Rabbit Resistant Perennials and Shrubs
Recently, my husband and I were babysitting my cousin’s kids, so we dusted off my husband’s complete set of Looney Tunes DVDs and put it on to watch. I learned two things from this. 1) Kids today don’t have an appreciation for the sophisticated comic nuances of anvil-dropping, and 2) I used to think that Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam were obsessive and unbalanced characters. Now, I am empathetic to their never-ending battle with Bugs Bunny.
I was doing a site consultation for clients in Wauwatosa, and while we were chatting, the cutest little baby bunny hoppity-hopped in front of us. The wife pointed out the hole in the lawn where the family of rabbits lived and said they had been enjoying watching the babies grow up. I asked if they had any problems with the little guys eating their plants. She said no, right as I witnessed the fluffy, scallywag bounce away with a piece of delphinium hanging out of its mouth. Such is the plight of soft-hearted urbanites.
Since they weren’t willing to take unsavory actions, I suggested they start using repellents on the tastier plants in the yard and put piles of lettuce and carrots by their den, in hopes that it will discourage them from turning the yard into a buffet. My mom uses this technique. It has varying success (don’t put the food near your vegetable garden or landscape plants because the carrots will be mere appetizers). Mom has named her resident rabbit Arthur (after my great-uncle who used to live in the house) and swears it is the same one every year. The rabbit sits outside her kitchen window and when he sees her he sits up on his hind legs, looking adorable, begging.
I wage a less diplomatic war with those “wascally wabbits”. Every day, after putting in long hours at the nursery, I pull the car into my driveway and grab the paperwork I brought home (remembering at the last second not to lock my keys in the car) already anticipating the cold beverage that will be waiting for me. Then I saw him. Without fail, Mr. Rabbit is sitting in my backyard, wide-eyed, frozen mid-bite with a mouthful of my garden. For a while, it was just him. Now he has a girlfriend. I think they have started a family on the other side of the fence, in my neighbor’s yard.
The term “breeding like rabbits” exists for a reason. Rabbits have a gestation period of only 30 days. Incredibly, the day after giving birth, the female can mate again and get pregnant. Rinse and repeat. Depending on what the weather is doing, one adult female rabbit could potentially have 6 or more litters in one year. Considering coitus takes about half a minute, and the Mama only nurses the kids for a few minutes a couple of times a night, that means their entire day is spent in search of food and hiding from predators. Searching for food in my yard. Eating my expensive, peachy-orange coral bells. If you are lucky, you have a good population of hawks and foxes in your neighborhood to keep the rabbit numbers down. I am not so lucky.
I spray repellents. Bobbex is an excellent brand. Repellents made of hot peppers work, too. Sometimes rabbits get used to a particular brand and you need to switch it up. A mesh fence will be going around the vegetable garden. A better tactic is sticking to plants that the rabbits don’t eat. This isn’t to say that they still won’t take a bite and spit the plant out, just to see if they like it or not. I have done the trialing and shed the tears for you. Below is a list of plants that, while not 100% resistant, are at least not the favorites of hasenpfeffers.
Carrie’s Top Picks for Rabbit Resistant Perennials and Shrubs
- Montrose White Calamint (Calamintha)
- Note: This perennial is rock-solid. I have never seen a rabbit eating these. They usually do not like anything in the mint family.
- Russian Sage (Perovskia)
- Catmint (Nepeta)
- Most Hostas
- Canada Wild Ginger (Asarum)
- Salvias (Salvia sp.)
- Dianthus (Dianthus sp.)
- Lambs Ear (Stachys sp)
- Goldenrod (Solidago)
- Bee Balm (Monarda)
- Perennial Geraniums (Geranium sp.)
- Lung Wort (Pulmonaria)
- Most Grasses
- Note: Except they love Golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa sp.)
- Tor Spirea (Spiraea betulifolia ‘Tor’)
- Sun-loving Hydrangea (Paniculata sp.)
- Shade Hydrangeas
- Note: ‘Annabelle’ variety and the macrophylla species. – Without fail, any Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia) I’ve brought to the yard has been whittled to nubs if I don’t use repellent.
- Blue Ice Amsonia (Amsonia x Blue Ice)
- Yarrow (Achillea sp.)
- Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla)
- Ornamental Onion (Allium sp.)
- Certain Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)
- Note: Coral Bells come with a caveat. I have found that rabbits tend to not eat the ones with thicker, pubescent leaves, or the purple-leafed varieties. But they love every coral-colored variety I bring home. The ones not browsed in my yard are: Stainless Steel, Mocha, Blackout, Citronelle, Caramel, and Palace Purple. Anything else has to be doused with Bobbex.