Baby jackrabbit.

We have an…erm…flourishing population of white-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus townsendii) around here this spring and with their clearly discerning tastes, they would far rather munch on the free buffets everyone’s gardens than the gazillion luscious dandelions popping out of the lawns.  The adult rabbits are big, too – much larger* than a housecat and many dog breeds, and they have this steely look in their eyes that suggests you don’t want to mess with them when they’re chowing down on your tulips.  They’re so used to people that they barely blink when you try to shoo them away – sometimes you really have to make a fuss to get them to run.

This little one is going to be a problem one day, but for now, he’s the cutest thing in the neighbourhood.  Our landlady hasn’t planted up the boxes in the doorway at the back of our building just yet, so he’s taken to snoozing in one, casually pretending that no one sees him when they enter and exit. I guess having his back to the bricks makes him feel very secure.  He certainly didn’t move a muscle when I took a photo over the stair rail a few evenings ago.   I just can’t get over how long his legs are compared to his body size – he’s going to be one huge bunny.

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*In Wayne Lynch’s article “More Than Fluff: The Curious Behaviours of Rabbits and Hares” in the Spring/Summer 2012 edition of Alberta Conservation, he writes that white-tailed jackrabbits can reach a hefty 3.5 kilograms.

Are rabbits a problem in your garden?  What have you done to try to deter them?

Hasen stewing.

Alas, I’ve been afflicted.  The diagnosis is Lepus townsendii, and I’m afraid it might be terminal.

To my plants, that is.  Yep, I’ve got rabbits.  Flop-eared, amazingly agile, luxuriously furry, and utterly adorable, these insatiable herbivores have already decimated half my garden and it’s not even all exposed from its most recent blanketing of snow.  They’ve eaten all of my emerging crocuses down to the quick, and the glories and hyacinths are falling daily.  Some of my perennials are now slowly leafing out and it’s just a matter of time before the gourmet banquet begins.

ACTUALLY, the critters that I’ve been cursing out as “rabbits” are, in truth, hares.  We have three species of rabbits and hares in Alberta.  Two are hares:  the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) and my nemesis, the white-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii, also a hare despite what the common name suggests).  The only rabbit in our part of the world, the mountain cottontail, lives primarily in the rocky regions of its namesake. (Sylvilagus nuttallii is a sweet little beast, much tinier than the hares I’m used to, with short ears, short hind feet, and a fluffy white tail.  They don’t change colour in the wintertime as the hares do).   My extant knowledge about rabbits comes from Watership Down, so it was a bit of a surprise to me when I learned that hares don’t make comfy little warrens, and they don’t hibernate in the wintertime.  They have to continuously forage for grub, and they can’t “stock up” in the summertime to store for the cold days of winter.  It’s the jackrabbits that are currently my garden’s tormentors; they’re just coming off several months of  particularly brutal  glacial chill and they’re obviously quite ravenous.

So what do you do to keep them out of your precious plants?  Suggestions abound:  repeatedly sprinkle cayenne or ground black pepper or garlic powder or vinegar onto the garden soil; erect a tall fence that the rabbits cannot burrow beneath; buy a dog (and teach it to urinate in strategic locations); spread cut human hair (or cat hair or dog hair) in the beds; purchase bottles of coyote or fox urine and sprinkle liberally onto the soil; save your cat’s used litter and spread it around the bed perimeters; or encase your special plants in cages made of chicken wire.   All very fun and delightful methods!

As my sources of fresh coyote pee are rather nonexistent and I don’t have a cat or a dog or the desire to fence in my garden, I decided to try something else.  The other day I went to the grocery store and bought a whole bag of fresh habanero peppers.  (The lady selecting fresh button mushrooms next to me kept glancing over as I was picking the peppers out of the bin:  her expression suggested that I was perhaps the world’s most sadistic cook, and that my husband might do well to run far, far away).  I came home, put on latex gloves, and sliced the little spicy veggies into tiny pieces, then I went out and spread them all over my flowerbeds, seeds and all.  (Time will tell if I get a bumper crop of habaneros, which isn’t all bad, as pepper plants are quite lovely.  Besides, they’ll only last one season here).  I felt very satisfied with my work, until I went out yesterday to check on my remaining hyacinths, only to find that they had been mowed down by rodent threshing machines.  There was no sign of the peppers:  either they had composted back into the earth with amazing speed, or the hares had carted them off to make a delectable zingy dip.  They may know something we don’t:  perhaps hyacinth leaves really do go well with salsa!

(I’ve since read that I may have done well to mix the diced habaneros with unflavoured gelatin before spreading it on my flowerbeds.  I don’t know – I suspect that may just encourage my hare-y friends to make hot pepper Jello desserts).

If you’ve got any other tips to (humanely) deal with rabbits and hares, please don’t hesitate to post them!  I’m all ears (yeah, I couldn’t resist), and other gardeners will benefit as well.

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For excellent information about rabbits and hares, consult the Alberta government’s website srd.alberta.ca/BiodiversityStewardship/WildSpecies/Mammals/RabbitsRodents/Default.aspx.