Elmer Fudd isn’t the only guy gunning for “wascally wabbits”. Gardeners consider the fluffy furballs a major nuisance. In a single day, an entire patch of vegetables can be wiped out by Peter Rabbit and his varmint friends.
City slickers may not appreciate how annoying it is to see hours of labor, considerable expense, and future meals destroyed by a mere rodent. How best, then, to protect your garden plants from these voracious herbivores?
Before we go any further, rest assured that we aren’t talking about rabbits bred to be friendly, meek, domesticated pets. No indeed, we have our sights set on the wily, wild members of the Leporidae family.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why there are so many children’s stories and folk tales about rabbits and hunting them down? One reason is that they are good eating. Another, as already mentioned, is that they prey on our home-grown vegetables.
Not only that, we have the expression “to breed like rabbits” for a very good reason. I was intrigued to find out that one mama cat and her offspring can potentially bear more than 40,000 cats in seven years. That’s a lot of Meow Mix, people.
But compare all those kitties to Mother Rabbit who could, conservatively speaking, produce a whopping 184,597,433,860 rabbits in seven years! (For those of us who are somewhat math-challenged, that’s over 184 BILLION garden slayers.)
The war on rabbits is as old as agricultural cultivation. Protecting your garden from these roving rodents requires a three-pronged approach that consists of:
- Trapping the varmints
- Repelling the critters
- Barricading the plants
Let’s examine each of these methods.
First, it’s very helpful to understand that rabbits like to hide and seek shelter in tall grass and overgrown areas. Eliminate their preferred habitats by mowing grass and raking leaves regularly. Pull weeds to prevent overgrowth. Trim back excessive vegetation. Clean up piles of debris, brush, and wood. Fill in any abandoned burrows in your yard with gravel to prevent rabbits from commandeering these pre-fabricated homes, especially in cold or wet weather.
Second, rabbit behavior is seasonal. During the Spring and Summer months, they devour flower gardens as well as vegetable crops such as beans, peas, cabbage, carrots, and lettuce; eat grass, clover, and alfalfa; and nibble away at young seedlings. As Autumn turns into Winter, however, they shift their attention to occupying animal burrows, girdling the bark of young trees, clipping twigs, and chewing on woody plants and shrubs.
It’s pretty obvious where you’ve got a rabbit problem – simply follow the carnage. The other morning, a bold young rabbit hopped over to my garden as I was watering the Brussels Sprouts – which are members of the cabbage family. “Ah ha!” I thought. “Deer schmeer, I have a rabbit problem.”
(I also have a deer problem but we can discuss that later, in another article.)
Now that we’ve analyzed the situation, it’s time to talk about solutions.
- If your local laws allow it, catch rabbits and other pesky varmints (such as squirrels) with a “tender trap” – so called because bait lures the unsuspecting inside where a trip-lever arrangement slams shut the exit door without harming the prisoner.
Also called a live rabbit trap, it is best suited to places with medium to light rabbit populations or in the winter, when fresh produce is limited, making the trap bait even more attractive. Here’s how to do it:
Put your trap in an area with the most rabbit damage. Position the trap a couple of days before baiting it so the rabbits have time to get used to it and accept the fact that it is, apparently, harmless and part of the scenery. Camouflage the trap by placing grass, twigs, and branches on the inside and top of the cage, as well as alongside it. Make it blend into its surroundings.
Bait the trap with your garden produce they have already grown to love, apple slices or other rabbit food placed strategically toward the rear of the trap, on or behind the trigger plate.
Set the trap and check it frequently. Again, if it’s legal to relocate the rabbit, truck it at least five miles from your home or risk its return.
There are alternatives to setting these fast-breeding pests free, but I’ll leave that to your imagination to avoid offending all you animal lovers out there.
- Repel rabbits with commercial products such as “Critter Ridder.” These come in two basic kinds: Sprinkle the ground with granular repellents to create an unpleasant barrier around your yard, gardens or flowerbeds. Or spray liquid repellents onto surfaces such as trees, seedlings, flowers, fruits, vegetables, the lawn, and mulch.
A third type of repellent is electronic. These clever devices wait for a rabbit to approach and then “wet” its appetite with sudden jets of water.
- Barricade the plants by getting some wire mesh fencing to rig around them. This is the best way to go in areas with lots of rabbits. The mesh (or chicken wire) opening needs to be no more than one inch to keep out the small, young varmints.
Remember that rabbits dig their burrows and they will try to dig under your protective fencing. Bury the bottom edge between 6-10 inches deep to thwart them.
Rabbits also hop, right? They can leap over short barriers so make sure your fencing stands two or three feet above ground level.
Above all, the gardener who hesitates is lost, given how fast rabbits reproduce. Once crop damage is noticeable, take immediate action or face the prospect of a full-on battle against a horde of hungry hares.