Controlling rabbit and deer in your landscape
Purcell, McClain County, OK- White-tailed deer and cottontail rabbit both have a broad diet and sometimes damage garden and ornamental plants. Damage to hosta, rudbeckia, pansy, peas, beans, rose, blackberry, and many low growing trees is common. Turf damage is typically minor. Fortunately, homeowners have several options for reducing damage to an acceptable level.
Repellants have been found to provide limited effectiveness with putrid egg solids or thiram based products having the highest reported effectiveness. A problem with all repellants is that they must be applied to a large portion of the plant to provide protection and they must be reapplied frequently. Expect to reapply every couple of weeks at minimum, although rain and direct sunlight will necessitate more frequent reapplication. This becomes expensive and frustrating and unless the plant is of high value, probably not a realistic solution for most situations. Areas with higher deer density and/or lower food resources will have reduced effectiveness from repellants. Also, the more preferred the target plant, the less effective the repellant will be.
Exclusion is a very effective way to minimize damage to landscape plants. However, it can be expensive as fences need to be 10’ to completely exclude deer, although 2’ will suffice for rabbits. Woven wire or netting is the most effective. For large areas of a high value plant (such as a garden) this may be the best long-term solution. An electric fence for small garden plots can help to reduce deer damage, but is not foolproof. If using an electric fence, try attaching pieces of aluminum foil (or other electrical conducting material) at about 3’ intervals. Peanut butter smeared onto the conductors serves as an attractant. The resultant shock can condition deer to avoid that area. To protect small trees and shrubs, wrap the trunk with plastic tree wrap or poultry wire. Ensure that the wrap or wire is not cutting into the bark of the tree. If branches are within the reach of the deer, they may still browse the tips.
The most effective way to reduce deer and rabbit damage is to select plants that they do not generally consume. Fortunately for the Oklahoma gardener, there are many such plants available. The Oklahoma State University fact sheet “HLA-6427 - Ornamental and Garden Plants: Controlling Deer Damage” (https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/ ornamental-and-garden-plants-controllingdeer-damage.html) has an extensive list of plants and their relative attractiveness to deer and most of this information will apply to rabbits as well. Examples of plants not generally damaged include: blanket flower, lantana, salvia, zinnia, bee balm, butterfly weed, foxglove, gayfeather, goldenrod, lavender, penstemon, rosemary, Russian sage, thyme, yarrow, holly, barberry, creeping mahonia, yucca, sumac, cantaloupe, pepper, onion, and tomato. If replacing plants is not an option, place susceptible plants together (to the extent possible) and use exclusion or repellants to protect that area of the garden.