We've hardly had any rain. But the plants have been mostly OK. I water regularly, not too much but do additional deep watering from time to time. Still, suddenly, some newly installed plants were in trouble. Ah, I said, they were used to daily watering in the store, now they have to adjust to 2-3 x/week, they will be fine with a bucket extra now and then. But one by one they declined. Ah, I said, as one wilted daily, maybe I did a poor job of planting this one, maybe there is a gap where the dirt was not filled in. Sticking a shovel alongside, yes, by golly, there is a void there. Out comes a small copperhead snake. Oh my, did the snake make this void or just find it? I fill in a quart of soil. A few days later, I find that the void has returned and it takes more soil. Then I go on vacation for 2 weeks. I return to find that shrub dead, and three others that were fine then are nearly dead. Each has hollow spaces alongside. Now I get a clue.
Taking a stick I start poking along the plants. Tunnels lead from one shrub to the next, just below the surface, bigger than a quarter. The gorund that was so soft, I thought the leaf litter mulch was improving the soil -- no, that was just how many tunnels were in the beds there. Suddenly those shallow holes behind the pool that I attributed to raccoons digging for grubs seem to be exit holes with temporary plugs at the end to keep out snakes. Voles. Or maybe moles or gophers or shrews. But the damaged roots point to voles.
Suddenly the extensive damage over the past few years from drought and freeze is combined with major root stress from chewing voles and it is a wonder anything is alive in the whole yard. All those flats of begonias that never thrived, too dry under the oak I thought. All the holes in the garden were blamed on the raccoons, the neighbors trapped and took away the raccoons and now the vole population has exploded. I suspect the raccoons were digging for voles. Now I miss that dreadful feral cat that finally got hit by a car. She probably hunted voles too.
Just a heads up, for those of you in the area. In case this is not just in my backyard that this is occuring.
Update; my county extension service person tells me that we do not have voles here. That it is pocket gophers. Guess that is good, probably one or a family of gophers rather than dozens of voles. Tunnels are shallow since dry ground is so hard, easier to dig where the sprinklers keep it easy to dig in and tunnels stay together.