The villains of the summer come, not with Snidely Whiplash mustaches and an evil laugh, but with floppy ears and oh-so-adorable eyes. Rabbits are overrunning the landscape and are wreaking havoc wherever they plop their fluffy tails.
Rabbits have become one of the most persistent pests on turf along the Front Range , damaging grass, dining on vegetables or nibbling on shrubs. In many cases, the seemingly innocuous hare is, in reality, a vicious killer rabbit, destroying plantings by nipping off plants at a 45-degree angle, clipping it cleanly through without the ragged tearing left by deer.
They’ll chomp twigs, bark, buds and flowers, but several plants are favored by bunnies, such as low growing junipers, vegetables, and lawns. If your low-growing juniper is dying, check around the trunk for signs that rabbits have been gnawing the bark. Should you have bare spots in the lawn, especially near edges where cover is close by, suspect rabbits. Look for the tell-tale droppings in the thin lawn.
Several methods for discouraging rabbits can be tried, such as placing a hose on the ground in a way that makes the rabbit think it’s a snake and runs away. Our office staff can attest to the effectiveness of this technique; we recently had a snake slither into the office and the panic that ensued was impressive.
Another trick is using a motion-activated water sprinkler, which swivels to emit a stream of water and trespassing animals. They rapidly get used to the shower, though, and it’s only effective at the beginning.
Repellents are helpful, but often have an odor that scares away gardeners too. Coyote urine, putrescent eggs and blood meal can keep rabbits from hanging around, but they need to be reapplied frequently, especially after rain or irrigation.
The most effective repellent research has found is Milorganite, a biosolid byproduct of the activated sludge processing technique used in treating the city of Milwaukee’s sewage. The process uses microorganisms to clear the sewage from water, thus cleaning it. Once they’ve eaten their fill, the microorganisms die, and Milwaukee dries and sells them as fertilizer.
Evidently the microorganisms stink, although humans don’t really smell it. But rabbits, voles, and deer do and move on to a meal that isn’t covered in milorganite. It can be hard to find, so call your local garden centers before heading out to purchase it.
More effective means for controlling rabbits are fencing and removal of cover. To fence an area off from rabbits, use 48-inch tall, small-mesh chicken wire with openings of less than one-inch. Bury the lower part of the wire six to ten inches deep. If placing this around the fence of a yard, tack the chicken wire to the ground with long, metal, U-shaped pins instead of burying the wire. But check the fence line routinely for signs that the rabbits have breached the defenses, and re-secure the pins.
If fencing the yard is impractical, thwart the rabbits by making them feel exposed. Remove low growing junipers, piles of brush, or stones where rabbits can hide. Around sheds, trailers, or decks, affix wire mesh to create a barrier to keep rabbits from hiding underneath.
By Carol O’Meara. Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact CSU Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.