Archive for Thursday, May 7, 2009

Close the critter buffet: Plant selection helps ward off garden visitors

May 7, 2009


Are you the victim of nibbled tulips, gnawed green bean plants and scraped young trees? Bambi and Thumper are enjoying the spring buffet of lush growth and tender shoots, but you can deter their feast with careful plant selection and thoughtful control measures.

Even though some plants are advertised as being rabbit- and deer-proof, all plants are susceptible to being eaten by hungry wildlife. People might react the same way when famished; gladly eating less-preferred Brussels sprouts after all the radishes and lettuce are gone.

Sometimes an animal finds a particular plant they like best, also, and will keep coming back for the new growth throughout the season. A rabbit might only eat one hosta out of 50 but return if the plant is tasty enough.

Cottontail rabbits thrive in urban and suburban areas because several common landscape plants provide ideal nesting sites, and there are few rabbit predators in these areas. Deer are more common in rural areas and on the edges of town but are just as problematic.

In your landscape and flower beds, look for plants with hairy leaves and stems and/or strong fragrances. Plants like skunkbush sumac might be reserved for more adventurous gardeners, but juniper, redbud, viburnum, barberry, coralberry, buckthorn and sage are also high on the list of things rabbits rarely eat.

For deer, play it safe with perennials like yarrow, columbine, coneflower, lavender, daffodils, Russian sage, lamb’s ears, thyme and yucca, and with shrubs like barberry, boxwood, yew and rose-of-sharon.

Plants to avoid if you already have problems with rabbit and/or deer: asters, hostas, hybrid lilies, impatiens, pansies, tulips, baldcypress, white pine, burning bush, honeylocust and most fruit trees. These are deer and bunny favorites!

Plant selection is a harder method to employ in the vegetable garden. Green beans seem to be the critter favorite in my garden, but I keep trying to grow them because I would like to eat them, too. If you have trouble with rabbits and deer eating your vegetable plants, the better option is usually to employ other techniques like frightening and exclusion.

Young trees are another candidate for other control methods. There are few trees that deer dislike rubbing their antlers on, and rabbits often chew branches and bark of young trees when food is lacking in winter months.

There are several techniques to frighten rabbits and deer, including scarecrows, plastic owls, bars of soap, and hanging aluminum pie pans and CDs to blow in the wind. These methods are typically only effective until the animal gets used to the object being there, and may work for as little as a few days or as long as a few weeks. Alternating methods may buy your plants more time.

Low-mesh fences work well to keep rabbits out of a garden, but are not practical for most yards. Fences can be put in place for deer, too, but to be effective, the fence needs several wires, height and in some cases, electricity.

Repellents offer some protection from both animals but typically must be re-applied after every rain or snow. Repellents are not the best choice for a long-term solution, but can offer temporary relief like the frightening techniques. If you choose to use a repellent, make sure to follow all label requirements.

— Jennifer Smith is the horticulture agent for K-State Research and Extension- Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or


TopJayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Bow? No, bring me my shotgun. There's a reason they call it buckshot!!!

gr 8 years, 7 months ago

"Plant selection is a harder method to employ in the vegetable garden."

I don't know why. Given the same idea of, making different plant choices, it would follow to plant something like crabgrass in your vegetable garden. I don't understand why people think "plant selection" is effective in warding off garden visitors. Nothing different than saying, don't plant what you want. Nor, any different than saying, don't plant anything and they won't eat anything.

repaste 8 years, 7 months ago

Hey Jen, I have heard from many that 24: chicken wire laid flat on ground works great for deer.

repaste 8 years, 7 months ago

Hey Jen, I have heard from many that 24" chicken wire laid flat on ground works great for deer.

RoeDapple 8 years, 7 months ago

Okay Jenny, this explains the email you sent earlier this week


Marc Mondi 8 years, 7 months ago

Great article. I just bought my first house this past Fall, and have tons of hostas, tulips, and other deer/rabbit treats. Needless to say, I did not take preventative measures against these critters, and now my flowers are paying the price b/c of my ignorance. I'll be ready for next year!

gr 8 years, 7 months ago

"I'll be ready for next year!"

You mean by not planting "hostas, tulips, and other deer/rabbit treats"?

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