David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
Controlling garden Godzillas
How to stop those cute and voracious carrot eaters
April makes me think of Easter and of course Easter lilies. They are marginally hardy in Illinois and best treated as a potential fall re-blooming flower if stuck in the ground at the end of this month. And if the winter is mild and you’re in the bottom third of the state and throw on lots of mulch, it just might live for another year.
Easter also makes a gardener think, however briefly in a smile-inducing positive fashion, of rabbits. Bunnies are cute when dressed in human clothing, delivering chocolate eggs in plastic grass-lined baskets, or hopping merrily down the bunny trail, hippity-hoppity.
That moment comes and goes when spring gardening is in full tilt. Then rabbits, however cute and cuddly-looking only a few weeks earlier, take on the persona of an evil garden Godzilla.
Rabbits have the lock on the animal world “cuteness” factor. They tend to be innocuous, blending in with the grass, trees, shrubs and bark. Their furriness makes you just want to pick them up and cuddle them to the point where you are about ready to squeeze them to death.
And to top it off, they hop from place to place. Dogs run and lope all over the place. Cats slither and just move sneakily as if they are hiding something, which they probably are.
Rabbits hop. Sure, they run every now and then when the above mentioned dog spies them and decides that the game is on. But minus the predator, rabbits hop and then stop and then hop some more and then stop. We smile at them and think back to some of our childhood games of hopping around.
If rabbits ate nothing but dandelions and crabgrass, or if their DNA was somehow ingrained to go after Japanese beetles, they would be nature’s perfect creature.
As it is, their DNA tells them to aim for the tender young vegetables and flower transplants as well as perennials poking up through the ground in April and May. Occasionally, they’ll seek out the young sapling or shrub to chew on, though this is to grind down their teeth as opposed to sustaining their life.
There are more green thumbers who swear at the rabbits than those that try to prevent them. It’s almost “I really hate you Mr. Rabbit, but you are so darn cute that I’m just going to get mad at you, but plant the peas, carrots, marigolds and lettuce in the exact same way so you can make another meal off them.”
Some swear by the gunpowder, though that’s not the best route, especially if rabbit hunting is out of season. Others resort to a large dog that may be faster than the rabbit, though sometimes the rabbits are so sneaky and can stand stark still for so long that you don’t see them move.
There are some rabbit repellent chemicals. Some work. Most make you feel good while the rabbit, like a squirrel, sits and hops around in circles, still trying to figure out how to get the tender plants.
Many of the repellents also have to be constantly applied, especially after a typical spring rain.
Ultimately, if you want to protect an area from rabbits, you have to exclude them, you have to fence them out.
A simple chicken wire fence is good enough because most won’t jump over it, unless chased by a dog at which time the rabbit’s vertical leap seems to multiply by 10 and even a 2 foot fence is nothing more than a low hurdle. At that time, the dog jumps over or crashes through the fence and your garden is mangled by both. True, nothing is eaten. Only damaged.
Rabbits are also crafty like foxes. They can look at that fence, but then realize they might be able to crawl or dig under it. And they do.
To get around that, bend about 6 inches of the bottom of the fence toward the garden and put some bricks on it. Burying it would be ideal, but that may involve trenching around the entire plot or yard.
Then again, you can always provide scraps for the rabbit in some other location in the yard with the hopes that he or she will leave your other plants alone.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
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