What's with all the Baskets?
Carol Brashear, Woodbury, Connecticut
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.
I 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 plant.
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
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.
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 way.
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
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
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 content.
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
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
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
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 too deep.
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
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.