An Abundance of Bunnies

An Abundance of Bunnies

I was amused to see that for several weeks the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension’s landscape message ended with four words: “An abundance of rabbits.” If you live on Cape Cod, truer words were never spoken. We all have bunnies – many of them – so in this blog we’re sharing the strategies for gardening peacefully with the cottontails.

Our goal is to keep rabbits in the lawn, or on the wilder edges of our properties, not in the flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Animals are creatures of habit.

The first thing to know is that animals tend to repeatedly come to the same places to eat. So our goal is to make sure that the rabbits don’t get into the habit of feasting in our flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. If they can safely eat in the lawns and wild places, or nibble on the weeds growing in our driveways or patios, they will get into the routine of eating in those areas. Successfully “training” your bunnies requires immediate attention and planning, however. Here are ways to show the bun-buns that your flowers and produce are not on their menu.

Rabbit repellants.

For ornamental plants that you’re not going to eat, spraying with a rabbit repellant is most effective. Liquids that are sprayed right on the plants are more effective than granular. To be successful, spray any plants that the bunnies have shown a fondness for when they first come up in the spring. In most perennial gardens, for example, rabbits love Hosta and Echinacea, so spray those and any other plant that have gotten munched in the past.

Whenever you plant a new annual or perennial in your garden, spray it immediately with a repellant, even if it’s a plant that “rabbits aren’t supposed to like.” New plants are often fresh from a greenhouse or grower, and are more tender and delicious than what’s already in the garden. So you need to tell Thumper that this new plant is not for him, and spraying it with a repellant immediately is important. When I put something new in my flower gardens, I don’t go to bed that night until I’ve sprayed it with a repellant.

The longest lasting rabbit repellant is Plantskydd, which is blood based. Since rabbits are herbivores, and don’t eat animal products, repellants are made with egg, milk or blood. Those are the ingredients that make a repellant work with rabbits. Any other ingredients such as fragrant oils or garlic, aren’t what keeps the bunnies away. (Plantskydd is also very effective for repelling deer.) You don’t want to use these products on your edible plants, however.

Plantskydd is a blood-based repellant that is highly effective for keeping ornamental plants safe from rabbits and deer. Although you can see and smell it the day you apply it to plants, you won’t detect it the next day. Animals will smell it for months, however. If you apply Plantskydd early in the spring when plants are emerging, you’ll want to reapply in a couple of weeks to cover the newer growth. You don’t usually have to reapply very often once a plant has grown and the bunnies are in the habit of eating elsewhere.

Protecting vegetables from rabbits.

Since you can’t use the blood/milk/egg based repellants on vegetable gardens, it’s best to use physical barriers for your edibles. For most people, this means a fence. For years I got away with putting the veggies that bunnies liked the best – my broccoli, kale, and green beans – in a special fenced area that we called “the bunny bin.” Lately, however, the rabbit population has grown so much that we’ve had to fence our entire garden.

We have several types of fencing materials that work for rabbits, from chicken wire to hardware cloth. Be sure that the openings in your fencing are small enough to keep even the baby bunnies out.
This is C.L. Fornari’s original “bunny bin” where they grow peas and cucumbers up the large wire panels but the bottom has chicken wire that keeps the rabbits out. In the past, the bunnies never ate her chard, leeks, etc. Now the Fornari’s have had to fence the entire garden.

Vegetables that rabbits don’t eat.

It’s always chancy to list plants that bunnies don’t eat, because as soon you do some renegade rabbit will take a liking to it. That said, the cottontails don’t usually eat vegetables in the Solanum family: eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and ground cherries. So if there is no way to fence part of your garden, plant these crops in the unfenced areas.

Grow plants up high.

When you raise plants high enough, the bunnies won’t be able to reach them. Grow things in raised beds, pots and boxes that are at least two and a half feet off the ground. You can put flower pots on top of other flower pots that are turned upside down, or on chairs, tables or birdbath stands. Use a silicon seal or other adhesive to hold heavy pots on smaller supports.

This pot was placed on top of another flower pot to keep the bunnies from nibbling the flowers.
An older birdbath stand was used to hold a pot well out of the bunny’s reach on this deck. This can be a good way to grow parsley, or other plants that the rabbits love.

Perennials that rabbits don’t (usually) eat.

Try these perennials in your Cape Cod perennial garden: catmint (Nepeta), lambs ears (Stachys byzantina), lavender (Lavendula), Russian sage (Perovskia), hummingbird mint (Agastache), hardy Hibiscus, cranesbill Geranium, and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Although bunnies will eat daylily foliage very early in the spring when not much else is up, they usually leave this plant (Hemerocallis) alone once there are other plants growing. Fortunately, bunnies don’t eat Cape Cod’s signature shrub, the blue hydrangea!

Plant clover in your lawn.

Many people find that adding white clover to the lawn keeps the rabbits happily eating those leaves so that they don’t feast in the flower gardens.

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3 Comments

  1. Maggie on June 22, 2022 at 5:21 pm

    thank you CL that was very helpful!

  2. Shawn Dahlstrom on June 23, 2022 at 7:21 am

    Our fenced garden will not keep out chipmunks that scale the fence and forage for some plants. Have you any suggestions?

    • CLFornari on June 27, 2022 at 2:49 pm

      Chipmunks are impossible to keep out unless you have a fence that is made of hardware cloth and is about 6 feet tall. I wish we had better news….

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