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