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July 27, 2014 / Rae Spencer

Feeding the Rabbits

I never feed the rabbits on purpose. They are wild rabbits, not domestic.

Rabbit July 20

It’s a weak argument, at best, because I often put out bird seed. Birds are wild, as are the squirrels who steal the bird seed. Why feed them, but avoid feeding rabbits? Also, as a reader noted in commenting on a previous post, rabbits sometimes graze on flowers. Recent developments have made me consider this fact in new light. How can I claim to “never feed the rabbits” if I am planting flowers the rabbits will eat?

Marigold July 26

In past years the rabbits’ appetite for flowers has been low-impact, but this year’s toll is on the rise. By mid-July the victims included marigolds, rose of Sharon, succulents, a pair of ornamental sweet potato vines (which are in the process of recovering in a hanging basket), and coneflowers.

Succulents July 26

Potato Vine July 23

All of these losses were logged under “remember not to plant these again” and forgiven, until coneflowers entered the picture. Quite literally entered the picture, stoking my obsessive fascination with bees and bee photos.

Bee June 27

I bought the summer’s first coneflower on a whim, trying to ignore foggy memories of a previous coneflower failure. For over a week I enjoyed an increasing spectacle of bee activity.

Bee June 27

Then I woke one morning to a pitiful collection ruined coneflower parts. That afternoon, while a series of rabbits munched on the flower’s remains, I concocted a coneflowers-in-containers scheme. A short trip to the garden store later, I had a new bee-magnet planted out of the reach of rabbits. Or so I thought. Coneflowers, it seems, are irresistible rabbit treats. Containers that provided dependable rabbit-proofing in the past are no match for a motivated rabbit.

Deep in the grip of bee-mania, I returned to the garden store in search of a taller, better container. During that trip I bought two more coneflowers. I also bought tickseed and a hybrid black-eyed Susan, both labelled “deer resistant.”

Tickseed July 23

As I’m sure any true gardener would already know, “deer resistant” is not the same as “rabbit resistant.”

Rudbeckia July 23

As for my taller, better coneflower container…

Rabbit July 21

The big rabbits conquered it almost immediately, and the smaller rabbits soon followed.

Rabbit July 21

After eating its fill, this one spent some time mocking me…

Rabbit July 21

I knew the rabbits could jump that high. I just didn’t think they would. Especially as there was very little cover available in or around the coneflower container, and hawks often hunt in our neighborhood. Under normal circumstances, the rabbits avoid being so exposed.

Rabbit June 26

Rabbit June 26

The following photo shows the same rabbit as earlier. I’m pretty sure it was still mocking me…

Rabbit July 20

I should have given up after the second failure. More reasonably, after the first. Because, in the end, all of my efforts added up to an embarrassing series of rabbit feasts. And, as much as I enjoy watching and photographing the rabbits, I didn’t mean to feed them.

I didn’t mean to feed them because I enjoy watching and photographing them.

Rabbit June 26

Rabbit June 26

Rabbit June 26

(The above photos were taken in late June. The babies are still growing, and a group of slightly older rabbits has joined them in the yard.)

Rabbit July 20
Rabbit July 20

The yard has never supported more than one or two rabbits over subsequent seasons, and five (or more) seems an invitation for overpopulation troubles. Ticks and tick-borne diseases are an obvious concern, as ticks are visible in many of my photos.

Rabbits July 5

Also, winter will certainly bring a shortage of food for the rabbits, along with other stressors. At this age, they should be learning how to find food. I fear that having it so easily delivered makes them less fit. It also encourages them to stay in a territory that cannot support such a dense population.

In trying to learn from my coneflower debacle, I’ve frozen my yard budget for the rest of the summer. No more new flowers. No more new containers. (I made one last purchase, before freezing the budget, which will appear in a future post.) The rabbits may take what they need from what the yard produces, and I will continue enjoying their antics, but they will remain wild. As wild as possible in their suburban habitat.

9 Comments

  1. jeanryan1 / Jul 27 2014 5:38 PM

    Tough love, alright. You might try Bidens and Scabiosa next year as bees love them–rabbits, who knows? And it’s true too that many creatures are becoming less discriminating as their habitats change. I work at a plant nursery, and we used to refer to a deer resistant guide when helping customers make their choices. Now we just shrug.

    • Rae Spencer / Jul 27 2014 9:29 PM

      My usual flower shopping routine is to buy whatever the bees are visiting while I’m at a nursery, which is how I found the tickseed last week. Unfortunately, the rabbits have been happily eating the blooms off of it for the past few days. But I wonder if other flowers in the Bidens family would be less appealing to them? I’ve tried Scabiosa in the past, with no luck. The rabbits didn’t eat it because it didn’t live long enough for them to find it. There’s always next summer, though!

      My sister has trouble with deer in her garden. Her stories make me grateful for our rabbits, who only eat a few leaves at a time and can’t reach into a hanging basket. I think an invasion of deer would make me give up altogether.

  2. Sharon Poch / Jul 28 2014 1:48 PM

    In addition to my Rose of Sharon, I’ve found that the bunnies also have a taste for Mexican Petunias and parsley.

    • Rae Spencer / Jul 28 2014 8:53 PM

      Mine eat our petunias’ blooms, but not the leaves or stems. 🙂

  3. Fictionquest / Jul 28 2014 2:57 PM

    very very sweet

  4. bardessdmdenton / Aug 8 2014 2:02 PM

    Oh, Rae, it is always a dilemma when you are a animal lover (and protector) and flower lover. I had some ‘critters’ digging up my annual flowers after a planted them (mostly in containers). Also, something started chomping off my nasturtium flowers. I won’t kill any living creature if I can help it. So, I tried sprinkling Cayenne Pepper around them and even a little on them. And it seems to have worked. Of course, it is harder if you have a large patch of something, like cone flowers. And has to be reapplied after heavy rains. I applaud your patience and making the best of a frustrating situation, and enjoyed the post!

    • Rae Spencer / Aug 9 2014 4:59 PM

      I’ve considered trying one (or more) of the products advertised to keep rabbits and squirrels away from landscaping, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Instead of trying to discourage the rabbits, I’m keeping a list of flowers they refuse to eat, for next summer, and making notes about which blooms the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds seem to prefer. (The list will likely turn into a blog post next spring…)

      • bardessdmdenton / Aug 10 2014 7:14 PM

        I looked at some of those products, too, Rae; but, like you, I couldn’t use them. I think your plan is a good one. Look forward to seeing what you come up with and how it works out. 🙂

  5. bardessdmdenton / Aug 8 2014 2:03 PM

    AN animal lover … the writer/editor in me just noticed and winced! 🙂

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