Hard Lessons in Hardware Cloth

This week as I’ve been checking my garden beds, I noticed that some bulbs were starting to sprout and others weren’t and grew concerned. Finally deciding to investigate further, I had to kick myself: hardware cloth.

Last season when I was planting all the bulbs, I created little hardware cages with removable tops for most of the bulb plantings to protect them from being nibbled on or outright decimated by voles, small little field-mice like creatures:

Evidence of Voles: Holes.
Mesh cage made for fall-blooming crocus (saffron) bulbs.
Setting the cage at the proper depth for the bulbs. Making your own cage is nice as you can encompass a group of bulbs rather than individually.

The good news is: the voles have not been able to get to my bulbs. The bad news is: it’s made it difficult for some of my bulbs to grow.

It was easy to find and remove the hardware cloth covering the snowdrops and bluebells (no cage, just a lay down of mesh over the planting). It was very tedious removing the screen lid from over the saffron-crocus. I’ve been able to remove 2 or 3 tops from the alliums (and now that the others have finally sprouted and I can see their locations, I need to remove their hardware lids as well). But the tops covering the hyacinths and tulips…. well f*@%.

The hyacinths were growing beneath the mesh and pushing up against it, their growth getting squashed. Sprouts I’m guessing from the tulips grew up through the cloth, but then got stuck and pinched, making the removal of the cloth difficult and impossible do in a way to keep all the growth intact. No matter how careful I tried to be, some of the sprouts got stripped and shredded. At one point, it was literally having to ‘rip the band aid off,’ which made me cringe.

Now I’m worried about how much damage I’ve caused, and whether or not they’ll be able to repair themselves and continue to grow, or if I’ve just killed the damn things.

I tried futzing with the wire cutters we have, but ours are a mess (they’re old hand me downs, and were not well cared for). No matter how I try to sharpen them, they don’t cut consistently, it was difficult using them just to cut the fabric to make the cages when it was laying flat, and the hardware cloth is 1/4″ so it made it impossible to use the cutters without those also creating more damage to the plants.

Sometime this week when I have time, I will have to go back to the bed and remove the rest of the cage tops from the alliums… I’m dreading it and am not looking forward to damaging more plants.

Lessons:

  • Hardware cloth DOES work to keep voles out
  • Hardware cloth is a much cheaper way to DIY your own bulb cages than purchasing pre-fab.
  • If you make your own hardware cages, you need to remove the lids EARLY spring, BEFORE sprouts show…
  • …So make yourself some TALL, OBVIOUS signs (like a tall stake) to mark where you put ALL the cages. I was not consistent in doing this.

The other downside to hardware cloth that I’m NOT crazy about is having all this metal buried in the garden, which will definitely make changes to layout a pain in the ass, so I don’t think this will be my long-term solution, but it’s working for now. (Can we say ‘tetanus shots?’)

If I do more hardware cloth cages again, I’ll be approaching their construction differently. This time around I was trying to be frugal in my use to get as many cages as I could out of the batch of cloth and made the sides too shallow (but still buried at the proper depth for the bulbs). Next time I will need to create cages whose sides extend just ABOVE the soil level and then lay lids ON the surface level of the soil instead of burying the lids with even a shallow layer of soil. So: cage bottom at bottom of trench, thin layer of soil, bulbs, cover bulbs with appropriate depth of soil, lay lid atop soil, and ONLY cover the lid with leaves/mulch. AND place a TALL (10-12″) stake or two to mark the location and sides of a cage.

Regarding the voles: we have an outdoor cat, so I need to keep solutions organic and poison free. Sweetpea used to leave us prizes from her hunts, but for a while now we’ve not received any such gifts. Too late I learned about using hardware cloth as a barrier to keep voles out of a garden bed where I could have lined the inside of the edging with hardware cloth, buried 10-12″ below before laying the landscape fabric to keep the soil in – I’ll have to try that technique with the new flower bed I’m making before plants go in.

There’s also certain types of traps, castor oil mixes, and cayenne pepper sprays I have yet to try. I looked into the solar stake repellants, but the reviews of those have been poor so I’m not eager to spend money there.

Well. Some things have been learned, and now time will tell. Will just have to watch and wait and see what happens with the hyacinths and tulips. Worst case scenario, I buy a few more in the fall to try again.

(Some days, container gardening looks a little more attractive…)

2 thoughts on “Hard Lessons in Hardware Cloth

  1. I give you credit for trying,but yeah, that had to be rough!!!

    The only place I’ve used hardware cloth is in the bottom of my raised beds. It helps keep the scavenging from below down a little. Doesn’t do anything about the wererabbits and the voracious deer.

    Liked by 2 people

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