How to Keep Rabbits and Deer Out of Your Garden

The wildlife you spot around your neighborhood may be a charming sight, but if rabbits and deer are gobbling up your flowers and vegetables, it’s time to find a deterrent.

Rabbits are a common challenge for gardeners.

“The loss of coyotes has caused a problem, and that’s driving the rabbit epidemic right now,” said gardening guru Ciscoe Morris.

The Eastern cottontail, introduced as a game species in the 1930s, is the rabbit you normally see in your backyard. From spring to fall, rabbits eat garden flowers and vegetables, as well as grass, clover, wildflowers and weeds. In winter, their diet shifts to buds, twigs, bark, tree needles, and virtually any green plant.

The term “reproducing like rabbits” is grounded in fact. One female can have more than two dozen young each year.

“Once rabbits move in it’s tough,” said Ciscoe. “They’re smart, they come out at night.”

If you have dogs, they may provide some deterrence, but then again maybe not.

“Rabbits are super fast,” said Ciscoe.

Herbs that may repel rabbits include onions, chives, mints, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, and lemon balm.

You can buy a variety of repellents at garden centers, but Ciscoe says many of them aren’t safe to be sprayed on edible plants. So, he created his own bunny-be-gone spray. The recipe is simple:

  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 quart of water

Let it sit for a few days until it has a strong odor (that’s the downside), then spray your plants. You’ll need to spray daily to keep up with the prolific bunnies.

You can also try putting up a fence. Rabbits are more likely to go under a fence than over it so you need to extend your fence underground.

“Bend the bottom so it goes underground and make it up to three feet, that will totally keep them out,” said Ciscoe.

You can also line the bottom of the fence with rock, bricks, fence posts, or similar items. Another option is to create a 12-inch wire apron on top of the ground on the animal side of the fence and secure it with stakes.

Another form of control is to remove brush piles, weed patches, rock piles, and other debris where rabbits live and hide.

Finally, said Ciscoe, your plants and veggies are safe if they’re in pots.

“(Rabbits) don’t mess with plants in pots. Never,” he said.

Deer

Deer also dine on flowers, trees and garden plants, and not just in suburban or rural areas.

“Deer are being displaced because of construction,” said Ciscoe. “One woman who lives in downtown Bellevue found two deer in her front yard, eating her roses.”

Ciscoe said he’s heard a lot of anecdotal stories about various repellants – Irish Spring soap, hanging up bags of blood meal, fragrant antistatic strips.

“They work for a while but they never seem to work 100 percent,” he said.

And if the repellant wears off, a deer can come in and wipe your garden out.

Ciscoe recalled trying an experiment at an Issaquah gardener’s house using coyote urine as a repellant. But the results were not good.

“Every male dog in Issaquah was hanging around this poor woman’s house, and it didn’t repel the deer at all,” he said. “(They) ate all of this woman’s plants where I did the experiment. The dogs didn’t even chase the deer because they were in love.”

A “high-tech” option for repelling deer is a motion-sensor “scarecrow” that attaches to your hose.

“If it senses movement it shoots the deer with water,” said Ciscoe. “Deer hate it.”

But he warned that the scarecrow can’t see into the sunshine so you have to move it around, plus the deer get used to where the scarecrows are.

“They work better for people who work from home and can move them around,” he said.

They’re also difficult to use in a crowded garden since any movement of the plants will trigger them to spray.

“But used correctly they can work,” said Ciscoe.

Another option for deer control is to plant deer-proof trees, shrubs and perennials. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife provides a list of plants that are deer-proof or “close to it.”

But, said Ciscoe, “The only thing that works is a six-foot fence. Or two fences that are about three feet apart. Deer can jump high but they can’t jump far.”

Moles

Moles eat living insects and worms, not plants, but molehills can ruin your lawn and moles may also inadvertently heave small plants out of the ground as they tunnel..

Ciscoe considers moles to be one of the most amusing pests in the garden because of the creative things people try to get rid of them, from using a sonic device to drive the moles away to putting Juicy Fruit gum in the mole hole.

But Ciscoe’s Mint Mole Blaster is the way to go. The recipe:

Begin by running a couple of big handfuls of mint stems and leaves through the blender with just enough water to make slurry. Then mix the blended concoction into a large soup pot full of water and simmer for about 30 minutes. This will make a concentrate that can be diluted to make about 6 gallons of mole blaster. Whenever you detect mole activity, pour the diluted mixture into mole holes and around the surrounding area. Irrigate lightly after application if the soil is dry.

“Persistence is the key to success,” said Ciscoe.

Slugs and Snails

If you’re finding little holes in your precious plants and shiny slime trails around the yard, you’ve got slugs and/or snails.

There are multiple methods to fight the war on slime.

Natural slug and snail killers include Sluggo, Worry Free and Escar-Go!

“They work pretty good,” said Ciscoe. “But you’ve got to use them a lot.”

Ciscoe recalled a woman at a flower and garden show who was eating one of the natural repellants to show how safe it is.

“I haven’t seen her since,” he said with a chuckle.

But the natural products are safe for birds and pets. Be sure to read the label on any product you are considering.

An alternative is to use three-inch copper foil around your flower beds or flowerpots.

“What happens when they cross copper they make an unbelievable amount of static electricity and they get a shock and they fall right off,” said Ciscoe. “They will not cross copper.”

Resources

Gardening with Ciscoe

Rabbits – WA Department of Fish and Wildlife

Deer – WA Department of Fish and Wildlife

Moles – WA Department of Fish and Wildlife

PAWS wildlife

Image by zerocattle

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Susan Wyatt

A Western Washington native, Susan Wyatt writes about health and wellness, pets, travel, etc. etc. In her off-hours she enjoys gardening, reading and playing bagpipes. She lives in Issaquah with a ginger cat named Vinny (aka Yawny McYawnface).



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