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Columns

Learning to Grow: Protecting the garden from Peter Rabbit

"Fencing is perhaps the most reliable solution to a persistent rabbit problem," writes master gardener and columnist Sarah Marcheschi.
"Fencing is perhaps the most reliable solution to a persistent rabbit problem," writes master gardener and columnist Sarah Marcheschi.

When it comes to taking sides between fictional characters, who among us didn’t cheer when Peter Rabbit escaped the clutches – and oven – of the curmudgeonly Mr. McGregor? Racing through the garden and squeezing under the fence with a belly full of carrots, jacket and shoes left casually behind, made him a perfectly daring and insouciant childhood hero. But, like all children, I grew up. And I have a rabbit problem.

I tried coexistence. “Incorrigible little devils!” I would chuckle to myself, spotting a sweet baby cottontail snacking contentedly on a plant I’d put in the ground the day before. What sort of monster could begrudge them the occasional nibble of lettuce?

Then I opened my door on a recent sunny summer morning, watering can in hand, and stepped into a crime scene. Leaves of morning glory, chewed and torn lay carelessly discarded about the lawn. An entire bed of hostas was mown down to nubs, barely protruding from the mulch layer. Stems of zinnias were snapped in half. I was furious! And while it’s unlikely I’ll resort to baking them into pies, I have since discovered some methods for keeping Peter and friends at bay.

Fencing is perhaps the most reliable solution to a persistent rabbit problem. A simple three-foot fence of ¾-inch wire mesh is usually enough to keep bunnies out. Although a determined rabbit with a romaine craving can burrow underneath, burying several inches of fence at the base should be enough to thwart trespassers.

Another way to discourage rabbits from taking up residence in your yard is by removing potential sources of cover. Brush piles, debris, patches of weeds and even long grass are all convenient hiding places – and rabbits love to hide.

There are a number of commercial repellents that stave off rabbits with their foul smell or taste, and homemade remedies using ingredients like rotten eggs, garlic or ammonia may be somewhat successful as well. Since rabbits prefer tender young shoots to established plants, putting protective measures in place early can be beneficial.

And finally, there are a number of common and easy-to-grow annuals and perennials that rabbits seem to find naturally repellent. These plants may not be 100 percent bunny proof, as, like people, rabbits have diverse tastes, and – if they’re hungry enough – will munch on just about anything. But choosing plants like peonies, ageratum, daylilies, allium, marigolds, geraniums and snapdragons may offer some small advantage to Team McGregor.

Sarah Marcheschi is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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