Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit!
Elmer Fudd from The Looney Tunes said it right, "Bugs Bunny?! You're a pesky wabbit!" I have replanted my tomato plants three times this spring. The first two times the plants were gone by the next morning, and I think the "cute" little rabbit I saw hop down my walk is the culprit!
My first line of defense was to learn more about rabbits from our University of Illinois Extension "Living with Wildlife" website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/. Here is what I learned.
As you know, our Eastern cottontail rabbits produce many offspring and grow quickly. One female cottontail rabbit may have 20-25 young per year, which reach full size in six months.
My efforts to naturalize many parts of my property likely increase my rabbit population. They are found in open spaces near woody cover and are abundant where grass fields adjoin bushy areas. I have many locations with that exact description.
You might ask how I know a rabbit ate my plants. Rabbits clip off flower heads, buds, or small stems (my tomatoes!) at a clean 45o angle. Deer, on the other hand, do not have sharp teeth like a rabbit and instead twist and pull plants when browsing. Cutworms don't eat the entire plant.
Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for managing rabbits and other wildlife in our yards. Control options include habitat modification, exclusion, repellents, and removal.
I chose to try the exclusion method. The third tomato planting included a wire mesh fence cover to keep rabbits away from the plants. The mesh has to be small enough to prevent small and large rabbits from slipping through. Rabbits also burrow so the bottom six inches of wire should be bent outward and buried six inches deep.
The rabbits have also eaten some of my impatiens. Since some of these products are not safe for human consumption, and impatiens are not an edible food crop, repellents were a good option. These products are taste repellents and are applied directly to the plants. Unfortunately, it has to be reapplied after heavy rains or watering and as the plant develops new growth.
I just learned about another option I want to try. Bunny-Be-Gone Coleus (Coleus canina) is marketed as a natural repellent. Also called Scaredy Cat Plant (Plectranthus caninus), this mint family herb is sticky with a foul odor similar to marijuana. No research currently exists to support these claims, but it'll be fun to try it anyway.
You might ask why I don't use Elmer Fudd's method for controlling Bugs Bunny – a gun. In Illinois, an animal removal permit from an Illinois Department of Natural Resources District wildlife biologist is required to trap rabbits. Rabbit hunting season in Illinois is from November through early January.