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Keeping Rabbits Away from Desirable Plants in Your Garden and Landscape

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Question: How do I keep rabbits out of my vegetable and flower garden ? I have used several repellents but they have not been effective. K.T. Belle Meade, NJ.

Answer: Sometimes rabbits seem to appear out of nowhere and quickly locate their favorite plants in your landscape for an all you can eat buffet. Rabbits will eat many vegetables, including broccoli, beans, beet tops, carrots, lettuce and peas. They will devour many spring flowers including tulip shoots in the spring. Rabbits can also cause a great deal of damage by chewing the bark, buds and stems of woody plants.

Repellents

After teaching the Master Gardener program for 17 years, I believe I’ve heard almost every home remedy for repelling rabbits. Home repellents include socks packed with human hair to soap on a rope. Others have sprayed vinegar around plants or scattered cotton balls around their garden. Some people even use human, pet or other predator urine around the edge of the garden. Some of these remedies can work for a while in one location and yet have very little effect in another location. One repellent that has worked well in many situations is dried blood. The dried blood eventually breaks down and provides nutrients to the surrounding plants. There are many repellents on the market that are sprayed on the leaves of desirable plants. These repellents must be reapplied after a certain period of time or after rainfall in order to be effective.

Select repellents that are safe to use around children and pets. Some of the safest repellents include the use of black pepper and bone meal which can be applied directly to the rabbits favorite foods. These simple repellents will need to be reapplied more often in the beginning but rabbits will then develop a habit of feeding elsewhere. Repellents should be applied late in the day as rabbits will often do the bulk of their feeding at night.

Fences

One of the best ways to keep rabbits out of your garden is to use 2 to 3 foot chicken wire or any wire with 1 inch wide openings. The fence should be buried 3 to 6 inches below the soil surface. The bottom of the wire can be bent outward at a 90 degree angle away from the garden. This technique will prevent even the most tenacious of invaders from getting in your garden. Many rabbits will dig and crawl under the fence, if they can not jump over it. Some rabbits enter around garden gates or any openings where the fence is not secure or buried.

I use the plastic coated green wire which will last longer and will blend in with the garden. The standard non-galvanized less expensive wire can rust and present a hazard to gardeners.

In flower gardens, some gardeners will put up a temporary fence until the flowers become established. Once the flowers are mature, the fence can often be removed. In some cases, dried blood or other repellents can be used on or around more vulnerable plants.

Individual Tree and Plant Protectors

In order to protect trees from rabbits chewing off bark at the base, create a cylinder of wire 2 feet high on the tree. Keep the outside of the cylinder 1 to 2 feet away from the tree. Use ¼ inch hardware cloth or tightly woven fence. Be sure to bury the base of the protective cloth or wire fence at least 3 inches below the soil surface.

Trapping

I do not recommend traps for controlling rabbits. Rabbits have a tendency to injure themselves when trapped. In many areas it is illegal to release trapped rabbits and it is unwise to handle wild rabbits due to diseases that can be transmitted to people. The other problem is that people will often set traps and forget to check the traps. Animals left in traps can suffer needlessly and even die in the traps if left for extended periods.

Modifying Habitat for Control

In some cases, the rabbit population may be too high for you to tolerate. Take a look at your landscape to see if you have created the perfect habitat for rabbits. Rabbits need cover for protection. If you remove excess vegetation around fences, ditches or areas with thick brush, rabbits will move away to find better cover. Clean up debris or low lying branches under shrubs which can be used for cover. Seal off areas under storage buildings, decks or steps which can also provide cover.

Plants that Deter Rabbits

There are few truly rabbit proof plants. If the rabbit population is high and food is scarce, many plants will be on the menu. Some plants will be eaten when young but avoided once mature. There are some plants that rabbits and squirrels will avoid if there are alternative food sources. Some deterrent plants include the following:

Annuals such as Ageratum, Campanula, Impatiens, Forget Me Nots, Scabiosa and Cineraria;

Perennials such as Achilleaa(Yarrow), Amaryllus, Aqualegia(Coral Bells), Artemesia, Aster, Tuberous Begonia, Campanula, Cyclamen, Dahlia, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Digitalis (Foxglove), Echinacea (Coneflower), Ferns, Gaillardia, Hemerocallis (Daylilly) Iris, Monarda (Bee Balm) and Verbena.

Groundcovers such as Bougainvillea, Hedera (English Ivy) Lantana, Pachysandra, Solanum (Potato Vine) and Vinca

Shrubs and Herbs include Buddlea( Butterfly Bush), Boxwood, Camellias, Holly, Juniper, Lantana, Lavender, Rhododendron, Rosemary, Salvia, Mexican Sage, Lilac, and Viburnum

Trees include Maples, Cedar, Redbud, Ginko, Magnolia, Spruce, Pines and Oak.

Living with Nature – Many people enjoy sharing their landscape with rabbits, squirrels and birds. It is wise to strike a balance with nature in your landscape. Having small patches of clover in the landscape will provide a favorite food source for rabbits to deter them from eating more desirable plants. The right combination of fencing, repellents, deterrent plants and habitat modification can effectively reduce damage to landscape and garden plants.

You can log on to www.ifplantscouldtalk.rutgers.edu or www.rce.rutgers.edu for a complete list of rabbit deterrent plants and a wealth of gardening information for New Jersey.

Bill Hlubik is a Professor and Agricultural and Resource Management Agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension- The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers University . Bill is also a host of the “If Plants Could Talk” television series on NJN Public Television.

Plant Sale to Benefit EARTH Center and Middlesex County Master Gardener Program

RCE Middlesex Master Gardener Plant Sale at Ag Field Day this Saturday, April 28, 2007 at the Rutgers, Cook College Campus, New Brunswick, near Bartlett Hall from 9 am to 3 pm, Rain or Shine.

For a huge selection of unique vegetables, herbs and flowers, come visit my colleagues, Master Gardeners, and myself at our Ag Field Day Plant Sale. The famous Ramapo and Rutgers tomatoes as well as a great variety of heirloom and unique plants will be available. Go to http://agfieldday.rutgers.edu/ and click on events. Our plant sale is listed under Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County next to Bartlett Hall. We will be there rain or shine.