What's with all the Baskets?
(Information provided with
permission from the author)
Any 2011 convention attendee saw plenty of hostas
planted in wire baskets in almost every garden on tour.
So what's up with the baskets? They are vole
deterrents, plain and simple.
Readers of The Hosta Journal as far back as the 1990's
could read about the trials and tribulations of battling voles on my
property in Connecticut.
seemed to be the only hosta gardener at the time who suffered from voles
eating the roots and crowns of hostas and killing the plants. The only
people who seemed familiar with voles were some of the nursery operators
who were having them get into potted plants. Slowly but surely others have
suffered the same gardening fate and have come to employ using wire baskets
as a barrier method of keeping voles from eating hostas. Planting in
baskets is the most labor-intensive way to stop voles, but it is also the
most effective. We've only had voles get into basketed hostas a few times,
and those were usually ones that had been stepped on, flattening them out
so the voles could walk right to their dinner. If the basket sticks out of
the ground at least an inch, we've never seen voles climb it to get to the
Nearly every hosta in this garden of 1500+ plants is
grown in a wire basket. The only exceptions are the minis because they
don't have enough crown material to attract voles to them, and volunteer
seedlings which might be nice enough to escape the compost pile but not
really special enough to warrant the extra protection of a basket.
My first attempt at vole protection involved planting
hostas by sinking nursery pots into the ground using a mix that was about
half garden soil. This was effective for protection, but the plants
deteriorated after a few years. Obviously they needed to be able to get
their roots out into the surrounding soil, and the idea of pulling them up
and repotting them every three years or so didn't have much appeal to me.
Tree roots from my red maples also got into the pots through the holes at
the bottom and effectively tied the plants to ground.
For round two, I thought I'd try hardware cloth made of
galvanized wire in a half-inch mesh. (2) It seemed the perfect solution for
letting plants grow naturally in the soil while protecting them from hungry
tunnellers. My mom Rita and I spent morning after morning constructing 25 a
day until we had about 400 made and planted. That was before plastic wire
ties, so each strand of wire was connected into a cylinder by bending each
one with needle-nose pliers.Talk about tedious! Fast forward to the next
stage, making wire cylinders using cable ties, which made it a little easier.
One drawback to this method appeared years later. The hardware cloth
cylinders expanded as the plants grew and spread open (3), allowing the
voles access to the plants. When making these, be sure to overlap the wire
a few inches to prevent this.
On to the newest thing in vole control, pre-made
vinyl-coated wire wastebaskets (4). These wire baskets have replaced the
nasty old hardware cloth ones completely in our garden. They are
purchased from dollar stores of any name, Dollar Tree, Happy Dollar, Dollar
General, etc. In the Eastern USA there is a chain called Christmas Tree
Shops, and they have the wastebaskets in stock at back–to-school time. They
come in many different colors and when I was first buying them I only
bought ones that were black, or brown, or green. Now I scour every store I
visit to see if they stock the baskets, and buy any size and any color they
have, as they have become difficult to find of late.
These pre-made baskets are a bargain for $1US, and we've
seen them hold up for 12 years or more in the ground. There are a few mail
order Internet spots where the baskets can be ordered in lots of one
hundred, but the shipping costs can be a bit high. Sharing an order has
been popular here in the Northeast USA. When all you can find are the funky
colors, a quick spray of paint(5) does the trick to help disguise their
existence. We prefer Rustoleum's Ultra Coat, which comes in several shades
of brown and covers better than the others, making a can goes a long
We have found that most hostas here will grow to a nice
size clump within the largest available basket. Occasionally, we have made
a specialty size for an ‘Empress Wu’ or ‘Key West’ giant by making a
cylinder out of hardware cloth wire and cable ties. The longest a cylinder
needs to measure is 12 inches ( 30.5 cm) so it can be deep enough for the
root ball and to keep voles from entering from beneath the wire barrier.
According to our local county extension office, they will only dig down 9
inches or so. For most hostas, however, we shorten the basket as shown(6)
to about 11 inches total with 9 inches buried. Hosta roots normally don't
go much deeper than that.
If you are experiencing damage and destruction from
voles in your garden and aren't afraid of a little extra work, I can
testify that wire baskets really work. They are the best deterrent,
especially if you are nervous about using poison baits. Below is the
step-by-step method that we've developed for using wire wastebaskets to
protect hosta crowns.
Planting in Cages
As with pretty much anything you
plant, you want to spread out the roots to allow them to have some freedom
in the ground. No plant really benefits from having its roots compacted
into an ever tighter pot- shaped ball. (7) Even very badly pot-bound root
balls should be teased loose and spread out before being planted into
a basket. (8)
Whatever mix you prefer to use in your garden beds can
be prepared in a wheelbarrow and used in a basket. We churn a wheelbarrow
full of soil from the planting hole and leaf compost with a good amount of
granular fertilizer (10-10-10 or similar). If planting in unamended soil,
be sure to include at least 70% mineral content, as too much organic
material will cause the plant to sink into the ground as the organics
deteriorate. Otherwise use a mix similar to the amended soil in mineral
Fill the bottom of the basket with enough mix to set the
crown 2 inches below the rim (top) of the wire surround, packing it in
firmly. Build up a mound (9) in the middle that the crown of the plant can
rest on. Set the plant on this mound and tuck the roots into the basket.
Add soil mix around the root ball. Be sure to pack the
soil around the roots to eliminate air pockets. Fill basket (10) with
enough soil to top out with one inch of mix above where the leaves come out
of the crown.
Dig a hole just large enough (11) to pack two inches of
garden soil around the outside of the basket and deep enough to allow that
one inch of wire basket at the top to protrude out of the soil. The end
result should have the level of the soil in the basket the same or slightly
higher than the surrounding soil. (12) Pack garden soil around to eliminate
air pockets and water as is normal for a newly-planted hosta.
Voles are surface travelers for the most part. They will
dig down once they have found a food source but when they are searching for
food, they tunnel along until they run into a rock or a tree trunk, or this
case a basket rim (13), then they go around it and continue on.
When newly planted, the baskets are obvious, but as the
clumps mature the leaves grow to cover the ground-level view and they
disappear into the landscape, as can be seen in the first two photos above.
A layer of mulch nicely hides the basket rims as well, but don't make it
That’s pretty much it. The baskets allow the roots of
the hostas to grow through while protecting the crown, but they aren't the
only roots that can grow through the baskets. (14) Planting in
baskets doesn’t help if you have tree root problems.
Where we have a root problem, we dig a bigger hole, and
line it with tree root fabric treated with SpinOut™ to slow down the root
invasion. Then put a basketed hosta in the middle, Filling the area between
the basket wall and the cloth with soil. (15) We also leave an inch or so
of that fabric extending above ground level also but that’s another
Good luck in your battles against the critters that also
love your hostas. We have found these wire baskets to be our best
defense against the mighty vole.