How to deal with garden problems from surge in rabbits

The rabbit report

Last week we got a call from a reporter about a so-called “rabbit explosion,” especially in Southwest D.C., so we asked our listeners (that would be you) if they had seen a surge in rabbit problems.

Selecting the right grass seed for rabbits

Ann in Silver Spring writes: “Bugs Bunny is busy eating the new shoots of grass my hubby is trying to nurture, plus other assorted garden goodies. There are definitely more rabbits this year, plus the usual numbers of deer. It’s hard to tell who the culprit is sometimes. Thanks for all your good advice! Just told hubby he should not be watering the lawn with all this rain.”

Thanks Ann — now tell hubby that he also picked a bad time to try and establish a new lawn from seed; that window opens at the end of this month and closes at the end of September. And he might want to select seed for the do-over that contains endophytes, which are naturally occurring organisms that help lawn grasses resist attack by insects and herbivores, like one available from Gardens Alive. Note: Just don’t use seed containing endophytes in a horse or cow pasture.

Protect your garden with the right fence

Nancy in Chevy Chase writes: “Rabbits have always devastated our vegetable garden and dahlias, but they are far worse this season. Over the years, we tried a low voltage electric fence (that they ate through) and a chicken-wire fence (that the babies crawled through). We have also used many different repellent sprays and powders, but they don’t seem to work. We just bought some bush bean seeds in the vain hope that they will grow faster than the pole beans, which are the rabbits’ favorite snack!”

Nope — they’ll eat the bush beans too, Ann. I recommend protecting your veggie garden with a low fence made of hardware cloth sunk a few inches deep into the ground with about two feet high left above ground. American rabbits can’t dig under or jump over such a fence, but you can just step right over it. Just be careful and wear long pants, long sleeves and good gloves when you cut the material, as the edges can be sharp.

Use a sprinkler to protect your crops

Mike in Rockville writes: “We just moved to a home bordering the Park and we’re seeing our second crop of young bunnies since May. Luckily, they’re well-behaved; they eat the clover and wild strawberry in our “lawn” (which is really three inches of biodiversity), and don’t bother the herbs and flowers we like. The deer, of course, are another story entirely; after the Mid-July Gladiola Massacre, my wife Lisa is ready to take up bowhunting. I’m sure that’s legal here.”

Yeah Mike — good luck with that. In the future, use a motion-activated sprinkler to keep the deer away from delicacies you wish to protect. It’s a much safer option if you accidentally hit the wrong target.

Lawn care shortcuts

Chad in Gaithersburg writes: “I follow all your advice — as long as it’s convenient and cheap. For example, I always cut my lawn at the advised time — as long as that happens to fall on a weekend and the kids aren’t keeping me too busy. For those not as committed as me, do you have any advice on how to, well, ‘cheat?’: ‘The Cliffs Notes version of garden care.’ For instance, how do I get rid of lawn weeds without harming the dog or the kids and do it quickly?”

You can’t get rid of established weeds fast, Chad—the ‘quick and easy way’ is to prevent them. That means keeping your mower blade super sharp, never cutting the lawn lower than three inches, never cutting the lawn when its wet and withholding water to insure good strong root growth.

Do that and the weeds will eventually be out-competed by the turf that you aren’t killing every weekend with a dull blade, short cut and too much water.

Pruning for cheaters

Chad in Gaithersburg also writes: “And what if my wife tells me it’s time to trim a plant when the calendar disagrees? Calendars can’t make me sleep in the spare bedroom; my wife can.”

Get ahead of the game, Chad:

  • Prune Spring bloomers right after they finish flowering.
  • Prune hedges, ornamental grasses and summer bloomers (like roses) in the Spring. Do a good job and they’ll look well-behaved all summer long.
  • If she sees a shoot out of place that’s bugging her, jump up and prune that shoot only (but stay outside for a long time and tell her you did so much work that you’re exhausted when you come back in).
  • And when we get to the fall, when no plant should be pruned?
  • Have a babysitter come to the house to take care of the kids every Saturday night. Dinner and a movie. Pruners will be forgotten. Have another glass of wine while you’re at it.
  • Oh—and put those calendars in the recycling bin.

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