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Published June 22, 2015, 07:35 AM

Growing Together: Hare today, gone tomorrow

FARGO -- Do you know Elmer Fudd has chased Bugs Bunny around his garden for 75 years? Times have changed, and an elderly gentleman running through the neighborhood waving a shotgun is no longer appropriate behavior.

By: Don Kinzler, Forum News Service

FARGO -- Do you know Elmer Fudd has chased Bugs Bunny around his garden for 75 years? Times have changed, and an elderly gentleman running through the neighborhood waving a shotgun is no longer appropriate behavior.

Cottontails have long masqueraded behind cute and cuddly as a ruse to destroy gardens, perennials, trees and shrubs. I finally had my fill of it this spring when our pea plants were reduced to nubs from a chubby rabbit with a thanks-for-all-you-do look in its eyes. I've since fenced our garden.

Because rabbit problems are so prevalent, I searched university research from around the country to combine recommendations into one package and determine if there's anything new.

Did you know that every female cottontail is capable of producing 36 rabbits per year from six litters? Luckily, the average cottontail lives less than one year, according to the University of Wisconsin.

Rabbits concentrate in areas having shelter and ample food. Landscaped yards are ideal. That's why they're so prevalent in cities and farmsteads.

Rabbits cause damage all four seasons. During spring and summer, they consume fresh plants in flower and vegetable gardens. In fall and winter, rabbits eagerly switch to tree and shrub twigs and bark.

Here's how to control rabbit damage:

- Encourage predators. Anything communities do to encourage hawks, owls and foxes will help. Lack of natural predators is a reason in-town rabbits thrive.

-Reduce habitat. Remove brush, firewood stacks and other materials where rabbits hide. Install wire skirting around open porches, decks and under sheds that provide safe haven.

-Fencing. Although not practical everywhere, a wire fence with 1½-inch mesh is the most reliable way to exclude rabbits. Two feet high is enough. Taller wire fencing 4 feet high provides a spot to grow sweet peas, morning glories and other vines. To prevent rabbits from burrowing below, bury 2 to 6 inches below soil. Wooden fences can be rabbit-proofed by adding wire to gaps. Wire can be circled around young trees and shrubs, especially in winter.

-Repellents. We're all awaiting a magical spray that will solve our rabbit problem. Repellents make plants taste bad or create an odor.

Results vary widely by location and circumstance. That's why soap-on-a-rope or mothballs work for some and not others. Other questionable repellents include human hair, fox urine, old shoes and marigolds. Repellents having better success contain thiram, capsaicin (hot pepper) or dried blood.

Very important: the best repellents tested contain putrid eggs and garlic, like commercially available Liquid Fence in ready-to-use form or concentrate. Because it's expensive, I've researched a successful homemade version. Instead of $40 for 40 ounces of concentrate that makes 5 gallons of repellent, the homemade version makes 5 gallons for approximately $6.

The recipe: Break a dozen eggs, minus shells, into a gallon jug. Add 2 cups of milk, shake, and place in a warm, sunny spot for five to seven days. Empty into a 5-gallon bucket. Add one container each of inexpensive garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Add ½ cup of dishwashing detergent plus water to make 5 gallons. Mix well and apply with watering can on and around non-food plants. Because it contains raw eggs, apply to areas around food plants instead of onto leaves you'll eat.

This repellent can be used around the perimeter of flower beds and gardens for control of larger areas. Most repellents must be replenished after heavy rain.

-Traps. Apples, carrots and cabbage can lure rabbits into traps. A trap can be considered a beneficial predator to maintain the balance of nature. Before catching and releasing elsewhere, be certain additional rabbits are desired in the new location.

-Gadgets. Pie pans, water-filled jars, fake owls, plastic snakes, flashing lights and ultrasonic devices usually work for only a short time.

-Rabbit-proof plants. What can we plant that rabbits won't eat? Even plants listed as "safe" have all been consumed if rabbits are hungry enough. Although rabbits have preferences, choosing plants from a non-rabbit list has proven unreliable.

-Shooting. Local ordinances vary. For example, City of Fargo Ordinance 100304 makes it unlawful to discharge firearms including air rifles, pellet guns and BB pistols, even for rabbit control.

For best rabbit management, combine all of the above (except shooting where illegal).

I was intrigued during my research by a North Dakota State University circular written in 1945, "Rabbit Control in North Dakota." Its recommendations of poisoning and hunting are no longer useable in cities. But a sentence caught my attention: "Of all the repellents, the most successful is from the Fish and Wildlife Service known as Formula No. TP-96A." There was no description, and I've been unable to locate further information. Is this a long-lost secret formula, and answer to our problem? If anyone has knowledge of this past repellent, please contact me.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Tune in to his weekly radio segment from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WDAY Radio 970. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

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