During the late winter last year, I planted a bare rooted tree of a new variety of apple, Herefordshire Russet. The tree that came from Frank Matthew’s Nursery was the perfect shape for training as a pyramid and this was my plan. The ground around the tree was mulched and the tree watered during the very dry spring. I had the basis for a superbly shaped and balanced pyramid, that is until the week before Christmas.
I could not help notice that the tree was swaying around and on close examination found that the bark has been totally eaten away all around the tree and for several inches above ground. The stem of the tree had actually reamed a wide hole in the ground, doubtless due to the wind. But what were the roots doing, I asked myself? Grasping the tree to test how fast it was in the ground, I was astonished when it came out with no effort whatsoever. All the roots had gone and all the bark right down to the remains of the tap root. I could not believe my eyes!
The tree was protected by a chicken wire surround, so rabbits were ruled out, but what was obvious was a one inch diameter tunnel, eighteen inches away from the tree. I thought it well worth while placing a mouse trap in front of the entrance and put down a dried currant as bait. In fact, I placed several traps around other trees.
The next day I inspected the traps and low and behold the culprit was caught and later identified as a field vole. An expensive little pest to say the least and another tree, Finkwerder Prinz, has similarly been damaged above ground, but no more voles have been caught.
I have known for some time that voles and mice use mole runs extensively, but as to who nibbled or gnawed the roots I can only speculate; perhaps it was a joint effort. It was quite noticeable this year that the neighbour’s cats were catching many small rabbits and this was possibly something to do with the wet summer, which had perhaps also affected the vole population.
All ground cover vegetation should be removed or kept down around very young trees to discourage mouse and vole activity, and, although I have suffered damage in the past, this has never been to the extent of destroying a whole tree. Has anyone else suffered similar damage?