Rabbit-proof your garden

You don’t have to turn violent to make your garden a rabbit-free zone. It’s possible to prevent your borders becoming their favourite dish of the day by choosing plants that they just don’t like the taste of.


 

There’s a long list of plants that will survive being nibbled and combined with a few tricks and tactics to divert their attention, you could soon be spending more time enjoying your garden than battling with this pesky problem


You won’t have to compromise your creative skills either, for you can still grow an exciting pallet of plants that can be selected for their leaf colour and architectural qualities, as well as fragrance and flowers.


You’re in luck if you like cottage garden style for you can grow lots of your perennial favourites such as lady’s mantle, aquilegia, catmint, hostas, bearded iris, lupins, peony and poppies. Plant these in early summer and with luck your garden will be given soon be given a wide berth


The trick is to buy mature plants with tougher leaves that they find unappetising and grow them in bold clumps made up of three or more plants of each variety. Surrounding borders with a mini hedge of heavily scented lavender, as they often do in the gardens of grand houses, or placing pots of lavender around the garden will also act as a barrier


If you’re a belt and braces kind of gardener then you might like to throw caution to the wind and throw down a few lumps of lion dung – although difficult to come by it is supposed to be fool proof when it comes to scaring rabbits off!


This is because wild rabbits have a very strong sense of smell and taste. They use it to carefully decide whether a plant is going to be ‘tasty’ and usually like ‘mild smells’. This makes smells like garlic, pepper and especially chilli especially repulsive to rabbits, so you could mix your own spray using crushed garlic, Tabasco sauce, washing up liquid (which rabbits also don’t like the taste of) and water


A non-smelly “tried and tested” solution is Grazers G1 (grazers.co.uk), which is also effective against damage from pigeons and deer. It’s not toxic, nor non-harmful and has been successfully used at gardens that open to the public. As with your own mixture, spray it directly onto the plant being eaten, on the soil around the plant and any access points. Also keep an eye open for rabbit droppings to spray.


As you no doubt have discovered, cottage garden plants go under ground for the winter so to add height and structure as well as year-round appeal to your flower beds it’s essential to add a few ornamental shrubs. Safe ones to grow are flowering currants, mock orange, buddleja and daphne. Roses will also be left in peace although it’s a good idea to protect young plants.

Shrubs with a strong scent like lilac might be given a wide berth, but be aware that they will nibble any plant to see if they like it and will eat anything, if they are really hungry!


Installing barriers


A simple way to protect vulnerable young plants is to make a wire mesh collar to encircle the plant and prevent easy access to the soft shoots and stems. Part burying the barrier under the soil will also deter the most ambitious bunny. This tactic can also be developed to protect larger areas such as your allotment and more vulnerable plants from attack.


To create a chicken wire fence bury 20-30cm in the soil in an L-shape to prevent the rabbit tunnelling underground and make it at least 50cm high. Use stakes to support the fence, posting them every metre of so along its length.


Re-plant your rabbit-ravaged borders


Garden plants that rabbits love to eat include Begonias, Busy Lizzies, Dahlias, Delphiniums, Marguerites, Nasturtiums, Pansies, Petunias, Primulas and Sweet Peas. In fact, it’s been recorded that 7 rabbits will eat as much as one sheep, which is why farmers take a rabbit invasion seriously.


If you need to fill a rabbit-ravaged gap in a flowerbed quickly, then you won’t be disappointed with what lavatera or tree mallow can do. This plant thrives in full sun and will put on at least a metre of growth in one season. It will flower without fail from June through to autumn and any branches that get snapped or chewed off will simply re-sprout and pump out more rose-coloured petals


Evergreen plants make a useful backdrop to open borders and those that will stand the test of time are spotted laurel, berberis and common box. You’ll also find that a holly hedge is almost indestructible and provides a great habitat for wildlife – another worthwhile consideration.


One of the most attractive sun-loving plants that will have little appeal to our furry foe is the summer-flowering Californian lilac or ceanothus. It grows best in a sheltered site and is a good choice for growing against a sunny house wall. It’s not too fussy about soil providing that it is well drained but you should dig in plenty of well-rotted garden compost of manure to get the plant off to a vigorous start. On shady walls and sunspots plant honeysuckle, the delicious fragrance has no appeal to rabbits!


Shady spots will remain trouble-free zones when planted with weed suppressing ground-huggers such as epimedium, periwinkle, crane’s bill, Corsican hellebores, forget-me-knots and ivy. Snowdrops and bluebells tend to be ignored so pop a few in to carpet around trees and shrubs.


 Buy bluebells “in the green” (in leaf) in spring and they’ll establish much quicker that those planted as dry bulbs in autumn


 

Growing plants in containers may put “tasty” plants out of reach but if you’re not prepared to take the risk create your patio displays with snapdragons and salvias and they should last through the summer. Protect newly planted containers by popping a garlic bulb in amongst the plants or cover the pots with net cloches in the early stages just in case there is a food shortage sending the bunnies on a binge


IT’S A FACT!


Rabbits breed like, er…rabbits! They reach sexual maturity in just six months and have up to half a dozen litters a year with maybe five in each litter. Multiply this by ten years, the average life span, and you quickly get a measure of the size of your problem!


Rabbits have been associated with springtime since ancient times and the pagan festival Eostre is dedicated to the goddess of fertility, who is often depicted as a bunny.


The one tradition we all know is that of the Easter bunny, who leaves Easter eggs on Easter Sunday. The game is that parents, hide eggs in the garden and the children go on an egg hunt to find them. This idea began in America in the 1700’s when German immigrants told their children to make ‘nests’ with their caps and bonnets, and if they were good the Easter bunny would leave them coloured eggs


The first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which is the moon right before Easter is called the Egg Moon. Native Americans named this full moon and gave other names to those that happen every month of the year to help them keep track of the seasons.


In Pagan times, rabbits were signs of good luck and new life. The Early Christians took over the meaning of New Life because it helped them remember Jesus being raised from the dead and having New Life.


 Rabbits we like to read about…


It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is “soporific.” And they certainly had a very soporific effect upon the Flopsy Bunnies in Beatrix Potter’s book The Tales of Peter Rabbit, which she published in 1901. The story tells of the Flopsy bunnies stuffing themselves with lettuces in Mr McGregor’s rubbish heap. By degrees, one after another, they were overcome with slumber, and lay down in the mown grass until Mr McGregor comes along and…


In Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland we meet his iconic character, the White Rabbit, who is a bespectacled, waist-coated and fastidious time-keeper and responsible for leading Alice down the rabbit hole into Wonderland


In his book, Watership Down, author Richard Adams puts rabbits at the centre of the apocalypse trying to the save the world one warren at a time. As the leader of the rebel band of bunnies, is Hazel, who has become one of our most memorable bunnies.


In the book, Winnie-the-Pooh by A A Milne, not only is Rabbit one of the cleverest residents of Hundred Acre Wood he’s also been given the best of human qualities. Rabbit is a keen reader and initiator of ambitious plans such as ‘unbouncing’ Tigger.


5 things you should know about keeping a pet rabbit


Every rabbit needs a friend. In the wild they live in big groups and are very sociable animals


  1. Rabbits have a life span of over ten years. If you adopt a baby bunny for your ten-year-old, be prepared to care for the rabbit when your child has gone off to college.

  2. It’s a fact that a rabbit that lives alone can become bored, lonely and depressed. The best and easiest pairing is a neutered male and a spayed female and especially ones from the same litter.

  3. Rabbits are timid creatures. Loud noises or children running around can scare them.

  4. Many rabbits do not enjoy being held and will often kick and claw when picked up.

  5. Rabbits are easily litter box trained, but their litter needs to be changed regularly. They require fresh food daily. They also require regular grooming and nail clipping.


Vitax have just launched Rabbit Repellent for the 2018 season to help keep them at bay. Suitable for organic gardening, check out Andy McIndoe’s latest project on how to keep our furry friends in check this growing season at gardenworld.co.uk



 

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