While we might think Mr. McGregor is mean and grumpy towards Peter and his family, it’s a regrettable truth that rabbits and gardens really don’t mix. Though most of us would prefer to live in harmony with our fluffy friends, the reality is they cause immeasurable damage to young trees and munch their way through newly planted borders and veg patches in one sitting.
Forewarned is forearmed as the saying goes, and rabbits are at their busiest during winter and spring, so it’s the perfect time to plan ahead to prevent them from causing mayhem in your plot this year...
It’s thought by some gardeners that family pets can be enough of a deterrent to nervous young rabbits, but while this might help in smaller gardens, a dog or a cat isn’t a practical solution at night when your pets are most likely to be found snoozing indoors (or if you have an allotment or veg patch away from your house). Alternatively, you could try a deterrent-based product that you’ll find in garden centres, DIY stores and online. They range from chemical-based sprays to gadgets that emit a sonic pulse or offensive odour. Be warned, success rates can be fairly erratic so it might not be worth spending too much money trying these out.
Rabbits are inquisitive creatures and will happily try those precious new plants and shrubs that you’ve bought. Try covering freshly planted specimens with nets or, if you’re really infested with rabbits, it might be worth going for varieties that are generally considered to be unpopular with rabbits, like peony, veronica, saliva, siberian iris, astilbe, allium, daylily. The RHS has a useful and comprehensive lists of plants and trees.
When it comes to the veg garden, rabbits can be fairly ruthless, leaving you little in the way of untouched crops to harvest. The one-acre, organic kitchen garden at The Grove in Pembrokeshire is surrounded by glorious countryside, and so vulnerable to rabbits who have to make the short journey from field to veg patch for their breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thankfully, head gardener, David Butt, is something of a horticultural genius and swears by his homemade garlic ‘potion’ to keep the rabbits at bay. The recipe is simple, 400g of garlic granules in a muslin bag tied to the inside of a 10 litre watering can filled with water. He leaves it for a day to steep and then decants the liquid. He dilutes 100ml of the garlic concentrate with 10 litres of water and spray over plants and crops.
However, if rabbits are a real problem for you, Richard Todd, Head Gardener at the National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey, suggests investing in a rabbit-proof fence to secure the whole garden to keep rabbits and all manner of other pests out. When they recently planted their new Winter Garden, the first consideration was to build such a fence around the perimeter to ensure their new, young trees, shrubs and plants would be left untouched. You can build them yourself or if you're not that handy with a mallet and drill, find a pest control company to do it for you. If you’re planting a few trees, rather than an arboretum’s worth, Richard says that a spiral tree guard is sufficient to protect the vulnerable bark. In true National Trust style, he adds ‘wrap wire netting around the tree guard and peg it into the ground as a belt and braces measure’.