Dealing with rabbits


The easiest approach is to attach metal wire fencing (plastic is chewable) to the bottom of an existing lot line or deer fence. (Julie Notarianni for The Washington Post)
Rabbit remedies

Shooting rabbits isn’t an option in the city, even if you could bear to. This leaves us with some strange remedies (Google at your own risk). But the consensus among gardeners and wildlife specialists is that the best way to deal with a rabbit problem is to exclude the rabbits. Because cottontails don’t burrow deeply and don’t climb or jump particularly high, they are much easier to fence out than deer or groundhogs.

Fences

The easiest approach is to attach metal wire fencing (plastic is chewable) to the bottom of an existing lot line or deer fence. The cheapest is chicken wire — don’t use any with holes larger than one inch or baby rabbits might squeeze through. Take a roll of two-foot chicken wire and staple it to the wooden fence, secure it to the ground with steel anchoring pins, sometimes called landscape staples, and voila!

Sometimes it is not possible to attach wire to an existing fence because there isn’t one, or it belongs to the neighbor, or to put one up would break some written or unwritten code. You can, however, create a smaller fenced area within your rabbit-infested property where you could grow, say, vegetables or flowers for cutting. Again, chicken wire is an option. Here it would be secured to readily available metal stakes that you hammer a foot or so into the ground (avoiding underground pipes and wires). The wire is attached to the stakes with zip ties. These rudimentary fences could be allied with raised beds formed from wooden boards. The enclosure would need some basic gate or flap for access that would have to be closed when not in use.

Cynthia Ferranto, a landscape designer in Northwest Washington, said you could make a prettier fence by using wooden posts and creating wooden frames between them, to which the wire is then attached. She suggested four-foot-wide frames between posts. A span of three panels, which would extend 12 feet, would be more pleasing to the eye than two, she said. The wood could be painted or stained to make it a feature of the garden, though it is best to color it before assembling, she said.

Another aesthetically pleasing approach is to build a conventional picket fence and staple the wire to the inside, allowing it to visually recede. The fence would rise three feet above the soil line, the wire just two feet.

Though rabbits are merely bothersome to veggies and annuals, they can do permanent damage to young trees and shrubs. In winter, with little to eat, they like to munch on the bark of young woody plants, especially smooth-skinned ones such as maples, beeches and hollies. If they gnaw all the way around, they will kill plants. Protect them by fashioning wire fences into cylinders that envelop the trunks but allow space for growth. Knit the ends with zip ties and secure the cylinder with opposing stakes.

Repellents

Commercially prepared liquid repellents use organic but pretty disgusting ingredients, including putrescent eggs, and they require continual application, with its attendant cost and effort. Gardeners report mixed results, and some of the repellents are not meant to be used directly on the edible parts of vegetables. This seems feasible for beans or zucchini, but how would you protect leafy greens such as lettuce or cabbage?

Repellents work best if you use them before you have a problem. “If they are coming in and they are accustomed to your plants, it’s more difficult to stop a deer or a rabbit,” said Randy Smith, merchandise manager for Gempler’s, a horticultural supply catalogue based in Madison, Wis.

Decoys

Gempler’s and others sell plastic decoys of predators, including owls, hawks and even foxes. “Golf courses use our coyote decoy for geese,” Smith said. The downside is that unless you move the decoys often, the rabbits lose their fear of them. Reposition them “at least once a week,” he said.

Traps

Rabbits can be captured in live traps and transported to other areas, but even if you have a suitable place to receive them, cities and counties have laws and regulations governing the practice. Check with your local animal control department for options. Then build a fence.

— Adrian Higgins

Adrian Higgins has been writing about the intersection of gardening and life for more than 25 years, and joined the Post in 1994. He is the author of several books, including the "Washington Post Garden Book" and "Chanticleer, a Pleasure Garden."
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