Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Outsmarting Peter Cottontail

Mr. McGreely discovers his gnawed sprouts.

Before my boys were sucked into the literary black hole of Star Wars comic books and Captain Underpants novels, we used to snuggle up on the reading couch and read cleverly written, beautifully illustrated picture books.  One of our favorites was Muncha, Muncha, Muncha, the tale of Mr. McGreely, a heartless horticulturist with anger management issues and rabbits aplenty.  To prevent the bunnies from eating his yummies, the grumpy gardener erects a prison structure around his vegetables, complete with floodlights, barbed wire, and a moat.  Readers understand immediately who to cheer for: each bunny is cute-as-a-button, complete with floppy ears and twitchy whiskers.  The illustrator is not so kind to the gardener.  Angry eyebrows hover over McGreely’s beady eyes.  He swims in an oversized pea-green hat, hinting at his small-mindedness.  In the end, the cottontails’ determination and perseverance are celebrated, as McGreely gives up and reluctantly shares his produce with the  
resourceful rabbits.

As I was photographing rabbit damage for last week’s column, and contemplating how to prevent further destruction, that book came to mind.  Several minute’s reflection later, I arrived at the horrifying conclusion that I was Mrs. McGreely.  The initial disappointment in myself gave way to indignance towards the author and illustrator of Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!  Why must rabbits always be portrayed as innocents?  As far back as I can remember, they’ve been cast as the darlings of the great outdoors.  Bugs Bunny was my favorite cartoon character and the Velveteen Rabbit was a treasured childhood read.  The Easter Bunny certainly doesn’t get much bad press, and what kid doesn’t like Nesquik Bunny’s chocolate milk? 

Rabbit refugee saved from a run-in with John Deere.
A weak moment of compassion...
Brace yourselves.  Here’s the truth: rabbits are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  We mustn’t be swayed by their twitching noses, big brown eyes, or downy-soft fur.  It’s all camouflage to distract us from their evil end-game: plant pillaging.  So how do we handle these bunny bandits?  Elmer Fudd was probably on the right track with his trusty shotgun.  A shotgun in my hand, however, would not be so trusty.  So, I’ll have to outwit those waskily wabbits with my superior intellect.  Here are some options to consider:

1.     Fencing.  A physical barrier would work for a vegetable garden, as long as it is completely enclosed.  Since rabbits can chew through plastic barriers, sturdy fencing is a must (chicken wire works great).  A fence 3’ high should keep the hoppers out, but consider burying a few inches below grade in case they try to burrow in. 

2.     Plant selection.  I’ve always been a picky eater.  I pass by the pickled beets at the salad bar and go straight for the bacon bits.  Rabbits, too, have a selective palate.  They prefer some plants over others.  Had I simply planted daffodils instead of tulips, they wouldn’t have been gnoshed down to nubbins.  Here are a few plants rabbits avoid: Columbine, Black-Eyed Susan, Bleeding Heart, Poppy, Lamb’s Ear, Astilbe, Begonias, and Impatiens.  For an extensive list, check out  http://www.imustgarden.com/rabbit-resistant-plants.          

3.     Spray them away.  Havahart produces several spray repellents effective on rabbits.  Deer-Off utilizes repugnant smells (rotten eggs and garlic) and flavors (capsaicin – hot peppers).  DeFence is approved for organic gardens and only uses rotten egg smell to repel.  One application of either spray should last up to 90 days through moderate rainfall, but I’d be prepared to apply more if it looks like they’re moving in again. 

4.     Take the spraying up a notch.  If you’re at your wit’s end with those fuzzy nibblers, you could consider investing in a ScareCrow.  It is a motion-activated sprinkler that will douse intruders. 

5.     Time for a trim.  Sprinkle human hair around the garden.  I’m sure your local stylist would be happy to share some of her clippings. 

6.     Meow!  Lock a cat up in your garden.  Then again, it might be safer to just spread some used kitty litter around the perimeter.

7.     If all else fails, move to the Antarctic.  While rabbits have managed to find a way to exist there, gardens have not, so you’ll have nothing to fight over!    


Lyn said...

But that baby rabbit is so cute! I can afford to be besotted because I never get rabbits in my backyard, although they are a problem out of town. When I was living out of town, I found wire fences to be the only practical protection. Sprays may work, but do we really want our gardens to smell like rotten eggs? While I now have no rabbity problems, I do have catty ones - they come into the yard and lie on my plants, squashing them, and also attack birds. I wonder if the water sprayer would work on them?

Casa Mariposa said...

My bunnies have only sampled my 'Matrona' sedum so far this year but more damage awaits. But my neighbors yards must be tastier because I haven't had many bunny sightings this year. I have a hard time hating them. they are way too cute. :o)

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