Help rabbits control their taste for gourmet greens
Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 26, 2019, “Keep your garden safe from rabbits.”
By Barb Gorges
“Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries. But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!”
–The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
It must have been Peter Rabbit I caught snipping my green tulip buds the morning of May 1 as they lay helpless in a patch of melting snow. I saw him through a window and ran out in my bare feet to shoo him away. Then I walked the dog back and forth a few times—this being the unfenced front yard.
I picked up the six tulip buds, each left with a 4 to 6-inch stem, and put them in a vase inside. I’m happy to say they ripened and opened. The other buds, left unscathed, recovered from the snow and also bloomed.
The tulip vandal couldn’t have been my regular rabbit, one of Peter’s well-behaved sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy or Cotton-tail. There’s a rabbit sitting in the front yard almost every day and my garden beds have never been attacked before. Well, except the time I tried pansies in the whiskey barrel planter and the rabbits jumped in and ate them all. Since then I grow only hardy perennials in the front yard.
The backyard is where Peter Rabbit would find his favorite vegetables, but there are three rabbit deterrents: the raised beds (higher than the old whiskey barrel), the dog, and the concrete block wall. The gates have vertical bars in the lower half less than 2 inches apart. Our biggest garden problem is hail attacks and so our tomatoes grow under hardware cloth-covered frames.
But last summer, I was shocked when the 900 seedlings and assorted mature plants we planted in the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (between the flagpole and parking lot) were nearly completely obliterated by rabbits.
Last fall we planted a couple hundred bulbs there and the rabbits didn’t dig very many up before we fenced it in March. It isn’t an elegant fence, but it is keeping the rabbits out and allowing plants to make a comeback. Perhaps when the plants mature and get tough stems, we can try going fenceless.
I realize it is ironic that we are establishing wildlife habitat and fencing out rabbits. There is plenty for rabbits to eat in the rest of Lions Park. They are food for other animals. They are prolific, but only live two years, providing they are the 15 percent making adulthood. The CBG rabbits feed the resident Cooper’s hawks.
Laramie County Master Gardener Kim Parker said her solution is dogs and fencing, “At our house, we have successfully used low, 18″ fencing to keep the bunnies out while my garden establishes, then we take it down and ‘let them eat cake.’
“Most of the year, I don’t think they eat hardly anything (at least not that I notice), although I notice that in the winter they nibble on some grass and grape hyacinth leaves. Weird. They also have spots in our buffalo grass lawn where they like to rest, but the dog keeps them from lingering long.
“So, dogs and fencing (I recommend), and perhaps using plants that they don’t want to eat, or that are vigorous enough that it doesn’t matter if they get eaten, grape hyacinth or fall asters for example.”
The Wyoming Master Gardener Handbook says there are rabbit repellants you can spread around or spray on your plants, but they are only effective until it rains. Be careful what you spray on vegetables you’ll eat. Ultrasonic devices are ineffective. Eliminating access to hiding spots, like nearby brushy areas (or that juniper hedge next to the Habitat Hero garden) is important.
Fencing is the only sure-fire cure. For cottontails, the handbook recommends 30 inches high and for jackrabbits (hares), 36 inches, preferably something like chicken wire with small openings. If rabbits gnaw on your trees and shrubs, wrap pieces of quarter-inch hardware cloth around trunks, 30-36 inches high.
At the CBG much of the fence is up against the sidewalk so rabbits can’t dig their way in. Otherwise, you need to allow for an extra 12 inches of fencing beyond the height you want: 6 inches at the bottom bent at a 90-degree angle to the outside of the garden and then bury that flange 6 inches deep.
Remember, if you decide to have a rabbit for dinner, you must follow the Wyoming Game and Fish Department hunting and trapping regulations.