Bunny Bustin’ Natives

bunny in garden

photo courtesy Better Homes and Gardens

Many people might just think of rabbits trying to get into veggie gardens and eating all those yummy carrots, but some gardeners have troubles with rabbits in their flower gardens as well. Carol Duke wrote a great piece on cotton tail rabbits in the garden.  They sure are cute – but just like deer and other wildlife that we all love – when they are devouring your garden that you have been working so hard on – sometimes they can start looking less cute! And just like deer, rabbits can come in large numbers, that can devour quite a number of plants in little time. Common garden plants including marigolds, salvia, veronica, astilbe, lavender  and daylilies are noted as rabbit resistant – but what about native species?

Certainly, there must be many- since native plants and native bunnies have evolved together for many years.  But it turns out finding a list of such native species isn’t as easy as one might think. Deer resistant native plant lists are pretty common, but rabbit resistant seems to be less so. There are some rabbit resistant lists out there – they just aren’t specific to native plants.  And not all natives lend themselves to rabbit resistance. We certainly have a number of rabbits that hang around the production area in our nursery here at Fiddlehead Creek, nibbling on some of our native grasses  - mainly the Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa) and sometimes the Northern Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).  So, in honor of Easter Weekend, here are a few New York native plants that are noted for being rabbit resistant.

Natives for sunny gardens include Monarda sp., Penstemon sp., Iris sp., Anemone sp., Heuchera sp., and Lupinus sp. Butterflyweed, Black-eyed susans, and Wild Columbine are also rabbit resistant.

spotted beebalm

Spotted beeblam (Monarda punctata)

Monarda species you can try include Beebalm (M. didyma), Bergamot (M. fistulosa), and Spotted Beebalm (M. punctata). Beebalm and Bergamot are common in many gardens, but Spotted Beebalm less so. This beebalm is shorter and can take drier soils, making it a great find if you have a sunny, dry garden. It is also loved by pollinators and covered in them all summer long.

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

If you have a dry, sunny garden – along with the M. punctata you might also want to try Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis), Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis),  and Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). I’m not sure if the other milkweeds are rabbit resistant or not. I haven’t found info on them – and don’t have any personal experience – but maybe someone has some experience with them and can comment.

Blue Flag Iris and Tall White Beardtongue

Blue Flag Iris and Tall White Beardtongue

With a little more moisture, you can add Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor), Nodding Onion (Allium cernum) and Tall White Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) to your Beeblam and Bergamot if you like.  All of these are pretty strong plants, holding their own against each other, as they spread and fill in the garden quite nicely. There won’t be any room left for the bunnies before long!

If you need some groundcovers, try Alumroot (Heuchera americana) or Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis) in the sun, or Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) or Wild Ginger (Asarum canadensis) in the shade.

 

In shady gardens, try some of our native Goldenrods for shade, such as Blue-stemmed (Solidago caesia) or Zig-zag (Solidago flexicaulis). Jacobs Ladder (Polemonium reptans) and Solomons seal (Polygonatum commutatum) are other good choices. I often use Solomons seal, Jacob’s Ladder , and Foamflower together in shade gardens – they are a great combination.

Solomon's Seal

Solomon’s Seal

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

If you are looking to add in some shrubs, try Ilex sp., Hydrangea sp, Elderberry sp., Rhus sp., Spiraea sp., Viburnum sp., and Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). In New York, Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Inkberry (Ilex glabra), Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica), Meadowsweet (Spiraea latifolia),  and Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) would all be good options depending on your garden conditions. You could also try some of the many Viburnum species we have, but in general, I now avoid these because of a pest we have a problem with in New York, Viburnum Leaf Beetle. The one exception is Mapleleaf Viburnum. It is a great small shrub for shade, and seems to have much better resistance to the beetle than the other species.

In working on this article, I found a good rabbit resistant list through Penn State Extension.  I just focused on New York Native Plants, but I’m sure there are some other great natives out there for other regions as well.  If you have some for where you live, please share!

 

© 2013, Emily DeBolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. says

    Emily, I have neither deer browsers nor bunny nibblers. However, your list is invaluable as it covers my area. When I get the inevitable question at one of our NANPS events (particularly our plant sale), now I can quickly spout off a few species to give to gardeners in wilder areas.

  2. says

    Emily, What an informative post. Over the past few years I have had more and more rabbit damage in my garden. They are cute little things but they can cause an amazing amount of damage in a short time. I’m planning to add more Monarda to my garden this season so I’m happy to see that they are on your list.
    Debbie recently posted..Wordless Wednesday ~ Anticipation

  3. says

    Great Suggestions Emily and beautiful photographs! Yes, rabbits for me are in the same category with the pernicious bishop’s weed. If only they would seriously dine on those horrid plants. Our rabbits are not the native less invasive and less destructive cute little ones and they simply will not give up when it comes to sampling and devouring all of my veggies. I have discovered they do not care for arugula but you would not believe what they will eat to the ground . . . herbs, tomatoes . . . unbelievable and there is so much for them to eat in the fields and on the paths. What I really cannot forgive them for is eating the young milkweed plants that often have monarch eggs on them. Deer are kind to me for the most part but then there is so much for them to eat in the lower fields. I wish the rabbits were as generous. Having said all this . . . rabbits are an important food source for lots of other animals and have their rights too. GRRR! Thanks so for the link!
    Carol Duke recently posted..Flower Hill Farm Butterflies of 2012 ~ Red Admiral

  4. Judy Songer says

    Thanks for your article. I’ve been so frustrated over the rabbit damage to my veggies and flowers. I thought the bunnies were cute at first, but they make growing many plants a real struggle. They absolutely LOVE fennel and made short work of my sulfur cosmos last year. I definitely want to get started with the spotted bee balm. It’s a great pollinator plant, and is a healing herb as well.
    Judy Songer

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) sports fascinating white/pale green spring flowers that dangle like baubles from stems below each leaf base. This plant grows generally about a foot or two in height, but a larger variant form known as Giant Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum var. commutatum) grows much bigger, up to 7′ in rich, moist soils. The flowers are pollinated by buzz-pollinating native bees. [...]

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