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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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