The other day as I ran down my driveway, pointy hoe swinging over my head, ranting after a rabbit, I realized I had turned into Mr. McGregor. So this is what it has come to. I know these crepuscular critters are just trying to survive, but give me a break!
Harassment is often recommended by the DNR as an appropriate way of dealing with problem wildlife. The idea is to make your property inhospitable to creatures that have become acclimated and desensitized to human presence. I don’t know if Sylvilagus floridanus or Eastern cottontail is on their list for this treatment, but it sure felt good for a moment until the furry little varmint reappeared from under a bush.
It wasn’t always this way. My rabbit problems have escalated since moving to this fair state. When I lived and gardened in Kansas, I used to brag about the baby rabbits nestled near my lettuce patch, confident that there was plenty for all. Back then, rabbits seemed to have eyes only for the clover in my lawn. But nowadays, it’s like my raised-bed veggie garden has a neon “All-you-can-eat” sign.
Rabbit solutions? I’ve tried many, with varying degrees of success.
You can buy repellents made with coyote or fox urine. Although I don’t want to know how they create these concoctions, claims of their effectiveness generally rate high. The various product formulations I actually use include putrefied egg solids, garlic, pepper or even herbal oils like mint and rosemary that are supposed to offend the rabbits’ highly developed sense of smell. (I always manage to bring some of the fragrance inside on my shoes.) Sometimes repellents work, other times not so well.
Repellents’ efficacy depends upon the hunger level of the rabbit. Some rabbits will leave older, tougher plants alone, preferring to dine only upon the tenderest shoots. Regardless of whether you use granules or spray repellent, you’ll need to reapply them after every heavy watering or rain.
So-called rabbit-proof plants like marigolds, sage, bee balm, chives, rosemary, black-eyed Susan and lamb’s ears rely on fuzzy textures or pungent odors or flavors to defend themselves.
Humane trapping of rabbits is legal. Once caught, you may dispose of them as you wish, with the exception of using poison. If you decide on a relocation plan, 5 miles is the advised distance, and you should obtain permission before releasing them on private or public land. We have tried relocation on occasion, but sheer numbers this season make it impractical. Plus, I can’t help but imagine some sort of round-robin arrangement of various gardeners heading out nightly “across town” to set free captured rabbits, simply recycling a lot of confused cottontails.
If you have only a few ornamentals or a small veggie garden to defend, there are row covers made of gauze or netting that can be draped over hoops or pop-up tent-like structures, available online, that provide sufficient temporary protection. I sometimes use mesh picnic food covers for a decorative short-term answer.
Fences are by far the best way to exclude rabbits from your cherished plants. The question is how much do you fence before your garden looks like a prison camp? If aesthetics weren’t important, I would surround my raised beds with chicken wire and be done. But I love the look of my garden as much as I love the delicious bounty.
Seeing my heartache at the rabbits’ garden destruction last year, my husband took matters in hand. He engineered an electric-wire enclosure that was barely visible. Of course, you couldn’t casually reach across and grab a weed without a shocking reminder. And the rabbits? They were seen jumping over the wire, while a couple of chipmunks squeaked under. I appreciate the effort, Honey.
Continuing my quest for the most effective but attractive rabbit fencing, I considered the inexpensive metal garden edging, available at most box stores and garden centers. However, the curlicues and other designs are too widely spaced — and still allow access.
I finally settled on a more expensive but also more effective solution by purchasing expandable willow fencing online. It stretches accordion-style to fit different lengths so I was able to make it 2 feet high at its upper limit (the recommended height for rabbit control). I staked the fencing upright with bamboo sticks and secured those with zip ties. I like the rustic look, and hopefully it will last several seasons if I store it inside in winter.
Some folks still swear by mothballs or soap bars but I’d rather leave that stuff out of my garden. The smell offends me just as much as it offends pests — not to mention pets and children may find them before the rabbits do. Indeed, the presence of a dog or cat may help deter rabbits.
Meanwhile, as I perch in the window seat with my laptop writing this very story, I’ve counted seven rabbits in my peripheral vision as they hippety-hop across the yard. It’s like they’re taunting me.
Rhonda Fleming Hayes is a Minneapolis-based garden writer who blogs at thegardenbuzz.com. She is the author of “Pollinator-Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and Other Pollinators,” available at Amazom.com/plt.