Tuesday, October 13, 2009

They're baaaack!

Line from a movie or line from Anchorage residents heard about this time of year.  You decide.  Our topic today, an Alaska gardener's adversary, the moose.  I get a kick out of gardeners in the Lower 48 whining about the deer problem down there.  I say, get a dog and stop fussing.  Moose don't care for dogs, but I know most dogs don't want to be stomped by a moose.  My sister-in-law's dog was dumb enough to jump on top of one laying in the snow.  Kapow.  Kung fu moose.  That dog was stomped.  Luckily the snow was deep and he just sunk way, way down.  The two moose pictured are eating the willow (Salix) trees in my neighbor's yard. 

What's the big deal about a moose in the ol' yard, folks in the contiguous U.S. will say.  What's so different about it than our deer?  How about a couple of stats from the Alaska Fish and Game website: up to 1600 lbs. and 7 feet at the shoulder.  You really want that in your garden looking for dinner?  I sure don't, but they are cruising neighborhoods this time of year looking for grub.  They aren't really desperate yet, but just wait four months or so.  That Prunus maackii (Amur chokecherry) they passed up in October could be on the buffet in February.  It depends on how hungry they happen to be at the time.  And, according to some long-time gardeners, it depends on the moose.   Something moose won't touch in Sand Lake might be on the menu for moose in the Muldoon area.  I guess this means we have to be moose whisperers, knowing what "our" moose like and planting accordingly.  Or you could plant the moose equivalent of brussel sprouts.

Some plants that are at the very, very bottom of the menu for the moose would include spruce trees (Picea), mugo pines (Pinus mugo) pictured, certain roses with really vicious prickers, like Rosa rugosa 'Wild Spice', and aromatic perennials or herbs.  Many perennials with a silver cast or fuzzy texture would fall in this category, for example: Achillea (yarrow), Stachys byzantina (lamb's ears), or Artemisia

Keep in mind that if they are starving, they will eat nearly any plant (or bark from most trees).  One stripped my neighbor's small pine tree a couple years ago.  It looked like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree!  I didn't think they ate evergreen trees before I saw that happen.  Also, they may destroy the leading shoot of a young tree trying to see if they like it.  Moose snapped off the leading shoots on all three of my hand-picked Prunus maackii specimens and now I have the difficult job of trying to re-train a new leader.  They didn't eat the branches they broke.  They were just sampling it and left the broken branches on the ground.  Sort of like chewing up a chocolate and then putting it back in the box.  Thanks but no thanks.

There are some plants that the moose will eat, or at least try (and mangle in the process), nearly every time encountered.  High on the list are Sorbus (mountain ash) pictured, Cornus (dogwood), and Salix (willow).  A good way to know if moose are around your neighborhood is whether anything is about to bloom.  They seem to have a sixth sense about this.  If the tulips are about to bloom on your side of town, bam, they are decapitated or eaten to the ground by morning.  Have your heart set on watching the dramatic unfolding of a peony over the course of a few days?  Don't blink or it may be all over 'til next year. 

Like many of us, they are fond of homegrown fruits and vegetables.  You have an unfenced veggie garden at your own (major) risk in this state.  Check my post "Of moose with the munchies" for a few preventative tips or ring up the cooperative extension, always a wealth of info.  If all else fails, some gardener's swear by an electrified fence.  Keeps the bears out, too, I hear.

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