Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Ravenous rabbits and reckless raccoons

A couple of days ago, as I was picking up Magnolia leaves littering the front garden for the third time that day, I saw something odd out of the corner of my eye.

This plant was so disfigured, I didn't immediately recognize it

I'd only planted a few things under the Coleonema album that occupies this corner so, within seconds it clicked that is had to be Astelia 'Silver Shadow', the plant shown here in better days

Of course, the culprit was easy to identify even though I hadn't caught him (or her - or them) in the act.

I'd divided another Astelia last year when it proved to be unhappy in full sun and transplanted two divisions in the same area.  It took me awhile to find remnants of them.  This is one of them.  The other is a mere nub poking out of the soil.  The plant, a drought tolerant New Zealand native, has stiff leaves I'd never thought would appeal to rabbits.


I've lived here ten and a half years.  There was no evidence of rabbits until three years ago.  My next door neighbor, who's been gardening here for thirty or more years, confirmed that the rabbits are recent arrivals.  For the first two years, the rabbits were early springtime visitors, disappearing well before summer, presumably culled by the resident coyotes, but this year they're still very active throughout the neighborhood.  I've had numerous sightings; however, I haven't caught one on camera this year as yet.  I've responded by covering seedlings and small plants with empty plastic flats.  I didn't think to cover the gladiola corms I planted in one of the raised beds in my cutting garden, though.

The gladiola corms I planted in this bed in the back garden were never touched so I didn't expect the rabbits would jump into the raised planters to go after the foliage of corms planted there weeks later


When I realized that the new gladiola foliage in the cutting garden had been nibbled by half, I covered the emerging plants as best I could with more flats.

This is the covered bed last week when I turned around and realized that something was wrong

Even before I removed some of the flats for a better look, I knew that rabbits weren't responsible for this particular infraction

Rabbits nibble.  Raccoons dig.  The latter were clearly not put off by the overturned plastic flats, even though I'd used lawn staples to fix many of the flats in place.


The raccoons weren't very active here during spring for some reason, although there was evidence that they visited the fountain in the back garden on a regular basis.  Their grub-hunting activities started in late June.  They've yanked out a few plants recently so I've been covering some of my taller plants with wire cloches.  I expect I need many more of those.

Last week, I replanted an area in front of our garage I've been struggling with for months.

There was a huge self-sown sweet pea bush (Polygala fruticosa) here for years until it got ratty and I pulled it out late last year.  I planted 3 Verbascum 'Wedding Candles' and a Salvia barrelieri ordered by mail in late December only to have all of them them eaten to the ground overnight by rabbits.  They never fully recovered and I pulled them out last week. 

I've been pulling Polygala seedlings out of the area for months and I spent a good hour trying to get the rest of these out before supplementing the soil with compost and planting mix

I replanted the area with Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote Blue', Brachyscome angustifolia 'Fresco Purple', Thymus 'Pink Chintz', and Verbena bonariensis 'Lollipop'.  I'd read that rabbits hate lavender so I thought I had a chance that the scent would keep them away.  My only immediate concern with this planting scheme was that the lavender might not get sufficient sun.

I decided not to take chances and covered the low-growing groundcover plants, the Brachyscome and thyme, with plastic flats using lawn staples to prevent them from being easily pushed aside


Yesterday, I took a look at the plants and discovered that, although the lavender was untouched, its scent wasn't sufficient to deter the rabbits from eating the dwarf Verbena.

I have three Verbena bonariensis growing in the back garden that haven't been touched but the two planted in front of the garage looked like they've been badly pruned


I repurposed two wire cloches I'd been using to cover Alternanthera plants the raccoons had previously dug up to cover the Verbena.  

I wonder if there's a bounty I could pay the coyotes to patrol my garden more often?


Hopefully, the Alternanthera is more well-rooted now that it's been in the ground for a couple of months.  While holding onto that hope, I'm going to buy myself a few more wire cloches.  After all, it appears that I need to learn to live with the critters in my garden.  They're clearly not going to disappear.


All material © 2012-2021 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party




24 comments:

  1. Oh, how frustrating. Your experience sounds so familiar. I gardened 18 years rabbit free. Three years ago, they showed up. Only then I understood what if felt like to have unwanted sheering of new plants! I wonder what's the explanation for their exploding population... I added wire cloches to my shopping list.

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    1. There's been a highly emotional campaign aimed at coyotes here due to the very real fact that they carry off a lot of unattended pets. Although there's no official policy authorizing killing or relocating those predators, I have to wonder if they're being pushed out, allowing their "normal" prey like rabbits to breed like, well, the proverbial rabbit.

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  2. How horrible! That astelia snack was just heartbreaking to see. Our rabbit (I realize there's never just one, but there was only one brave enough to hang out in the front garden regularly) hasn't been seen for a couple of weeks. Perhaps the coyotes have finally done their job? My current pest issue is that something is eating the new shoots of bamboo as they come up. A couple have been an inch+ in size and a good two feet tall before the get munched on. I've been told it's probably rats... ugh.

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    1. When it comes to critters, there's always one or two (or more) in the wings. We have some rats too but they seem more inclined to go after vegetables and fruit here.

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  3. How frustrating! I come across a nibbled plant now and then - either deer or rabbits. Armadillos arrived here a few years ago, leaving small holes all over the yard. I'm so sorry your rabbit population has expanded - so annoying. And though the coyotes help, or have in the past, they are not fun to have around either.

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    1. The behavior of your armadillos sound like our gophers, Barbara. I thought the gophers were back here at one point too but I think (or maybe I just hope) that what I discovered were holes created during last year's campaign.

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  4. ARGH!!!! I feel your pain. You just have much more to be eaten in your garden than I have. Those critters make me so angry. Always munching away or digging up things.

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    1. In my old garden in a beach city (where neighbors were packed in together almost wall to wall), we had possums and raccoons but they didn't do much harm. Moving here has been an eye-opening experience.

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  5. June 12 I had my first rabbit visitor. A young one. It had crawled under the “atrium” wall and was nibbling grass beneath the gardenia bush. It was only a matter of time.

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    1. That's interesting. I'm sure there are lots of them at the community college a couple of miles away but I'm surprised they've moved into suburbia.

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  6. It is hard to be philosophical when critters are destroying our gardens! We currently experiencing a bumper crop of rabbits this year as well. I can't seem to keep them out of the beds even though there is lots of good clover in the lawn. Your photo of the chewed Verbena sent a chill down my spine... mine is not protected! Fingers crossed they don't go after it. The cosmos are nibbled and a few zinnias and gloriosa daisies. At least I double caged my sweet peas, even though the heat is making them weary, I found my first blossom today.
    Oh, yeah and now there's a bear yearling coming round. So the berry bushes will probably get mauled - argh. God, why do I forget every year how hard it is to garden around here??

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    1. Yay for the sweet peas! Your garden works on such a different schedule than mine. I can't imagine dealing with bears - or deer, for that matter. I'm happy that the peacocks gave us a pass this year - and I hope I haven't jinxed myself by mentioning them!

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  7. I’m so sorry, Kris! That would we so incredibly frustrating. I had no idea that rabbits were not in your area until relatively recently. Back in 2019, I would frequently see rabbits in the SCBG rose garden in the early morning hours. On the recent visit there, it did appear there were numerous rabbits even during later morning hours.
    Critters here are primarily daytime squirrels, and nighttime skunks, opossums, raccoons, and rats. In the 11.5 years here, I have only had front garden flower beds turned over during one season in 2016, likely by raccoons. Since then, I have put down chicken wire to cover freshly planted bulb areas and I place the heavy duty plastic bird netting in 4 areas where critters can easily climb down to front garden beds from the low walls. Although I no longer do this, when I pruned back my roses in 2017, I also laid the prickly/thorny rose canes down on the ground in the troubled areas. I have not had a problem since, but I don’t know why but just grateful. Although during the shutdown, I would notice frequent raccoon, skunk, and opossum visitors via cameras, I have noticed that there are very few of these same critter visitors in the last few months.
    I do count my lucky stars, that I only noticed one cherry tomato missing from my first crop yesterday. I suspect it involves a rat, and if so, then I will expect more tomatoes to be taken. Hopefully, we will share the crop.

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    1. All your actions sound like good deterrent strategies, Kay. In the past, I've used the Magnolia tree's spent seed cones and thorny rose and citrus tree stems to cover beds. That worked well for some plants. My biggest problems are seedlings and low-growing groundcovers, which I find harder to cover without causing damage.

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  8. So frustrating. Gardening feels so futile sometimes. After weeks of heat and and drought, two days of showers and my beans were covered in hundreds of newly hatched slugs. Hand picked into a bucket of water. So satisfying. Our country garden is a frequent roadside dining stop for many creatures. We use spray repellents on any new planting with great success. My favourite is Plantskydd as it lasts up to three months.

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    1. Ha! Critter invasions can certainly bring out the killer instinct in gardeners! I'll look into Plantskydd.

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  9. Kris you are having a terrible time of it with these critters .. have you tried a product called "Critter Ridder" .. you shake it out around the plants that are being eaten .. by a quirky coincidence I found out Montreal Steak Spice works well too .. I buy the big container at Costco and the two product prices are comparable .. the garlic from the spice really turns off the critters .. I am thinking perhaps their regular food sources are drying up literally, so they have expanded their territory looking for more .

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    1. I've tried a few off-the-shelf remedies, including cotton strips soaked in ammonia (for raccoons) and scented dryer sheets (gophers), but never had much luck there. I've used granular repellents too but you're the second person to recommend Critter Ridder so I'll check that out.

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  10. What a pain! I wonder how the rabbits came about to thrive in your area so recently, any ideas?

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    1. Like the arrival of peacocks (who fortunately didn't stay), the arrival of the rabbits is a mystery. My suspicion is that people have been driving the coyote predators out due to concerns about their snatching pets, upsetting the local ecosystem.

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  11. Ugh rabbits - I hate them! I put chicken wire cages around all kinds of plants, at least until they get to 3' or so.

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    1. I suspect my garden is going to look a little like a plant prison soon, Jason ;)

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  12. Blankety-blank rabbits. I know of which you experience.

    I speculate because we had good rain last spring, the rabbit population did too well. Now after a very dry winter a lot of rabbits looking for meals.

    Here the experienced nesting hawk pair that have been successful in fledgling chicks for several years and a coyote who patrols just after sunrise seems to have reduced the rabbits pretty well. Still I have hoops of hardware cloth everywhere.

    Still, better rabbits than gophers.

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    1. I think the gopher is still here, although I haven't seen any evidence of new mounds so I haven't unleashed an all-out campaign to terrorize him. The solar-powered sonic devices I used last year worked well in tandem with the granular deterrents watered into the soil but, with a single exception, they all stopped functioning within a year - and you can't replace their batteries. I don't want to keep dumping all that plastic into the ecosystem. In the meantime, more wire cloches have been ordered to help the bunny proofing.

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