Sunday, July 5, 2015

Got Rabbits?

Photo from National Pesticide Information Center
Rabbits, skunks, foxes and coyotes have become common in suburban and urban backyards. They’ve adapted to city living just like us. Their numbers cycle up and down depending on weather conditions, predator numbers and access to food sources.  We’re somewhat used to squirrels living among us, but what’s a gardener to do about uninvited wildlife nuisances?  This summer rabbit complaints and numbers are high.   

Free, easy access to food and shelter will keep wildlife coming to your address.  Do not purposefully feed any wildlife except birds (the food may attract other animals).  All pet food should be kept inside the house.  Tightly secure garbage containers and prevent access to garages, crawlspaces, outbuildings, sheds or under porches. Screen attic vents, chimneys, or other small openings into the house.  Cats left to roam can be easy prey for foxes, coyotes and mountain lions.

Cottontail rabbits are the most common along the Front Range.  Both male and female are grey/brown with white underside stubby tails and big ears. Females start breeding when only two months old from April to September. Rabbit have three to four litters a year with up to five “kittens” in each litter. Yes, they reproduce like rabbits and can live three years. 

Cottontails are strict vegetarians preferring grasses and leafy plants in the spring and summer, then twigs, bark, buds and young trees in the winter.  They are most active and forage at dawn and dusk.  Even if you don’t see them, you may find their aftereffects - damaged vegetation, no blooms and definitely no lettuce, or small piles of pea-sized pellet scat in your yard.

Photo from
As with any bothersome wildlife use a combination of prevention, exclusion, deterrents and humane trapping and removal for control.  Be vigilant and continue trying methods until they leave and don’t return:

  • Cut back tall vegetation, brush or weedy areas near your house that they use for cover and protection.
  • Easy methods to try include putting up reflective pin wheels, spinners or old CDs on wire to spook them away.  Motion detecting sprinklers are available and work for raccoons and skunks too, especially at night if they are destroying sprinkler lines while seeking water.
  • Biodegradable repellents may be effective by making the plants distasteful. They have to be replaced or reapplied.  Look for products that are specifically labeled for your type of invader. Carefully read all labels and do not use on food crops if stated on the label.  
  • Homemade solutions are often tried - scattering soap shavings, human hair hung in socks or vinegar soaked corn cobs around the landscape. Garlic or cayenne sprays may temporarily repel rabbits, all worth a try but no guarantees.
  • Most dogs will chase rabbits away, but they can’t be outside 24/7.
  • The most effective long-term deterrent for rabbits is fencing them out. A wire fence needs to be tight and heavier than poultry fencing with small-gauge openings (one inch) and three feet high and trenched at least six inches below ground. Bend the bottom of the wire outward then run sturdy stakes through the wire to keep it all in place.
  • Protect young trees with the same type of wire protection in a cylinder around the tree – two feet high and one to two feet away from the tree, buried at least three inches. 
  • There are plants that rabbits will avoid - perennials include yarrow, coral bells, coneflowers and daylilies. Annuals include ageratum, impatiens, forget-me-nots and campanulas.   
  • Follow all rules, codes and regulations per your municipality for trapping and removing wildlife in your yard.  In many cases trapping and removing problem rabbits and squirrels is best left to professional companies.  Check your local listings and call their references. 
  • Most municipalities have wildlife experts for additional assistance and questions. Wildlife Hotline, Denver area - 720 913-0630      

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