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The Plant Medic


Fences, raised beds keep rabbits at bay

Q. What are there so many rabbits this year? They are eating us out of house and home. What can we do?

A. Indeed, it seems as if rabbit populations are high this year. They – like everyone else – are probably celebrating the end of last year’s drought.

Rabbits are considered game animals and can’t be harvested (shot or trapped) without a hunting license in season. Most cities including Fort Wayne have strict laws against hunting rabbits or any other game within city limits. I prefer exclusion as the best defense against rabbit browsing. If you have a vegetable garden, then it’s a good idea to have a fence at least 3 1/2 feet high surrounding the garden. The fence either must be buried in the ground or secured so the wascally wabbits don’t crawl under the fence. There is nothing like the lure of fresh vegetables to bring out the creativity in a rabbit.

If you have raised beds, it is easy and inexpensive to simply construct a PVC or light wood frame that fits over the bed. Another device that works well is called a panel frame. This V-shaped frame is placed over a row of veggies. The frame makes it difficult for critters to access the tasty veggies. We have an example of a panel frame in the vegetable garden at our Display Gardens at the Extension office on the IPFW campus. The vegetable garden has some great ideas on display for visitors this year, and the gardens are free to visit. Use plastic mesh or quarter-inch hardware cloth attached to the frame to keep out all sorts of critters.

The final high-tech defense is called the Scarecrow. This device attaches to a water hose and sprays any creature repeatedly within its radius until the critter goes away. Garlic spray is one of the more effective repellant for many creatures. Just mince several cloves of garlic into a gallon of water and spray around the plants. Your area will smell like a pizza parlor. Commercial garlic and hot pepper sprays are also available at local garden centers.

Reducing areas for rabbits to hide will also help. Make sure to use the hardware cloth to deny access to areas under the deck and under the storage shed. Reduce areas of taller vegetation. Make sure mulch is no more then 2-3 inches in depth. I have seen rabbits raise young in deeply mulched area around trees and shrubs.

One product that should never be used to repel rabbits is mothballs. Mothballs’ are highly toxic to the environment and to people and are not labeled for critter control.

Sometimes it is better just to co-exist with creatures rather than try to eliminate them. Rabbits and other critters have lost more than 80 percent of their native habitat in the U.S.

Denying access to tasty garden plants is probably the best control option for homeowners.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Sunday. Kemery is the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.