Great Gardening: What to do about the cute bunny that’s ruining your garden – Buffalo News

Manipulate the odds

I will not advocate hunting or trapping, and live-trapping and removal often just places the animal where it’s someone else’s problem – or puts it in a hostile, overpopulated environment anyway. My preference is to try to protect natural habitat wherever possible, in an attempt to balance the prey and predator populations. Give the rabbits a home, but also respect the needs of foxes, hawks and other predators.

For gardens and landscape plants, a few techniques can tilt the odds in favor of plant survival, with the goal of sending Cutie Bunny to eat something other than our plant collections. They all work, to some extent, depending upon our persistence and the rabbit population.

• Fencing: For rabbits, a 2-foot chicken wire fence usually suffices, the bottom buried a few inches into the soil – but remember that in winter the fence must reach well above snow level. In spring, a chicken wire or screening/mesh hoop or tunnel over bulb plantings – edges well buried – can protect the buds of young bulbs or plants. Take the wire off in time to enjoy the flowers or when guests are coming. (Having written this, I know that many gardeners will be quick to tell me about the time they took the fencing off the just-blooming tulip display, only to have every stem chewed down overnight.) Wire tree-guard cylinders with ½-inch mesh, sold in many garden centers or home supply stores, can protect young tree trunks.

• Shrub Coats and Covers: I wish I had covered a few more precious shrubs, including dwarf conifers, with one of the Shrub Coat line of products this year. Plants under the green teepees or sacks (UV-treated, knitted shade cloth) emerge from winter bright green and undamaged by deer, rabbits, wind and salt. The product is much better than burlap, that easily turns ragged and is readily chewed by animals. Shrub Coats were invented by a WNY professional landscaper, Steve Bakowski, and can be viewed or checked out online or at some local garden centers.

• Repellent sprays and sprinkles: I have observed good results with most commercial repellents as long as I repeat the applications often, especially after rain or snowfall. (There’s the rub – will we get to it often enough?) Many contain coyote or fox urine, and the product Thiram – well tested for effectiveness in deterring both rabbits and deer. Apply these just when you plant something new, because deer are creatures of habit; it helps to convince them early that a certain planting is not good. Similarly, I think it helps to persist with deterrents in spring and early summer when young deer are beginning to explore what they like and don’t like.

• Homemade products: Testimonials abound, claiming that deer or rabbits shun the odors of mothballs, dryer strips, human or dog hair, strong smelling soaps, garlic and human urine. Some folks report success with motion-activated light or sound systems, or scary props that resemble owls or snakes. These can’t hurt, but I just can’t promise they will save the hydrangeas.

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