Rabbit in the Garden
PhotoDisc, Courtesy of Getty Imags
With noses that twitch and tails gone fuzzy, rabbits can be adorable as pets or as one of the gathering at backyard feeders. However, they can wreak havoc on landscaping and gardens, feasting on a range of plants from young trees and broccoli to tree nuts, berries and herbs.
Common rabbits range from the house cat-sized jackrabbit to their smaller cousins, the cottontails and brush rabbits, which are about twelve inches long. The jackrabbit tips the scales at a hefty three to seven pounds while the cottontail and brush rabbits weigh about two pounds. All have brown to grey fur with varying tints.
RABBIT CALLING CARDS
Rabbits leave behind coarse, circular fecal "pellets" about 1/2-inch in diameter.
BIOLOGY AND BEHAVIOR
Jackrabbits are usually found in open or semi-open areas of valleys and foothills, golf courses, parks and airports, unlike the story-tale Brer Rabbit. During the day, they hide in depressions in the soil or beneath a bush. Conversely, brush and cottontail rabbits are found in dense vegetation, rock piles and abandoned structures, usually within a few feet of their cover.
IS THAT OLD SAYING REALLY TRUE?
A female rabbit may birth up to three young in five to six litters per year. Baby jackrabbits are born to wander, fully furred and with their eyes open while young cottontails are nearly furless, born with their eyes closed and must remain with Mom for several weeks to develop.
Rabbits prefer tender young vegetation but will also eat seeds, bark and nuts during their nighttime feeding cycles. Sometimes their feeding is confused with deer browsing yet the difference is that twigs and flower heads are clipped neatly by the rabbit's incisors, no more than two feet from the ground, while deer, who have no upper front teeth, must twist woody stems, thereby leaving a ragged cut.
LEAST-TOXIC CONTROL and PREVENTION
Erect a 48-inch-tall wire mesh fence, burying the bottom at least 6 inches in the ground. Bend a few inches of the fence bottom out to deter rabbits from digging under it. Mesh size should be no larger than one inch to exclude young rabbits. Install tight-fitting gates with sills to keep rabbits from digging and keep the gates closed as much as possible, day and night.
If individual plants are easier to safeguard than an entire area, place chicken-wire cylinders around the trunks of young trees, shrubs, or vines with the bottoms buried far enough away from the trunk so that bunnies cannot nibble through the mesh.
Live trapping of rabbits is not recommended because rabbits can carry certain diseases which may be transmittable to the trapper.
Rabbit repellents work best during the early years before woody plants bear fruit or during the winter season. However, with a few exceptions, most repellents cannot be used on plants or plant parts that will be eaten by humans.
Remove brambles, piles of brush, stones, or other debris along fence rows and ditches to minimize hiding places for cottontail and brush rabbits. Removing cover will have little effect on jackrabbits because they can use cover that is often great distances from their feeding sites.
Noisemakers, flashing lights and ultrasonic repellers are generally not effective. A feisty pet dog loose within the area to be protected may be worth his weight in doggie chunks.