Keeping bunnies at bay and critters away

Has your flowerbed turned into a smorgasbord for wildlife? Pesky critters enjoying your garden crops before you do? Grandpa may have gotten out the .22, his barn cats controlled bunny nests and family farm dogs were charged with keeping deer and critters away, times have changed.

Deer and rabbits will eat about anything, although some plants are less likely to be tasty and are listed as being “resistant”. This is not always applicable, as your deer and Peter Rabbit may have neglected to read the list.

So what to do? Though a few folks may plant extra plants for wildlife to devour, most gardeners don’t have the time or space for that option. And unfortunately, there is no one magic tactic that works well in all cases. Plan to incorporate a variety of deterrent methods for best control. And remember, there is no scientific, researched-based information to show that using mothballs, bars of soap, human hair, etc. works to keep wildlife away.

First – identify the problem and know thy enemy. Investigate damage to determine the proper line of defense you need to take. Not sure what is causing the damage? Your local ISU Extension Office can help with identification. Several publications are available on line at

The most reliable way to exclude wildlife is with a fence. A permanent fence may not always be a feasible solution, as cost, aesthetic concerns and local building codes may be prohibitive. A fence needs to be 8-foot high to keep deer out, while a two-foot high wire mesh fence with openings of one inch or smaller, works well for rabbit control. Be sure to bury several inches of the fencing underground to prevent critters from crawling under it.

Contact chemical repellants can help to reduce damage when applied directly to ornamental plants. Always be sure to read and follow label directions as most commercial repellants are not designed for use on food crops. Homemade repellents are not always effective and need to be reapplied after heavy rains. Poisoning is not a recommended control, as it is dangerous to other animals and humans, and may be illegal.

Did you know? Live traps may not be as humane as one thinks. Replaced animals are often killed or injured. Some states even require a permit before a live trap may be used.

For further information on protecting plants from wildlife or other gardening questions, contact Yvonne McCormick at