Oh, honey, we got bun­nies!

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - LOCAL DIRT - By Ta­nia Mof­fat

That’s it, both the dog and cat are fired. Lit­tle bunny prints can be seen com­ing out from un­der the front porch and from un­der the shed. There are sev­eral sets of prints so it is likely that at least two new fam­i­lies will be join­ing ours this spring.

Why the wor­ried faced honey, they’re only bun­nies?

Any­one who has had bun­nies in their yard and has tried to grow a gar­den, of any sort, know that un­der­neath those doe­ful eyes and pretty perky ears lies a bot­tom­less pit of a stom­ach. Bun­nies can eat and eat and eat and eat. And what they love to eat is ex­actly what you don’t want them to eat. Fresh grass? No. Weeds? Heck no. Pre­cious lit­tle flow­ers try­ing to wake up from a long win­ter? Uh huh! Lovely heads of let­tuce, rosy radishes or ten­der beans from the veg­etable gar­den? Most def­i­nitely!

If you’ve ever wo­ken up one morn­ing to check on the sta­tus of your bud­ding spring flow­ers or progress of your new veg­etable plants peek­ing out of the soil only to dis­cover that they are gone. To­tally gone, eaten right down to the soil, you can likely blame these lit­tle dar­lings who will wipe out en­tire young crops with their vo­ra­cious ap­petite. You can con­firm that they are the cul­prits by look­ing for drop­pings or foot­prints in the soil and if the plants look like they have been cut clean, al­most as if with clip­pers, you have a bunny prob­lem.

Bun­nies pre­fer to feed un­der the cloak of dark­ness when they feel safer from preda­tors. Not much is safe from these crit­ters. They love their beans, broc­coli and let­tuces sure, but even flow­ers aren’t safe. Marigolds, pan­sies, and petu­nias are some of their favourites, but a cu­ri­ous young bunny will try al­most any­thing.

The ques­tion is what do we do with these adorable lit­tle mon­sters. Some peo­ple have sug­gested rab­bit stew, and while rab­bits are nu­tri­tious and tasty, it’s not le­gal or safe to eat the wild dar­lings in­hab­it­ing your yard, be­sides they are rather cute. You can still threaten them, not that it will bother them one bit.

Bunny, bunny go away

So how do we pro­tect our gar­dens against these adorable pests? It is not easy.

Pre­ven­tion re­gard­ing habi­tat removal is an easy way to stop the prob­lem be­fore it starts. How­ever, it is eas­ier said than done. You can start by board­ing up ar­eas that are en­tic­ing for them to nest in: block any open­ings un­der porches, low decks or sheds. Re­move piles of wood or brush which pro­vide shel­ter and pro­tec­tion

from preda­tors. Of course hav­ing a dog or cat around will help, pro­vided they show some in­ter­est in chas­ing the rab­bits rather than rais­ing an eyebrow as they much the flower bas­kets in front of them. Nat­u­ral preda­tors such as foxes, hawks, owls and snakes will also help so don’t shoo them away.

Fenc­ing and net­ting are a good first line of de­fence. En­sure your fence is buried at least three to six inches un­der­ground to pre­vent them from bur­row­ing un­der it, and at least two feet high to keep them from jump­ing over it. Chicken wire works well as a fence for in­di­vid­ual plant pro­tec­tion.

Boo!

Prey an­i­mals have to al­ways be alert for preda­tors so scare the lit­tle pants off them. Again hav­ing a dog or cat in the yard can help, as will home reme­dies like flash­ing lights, pie pans, or de­vices like fake owls or hawks and ul­tra­sonic de­vices. But, bun­nies are smart so you will have to al­ter­nate these ev­ery so of­ten or they will be­come ac­cus­tomed to them, and they will cease to be ef­fec­tive.

Re­pel them with re­pul­sive odours and flavours

Re­pel­lents wouldn’t be a great de­fence for ed­i­bles as they may ruin the crop for both rab­bits and hu­mans. Also re­pel­lents need to be reap­plied over time and after it rains adding up costs. Sev­eral home­made reme­dies have had mod­er­ate suc­cess: putting tal­cum pow­der on the leaves, mix­ing up a con­coc­tion of gar­lic, onions, and hot pep­pers in oil or wa­ter and spray­ing it on the leaves, and plac­ing bags of Ir­ish Spring soap shav­ings around the gar­den.

Us­ing mul­ti­sen­sory tac­tics can be most help­ful by com­bin­ing re­pel­lents with fenc­ing and scare tac­tics.

Out plant them

There are two things you can do to out­smart rab­bits with plants. One you can try plant­ing things they dis­like such as gar­lic, squash, toma­toes, basil, oregano, gera­ni­ums, wax be­go­nias and the like. But again, if they are hun­gry don’t count on this to de­ter them ei­ther. The list of plants they dis­like is much shorter than the list of plants that they en­joy.

The other op­tion is to fence in your gar­den and plant a bunny gar­den for them a nice safe dis­tance from your gar­den. It may seem silly, but a de­coy gar­den may keep them at bay from the plants you want to save.

Trap­ping

Most ex­perts will ad­vise not to trap an­i­mals. If you do de­cide to do this, use hu­mane traps to re­lo­cate the rab­bits else­where and BE­FORE you do this check with your lo­cal con­ser­va­tion of­fice on what the rules and guide­lines are for your area. It is also im­por­tant to check the traps sev­eral times per day so that if you do catch an an­i­mal, and it may not be a rab­bit, that they do not harm them­selves in the trap.

The prob­lem and beauty of bun­nies

Rab­bits re­pro­duce like, well, rab­bits, hav­ing up to three lit­ters of six per year and once they have es­tab­lished them­selves, you quickly have a grow­ing prob­lem. In most cases, it is al­most fu­tile to keep rab­bits out of your yard and gar­den, but hope­fully, some of these meth­ods will as­sist in re­duc­ing their dam­age.

The al­ter­na­tive is to ac­cept these furry lit­tle dar­lings as part of our en­vi­ron­ment, just as Beatrix Pot­ter did. En­joy their an­tics, pro­tect the plants we love and don’t worry about the rest. This will re­quire a lot of pa­tience from an avid gar­dener who adores their plants.

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cot­ton-tail, who were good lit­tle bun­nies, went down the lane to gather black­ber­ries. But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGre­gor's gar­den, and squeezed un­der the gate! First, he ate some let­tuces and some French beans. And then he ate some radishes. And then, feel­ing rather sick, he went to look for some pars­ley." -The Tale of Peter Rab­bit, Beatrix Pot­ter

What can strike fear into the heart of a gar­dener more than a vo­ra­cious horde of hun­gry bun­nies sud­denly stop­ping by for a bite — or a feast?

The best way to keep the bun­nies away is to put a fence around the plants you re­ally care about.

Bun­nies pre­fer to be dis­creet, of­ten feed­ing at night when it's qui­eter.

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