The Rose Whisperer: Public enemy No. 1

Photos courtesy of Lynn Hunt.
Sturdy wire cages protect tender rose leaves from hungry bunnies.
Photos courtesy of Lynn Hunt.
A pesky bunny contemplates which of my roses will be on the menu today.

They may look innocent. They may even look cute. But when bunnies, deer, raccoons, dogs, cats, and other pests damage your plants, you may want to ring wring their furry necks.

Of course, there is no totally foolproof way to keep animals out of the garden. I’ve heard experts recommend erecting an eight-foot-tall fence trimmed at the bottom with chicken wire that’s firmly planted six inches into the ground. An electric fence is supposed to be better yet.

But for those of us who don’t want to (or can’t) go the fencing route, we must keep searching for new ways to keep critters at bay.

Everyone who has the problem knows that deer can destroy a garden in one evening. Deterring their destructive visits isn’t easy. One school of thought is that deer don’t like walking through bushes with thorns. Some say a hedge of rugosa roses, holly, or other prickly plants will discourage them. Others say these eating machines will devour any rose, no matter how thorny.

I don’t have a deer problem – yet. I didn’t have a squirrel problem either until hurricane Isabel sent a few floating over to my street in 2003. Now they're everywhere. They tip over the veggie seedling trays my husband is hardening off on the front steps, then they tear up my newly planted pots on the balcony. Evidently they hide nuts and forget what they’ve done with them. My containers seem to always be the first place they look.

As maddening as squirrels can be, bunnies are even worse. Every year those wascally wabbits defoliate my new rose bushes, then stare at me defiantly as if challenging me to do something about it. I must say I’ve tried just about everything including dried blood, bone meal, wood ashes, and mothball crystals – without much success. (One suggestion I decided against was dragging a piece of liver around the perimeter of my yard.)

A wise older rosarian advised me to distribute thorny rose cuttings around the base of my bushes. The theory is that the thorns hurt delicate bunny paws so they scamper off. (The very thought of stepping on a mega-thorned cane of the rose L.D. Braithwaite in my bare feet brought tears to my eyes.) The method may not work, but it does appeal to my imagination.

In 2007, the bunny wrecking crew claimed three climbing miniature roses, two hybrid teas, and two clematis vines. I decided that enough was enough so we constructed several wire cages to place over tender plants, especially in the spring when young rabbits seem to be especially ravenous.

The cages aren’t particularly attractive, but they do the job. And we can pick them up and put them in the shed if we’re grilling out or throwing a garden party.

The only problem cropped up before we anchored the cages and the squirrels knocked a few of them over. On cue, the bunnies were back to snack on tasty rose leaves.

I’m not sure if the bunnies and squirrels are in cahoots, but I wouldn’t put it past them.

Pssst: The Whisperer has heard through the grapevine that hot pepper sprays are great bunny bouncers. You can buy the spray at a garden center or make your own concoction by mixing one tablespoon of hot sauce (please wear gloves) with one gallon of water.  Maybe throw in a splash of habanero pepper to keep those tiny taste buds truly toasted.

Click here to read the Rose Whisperer's previous post.

Reference: Diggin' It has had several columns on the perennial topic of methods to control critters in the garden. If you'd like to read more on this topic, click here, here, and here.

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