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Those Rascally Rabbits

Rabbit photo Anyone who has gardened for any length of time has encountered damage from those cute little bunnies that inhabit Wisconsin. And, there are two types of gardeners: those who like rabbits and those who do not appreciate losing their hard work and food to cute lagomorphs. (They are not rodents as many people think.)

According to University of Wisconsin studies, the average cottontail lives less than a year. However, it can raise as many as 6 litters of young in that year with an average of 6 young per litter. Fortunately, because of the dangers from disease, hunters, weather, cars, etc. less than 7% of that population makes it to one year of age.

In the spring and summer, rabbits primarily feed on herbaceous plants, including flowers and vegetables. If plants are cut down at a sharp 45˚ angle, suspect rabbit damage. Rabbits like a smorgasbord of food, including lettuce, broccoli, beets, carrots, peas, tulip tops and other spring flowers.

There are as many home remedies for repelling rabbits as there are gardeners. Some people recommend putting a length of hose in the garden to simulate a snake. Some suggest bottles of water thinking that rabbits are afraid of their distorted image. Others use a variety of repellents, including urine or hair from human and animal sources, moth balls (dangerous to children), fish spray, vinegar, pepper spray and more. The only repellent that actually does work is dried blood. It will break down after time and provide nutrients to the plants; however, it must be applied after each rain.

Altering the habitat to discourage the rabbit population is helpful. Rabbits need cover for protection. Therefore, remove excess vegetation from ditches, fences, and overgrown areas. Seal off areas under decks, buildings, steps, and sheds. However, if you practice habitat control and your neighbors do not, it will be a losing battle.

If food sources are low, rabbits will eat nearly anything. However, there are some things that they are less likely to eat when food is plentiful. They tend to avoid tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and anything in the squash family. Annuals that they are less fond of include: Ageratum, Campanula, Impatiens, and Forget Me Nots. Perennials they are less likely to eat are: Yarrow, Amaryllis, Coral Bells, Aster, Tuberous Begonia, Cyclamen, Dahlia, Bleeding Heart, Digitalis (Foxglove), Echinacea (Coneflower), Ferns, Gaillardia, Daylily, Iris, Monarda (Bee Balm) and Verbena. Rabbits are less likely to feast on the following shrubs: Butterfly Bush, Boxwood, Camellias, Holly, Juniper, Lavender, Rhododendron, Lilac, and Viburnum.

The only reliable method to keep rabbits out of a garden is exclusion. A 2 foot tall fence with mesh less than one inch, either fit snugly to the ground or buried several inches is sufficient. Some gardeners will temporarily fence their tender flowers until there are large enough that the rabbits do not find them desirable and then they remove the fence

A combination of altering habitat, planting rabbit resistant plants, and exclusion will yield the best results in controlling these happy little munchers.

Carol Shirk

Certified Master Gardener

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