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Archive for Sunday, April 4, 2010

Gardeners gird for annual face-off with rabbits

April 4, 2010

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When Barbara Jenkins first moved to her home in New York’s Hudson Valley, she fell in love with the wildlife, including the “cute little bunnies” who romped so close.

Several years and many nibbled gardens later, the fluffy-tailed hoppers were not quite so cute anymore.

After watching the rabbits help themselves to her tomatoes and squash blossoms, Jenkins, of New City, erected a garden-protecting fence, which they adeptly found their way around. She sprinkled pepper flakes on the plants, which lasted only as long as the plants stayed dry. Planting marigolds — which Jenkins heard repelled rabbits — didn’t work either.

“They just bypassed them and went right on in,” she said.

Now that spring has officially sprung, home gardeners throughout the country are starting to lovingly prep, plant and — hopefully — protect their gardens. That often means facing off against rabbits.

“It’s usually when you first start putting in the little plants, the seedlings, that the damage is really done,” said John Hadidian, director of the Humane Society of the United State’s urban wildlife program, adding that gardeners in no part of the country are spared.

“Rabbits are everywhere,” he said.

The reality is there are no magic tricks for keeping bunnies at bay, experts said. There are some simple ways to try to protect plants — such as installing fencing or shade cloths that make them less attractive — but gardeners are unlikely ever to emerge the victor in this age-old battle, Hadidian said.

First, he said, rabbits are timid and largely transient — meaning that even once you’ve seen and identified your garden invaders, they could be long gone, munching elsewhere, by the time you figure out how to keep them out.

Those that do stick around tend to multiply — and multiply quickly. Known for being prolific, rabbits have babies young and quickly, something Hadidian said developed as “their strategy to cope with the fact that everyone wants to hunt and eat them.”

The species that like to eat rabbits — hawks, foxes and owls, to name a few — are not always present in suburban or edge neighborhoods. And then there’s the problem that rabbits — which are actually not rodents, as commonly believed, but their own genus called lagomorphs — are attracted to homegrown gardens for much the same reason we are: They taste good.

“Like any herbivore, there are preferred foods and less preferred foods,” Hadidian said.

Garden-eating rabbits are only doing what nature programmed them to do, he said, so go easy on them.

“You can solve a conflict without harming them,” he said.

Susan Littlefield, the National Gardening Association’s horticulture editor, said the best way to rabbit-proof a garden is to install a fence that’s about 2 feet high — 3 feet if you’re up against larger hares.

In either case, rabbit fences should be made of 3/4-inch wire mesh, and should extend down into the ground about a foot. The underground wire barrier should also include about an extra foot that is placed at a right angle away from the garden, creating an underground L-shape, she said.

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