Gardening with Deer and Rabbits in Mind
We're coming up on that season where pernicious critters take a look at what nature's providing, compare it to the good eatin' in your yard and (seemingly always) make the wrong decision. An unfortunate truth about rabbits and deer: if you plant it, they will come.
There is no accounting for taste when it comes to rabbit palates. My neighbors and I have very similar gardens—some years mine gets munched on, some years theirs does. It's hard not to see it as a lesson in letting go. However, in general, rabbits prefer legumes to root vegetables, despite the rabbit/carrot connection. And while tulips seem to be a particular delicacy, daffodils provide a good line of defense planted in "fences" around more delectable plants.
Sometimes it's just a matter of holding out until area weeds start coming up—most rabbits tend to be a problem only in the early spring or, in a harsh year, during the winter when they chew off the bark around the bases of trees.
There are a number of suggestions and products for keeping your garden to yourself; generally the prerequisite for these solutions are vigilance and/or frequency of application. Some years a product will work great—some years it won't do a thing. No product or deer resistant plant is 100% guaranteed against invaders. Most products that come in a bottle, such as hot pepper spray or Deer Off, need to be applied every couple of weeks. More expensive solutions include motion detecting floodlights or sprinklers, but it may take deer only a few weeks to adapt to these—varying the scare tactic will help.
There is no accounting for taste when it comes to rabbit palates.
If you have the inclination, fencing is a permanent solution that works well. To keep rabbits out you'll need to use a wire-mesh fence buried at least three inches. Being the leapers that they are, keeping deer out requires a fence of considerable height—or two shorter fences 4-5 feet apart.
My best suggestion is to understand the habitat requirements of your visitors and do what you can to avoid meeting their needs. Most western rabbits and hares don't burrow, they conceal themselves in dense growth. By consciously avoiding the planting of dense growth you will make your garden less inviting to critters that need cover.
On a similar note, deer tend to enter a yard using the same route each time.
On a similar note, deer tend to enter a yard using the same route each time. If you map out that route you'll be able to concentrate your preventative measures, making them more efficient and more effective. For instance, use unpalatable plants at their preferred entranceway or surrounding the perimeters of your garden. Examples of deer-resistant plants include Artemesia, Achillea, Lavender and Salvia. Notice that these tend to be xeric staples. Luckily for water-conscious gardeners, many xeriscape principles and plants work well keeping animals at bay, as xeriscaping tends to make use of sparser vegetation patterns and/or plants with pungent odors distasteful to deer and rabbits. Additionally, reduced watering results in tougher, less palatable plants. You may have to try other alternatives. Placing dog hair in several spots in the garden can deter rabbits, for instance.