season. As fall 2017 approached, the grower was having some encounters with wildlife in the orchard and thought that he would leave the bags on the trees, not for a source of water, but rather to "protect" the trunk from deer that caused some issues the previous winter.
As winter turned into spring, the bags were removed to find more extensive damage done by wildlife - specifically rodents that used the bag as their home. They had daily "take-out" on the trunk just outside the bag but still protected. It was like a drive up window - self serve style!
I can only imagine the size of the rodents as the bark was gnawed on and totally gone from the root flare, to just above the bag about 3 feet up on the tree. Upon inspection of the bag they chewed through that creating what was a tent like structure to keep them dry during the winter and filled it with some insulation.
So what was done with good intentions, back-fired a bit for this grower. It was a lesson learned and thought that if anyone else could learn, he wanted to share. As we talked, I thought this could also happen if someone just didn't get out to remove the watering bags, and left them in place over the winter. Some times it feels like there just isn't enough time.
So take the time to cruise the landscape, orchard or nursery and look for places rodents and other wildlife could make their home. No one wants a "vacant" sign that could be filled and cause some big problems over the winter. In the case of this grower, at least one of the apple trees was a total loss. Others are being watched and hopefully they will recover and survive.