February 5, 2010

Don't Blame the Deer, A Rabbit Ate that Flower!

There have been times when I have blamed the deer for eating one of my "deer resistant" perennials. After all, deer tracks around the hardy geraniums provided clear evidence. So, I moved those geraniums inside the cottage garden fence, out of reach of the deer.

And, the geraniums were munched! To the ground. So, let's be fair in our accusations. Deer will munch on many wonderful garden plants, but sometimes the culprit is a rabbit.

How do you tell the difference between deer damage and rabbit damage?

If you are a gardener, you probably own a good pair of sharp, hand pruners to use for plant cuttings. The teeth of a rabbit are razor-sharp and the damage will look as though someone expertly cut the plant stems. A perfect, clean cut.

Deer will pull and tear at the plant, so the cut will be ragged. Like cows, deer are ruminants and have no upper incisors. They chew their cud just like a cow. Fawns have only four little milk teeth. As they learn about foods to eat, the little ones will try out different plants in the garden. I can tell when deer have tried a plant and rejected it, because they spit it out on the ground. Sometimes in their pulling, they will completely uproot a plant.

Not rabbit resistant

Among the many deer resistant perennials in my garden, there are several perennials that I've found to be consistently preferred by rabbits.
  1. Aster
  2. Dutch iris
  3. Echinacea (coneflowers)
  4. Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans)
I gave up on asters completely (although they appear on many rabbit resistant lists) and I no longer try to protect the rudbeckia. I use rabbit repellent on the echinacea until the plants grow above rabbit nose height. By the way, I use no deer repellents in the unfenced gardens.

My favorite rabbit repellent, I Must Garden, has no bad odor, lasts a long time and is earth and pet friendly. The product is made locally, but I have no affiliation with the company.

Was it just luck that the rabbits didn't eat my Benary's Giant Zinnias? (photo September 2009)

Dutch iris foliage emerges in January and February, but it will be the bud formations that will need spraying as we approach March and April.

The rabbits can easily go under the cottage garden fence where they have eaten more Dutch irises, scabiosa and annual gomphrena. I suspect they are nibbling a bit on the dianthus (cottage pinks) and phlox sublulata (creeping phlox) and leucanthemum (shasta daisy).

I know that they will eat phlox paniculata 'David' but they ignore phlox paniculata 'Robert Poore' and 'Eva Cullum'.

The rabbits devour geranium 'Rozanne' but they never touch geranium 'Brookside'.

This selection among varieties is a mystery to me. My only hypothesis so far is that the rabbits didn't find my garden until after the uneaten phlox and geraniums had matured. They found my garden when the 'David' phlox and 'Rozanne' geraniums were newly planted and not established. Tender little plants should be protected!

Rabbit resistant plants in my garden

There are many more plants on rabbit resistant lists. However, I'm including only those that I have personally tried in my garden. Of course, rabbit damage may vary in your garden.

Ageratum (some nibbles)
Allium (ornamental; some nibbles on culinary chives)
Amsonia hubrichtii
Asclepias (milkweed)
Balloon Flower
Helianthus (swamp sunflower)
Heliotropium amplexicaule (creeping perennial heliotrope)
Herbs - basil, fennel, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme
Hypericum (St. John's Wort)
Ice Plant
Iris (Japanese - foliage nibbles)
Lamb's ear
Monarda (Bee Balm)
Russian Sage
Salvia (elegans, nemorosa, greggii)
Spanish Bluebell
Verbena (perennial 'Homestead' and bonariensis)
Zinnia (no problems, other gardeners report problems)

Rabbits and deer can do a lot of damage. The loss can be discouraging. Although there are no guarantees in growing plants on rabbit resistant and deer resistant lists, you can minimize the disappointments. You can have a beautiful garden in spite of rabbits and deer!

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights/patents owned by those respective companies or persons.
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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