Sunday, June 18, 2006

Days (Nights, Really) of Depressing Destruction

I was incredibly naive. After a single day of no armadillo sign, I was hoping that our armadillo had moved on. Prairiewolf proudly (and unknowingly) blew that theory to Hades when he came in Friday evening announcing that he had made a discovery I would be quite excited about: he had just found the location of the armadillo burrow. Sure enough, there it was - well hidden and tucked in beside the Monstera philodendron, at the corner of the deck and house, going underneath the foundation.

So we dug out our livetrap and set it up, next to the burrow, with a concrete paver blocking off any other egress. To make a long story short, that didn't work.

In fact, it seemed to backfire with a vengeance. The next morning almost every bed in the yard had been mutilated, to one degree or another. Damage had never been this severe or widespread before. Several of my more special plants, including my Drimiopsis kirkii (South African hosta) and my Labrador violet, were almost totally uprooted. Everywhere roots were exposed and large holes had been left, thoroughly mixing the mulch with the dirt. I had visions of losing almost every fern and perennial in the yard.

I spent most of the day wondering if I should just quit trying to garden here. After all, we will be moving within the year. There will be no time to reestablish a garden; nor is there any point in spending the money to buy replacement plants. With our current heat and drought, trying to keep the uprooted plants alive, let alone flourishing, is going to be an incredible challenge.

To make me feel even more depressed, another pine tree was showing signs of dieback and my black swallowtail caterpillars appeared to have disappeared. (I can only watch the pine tree and see if the entire crown dies; the caterpillars are probably making new muscle or pinfeathers in two of the many birds, fledgling and adult, currently foraging in the yard.)

By yesterday evening, though, I had recovered enough optimism to fight back. One of the armadillo sites on the Internet mentioned that they don't like pine needles, and that seems to be borne out by the fact that our front yard beds, mulched exclusively with pine straw, haven't been bothered. So I remulched my most vulnerable bed with some chopped up pine straw mulch that I had piled up by the compost pile. We took the trap down, too, to make sure that we didn't force the armadillo into digging a new, undiscovered burrow.

The armadillo was quite active again last night, but at least it wasn't quite as destructive as far as uprooting plants. The pine straw mulch idea didn't work. This morning that bed was just as thoroughly dug up as any of the others. With the new level of damage each night, I'm beginning to suspect that we actually have a litter of young armadillos (they occur 4 at a time) living under the house, with or without their mother.

Despite all that, I'm retaining some optimism. Today we built a partial chute coming out from the burrow; tomorrow we'll complete it and try the livetrap again. If, after a few days, that doesn't work, we'll try harassing them out of the yard through mothballs or ammonia-/vinegar-soaked rags in the burrow, or our large, increasingly territorial, young German shepherd left out for a night or two. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that something will work. At this point, all I can do is keep trying.

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