It’s understandable that many Tucson gardeners get a little frustrated with nature this time of year. It’s too darn hot to do much in the garden, and every bunny in the desert seems to be eyeballing the lush green plants that you’ve been so diligently watering through the summer heat.
On years as dry as this one, there’s much less for the critters to eat out in the wild, which makes them more likely to venture into our gardens, and less picky about what they’re willing to nibble. It’s hard to know which of your plants will look the tastiest from year to year, but there are lots of plants you can try in your landscape before resorting to Monty Python’s extreme method of rabbit control (the Holy Hand Grenade).
This week’s blog focuses on plants that bunnies tend to avoid, and also shares a few helpful tips for preventing damage in your garden.
When battling any critter that is eating your plants, it’s always best to know thy enemy, and this University of Arizona publication is a really good place to start. It goes over some simple methods of rabbit proofing your yard, and gives some links for more information. You can also see a list of rabbit resistant plants on our how-to page.
There are various repellents and deterrents that can help you protect your plants for limited periods of time with each application. Some of these products use an ingredient in hot peppers to make the plant taste bad, while other products rely on strong smells to deter the rabbits or scare them away. Keep in mind that these products may not always work if a critter is really hungry, and most of these products should be re-applied regularly to remain effective. If using smell-based deterrents, alternate between two or more different kinds for the best results. You may also want to check the ingredients list and test in a small area if you have a dog; bone meal and dried blood are great for keeping the rabbits away, but they can sometimes inspire dogs to dig like crazy in search of that tasty bone!
Exclusion is a much more effective way of keeping rabbits off of your plants. Chicken wire is most commonly used to create a barrier around a bed or an individual plant, though many other types of wiring and exclusion materials are available. Green wiring is available to create a barrier that blends into the environment, and silver wiring can easily be spray painted to a more neutral color. Make sure that your barrier is tall enough to keep bunnies out (2 feet is usually sufficient), and bury it a few inches under the soil to keep them from squeezing under (they can fit through much smaller spaces than you’d think).
Remember that many plants will need protection when they’re young and small, even if they’re rabbit resistant. In addition, overgrown plants with more lush, tender foliage than their neighbors are usually more vulnerable to damage, so water carefully and evenly to prevent excessive growth.
Now for the good stuff! Here are some photos of the types of plants to look for if bunnies are a problem in your desert garden:
“Stinky” plants – Rabbits have sensitive noses, and they don’t often chew on plants that have strong-smelling foliage. Even plants that smell wonderful to people will be stinky to a rabbit, and the chances are pretty good that it will look elsewhere for something to chew.
Plants with milky or sticky sap – If a plant makes a mess when you break a branch or tear a leaf, then rabbits are much more likely to leave it alone. These types of sap are often irritating to skin, and can sometimes be poisonous when ingested, so be sure to do your research if this is a concern. Aloes, milkweeds, and euphorbias make up a large portion of this group.
Spiky plants – Cacti, Yuccas, and Agaves are more difficult for rabbits to chew, so they tend to be left alone.
Poisonous plants – Rabbits are smart enough to avoid eating plants that will kill them or make them sick.
Plants with waxy leaves – Waxy leaves are usually very shiny, and they’re often thicker and more rigid than non-waxy leaves. Succulent plants with waxy leaves are more likely to be eaten when natural sources of water are dry, but rabbits will generally go for the less waxy leaves when given a choice.
And more – These plants didn’t all fit into the above categories, but they’re definitely worth noting.
When you’re at your wit’s end, just remember that things could be much worse. I, for one, am thankful that the bunnies in my yard are only interested in plants…
If you’d like to see a more extensive list of rabbit resistant plants, try doing an advanced search in our online catalog; follow this link to the catalog’s page on our website, click on “Advanced Search”, choose “Rabbits” from the drop-down menu under the “Resists” heading, and then click the “search” button.