Growing Concerns 514: Avoid rabbit with fence, plants to hide fence, mulch


Stop rabbits with fencing, not distasteful plants


Dear Janet,

What can I put in my garden that rabbits don't like to eat, or will keep them away?


Dear G.D.,

Bunnies don't usually nibble silk flowers or stone statuary. Everything else is fair game. Even those that rabbits usually avoid -- herbs with fragrant leaves such as lavender and sage -- may be sampled or even browsed to the ground when rabbits are so many that food is scarce.

Scare tactics are only as good as the danger they represent. Scarecrows must be moved or changed regularly, even daily, and must have some relationship with a real threat. Rabbits so accustomed to people that they can live beneath a deck you use every day are not going to be frightened by human scent on hair clippings or urine. Even the effect of fox or coyote urine will diminish if those scents aren't renewed regularly and if the animal itself never appears.

The best bet for saving gardens from animal damage is to trap and remove the animals or fence the garden. Fortunately for those who garden for aesthetics, rabbits are short and can be deterred by fences and cages only 12 or 18 inches high.

Dear Janet,

I want to plant something to hide a fence. Some of the area is in part shade, some is in sun.


Dear D.K.,

Old fashioned snow mound spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei), Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides, varieties such as 'Alleghany'), and beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) make attractive backgrounds, relatively quickly. Three are effective screens even in winter, the first two because their branches are spaced closely enough to seem solid from a distance even when leafless. The third holds its foliage through winter, until the next spring's growth pushes it off. All are tall enough to hide a four foot fence, and the last two can hide even an eight foot fence -- although that's also a problem, in that leatherleaf viburnum and beauty bush are ultimately very big shrubs, 12 to 20 feet tall.

As you plant to hide an object, be sure you know what bothers you about it. If you don't like the look of patterned wire, then anything leafy should alleviate that annoyance. If the straightness of the fence is what rankles, don't plant your screen in a line but in strategically placed clumps. If what you hate is painted wood disrupting the evergreen and snowy look of winter, then place your camouflage where it does the most from winter vantage points, using shrubs with winter color, such as the reddish brown twigs of spirea or bright green twigs of kerria.

Short report:

My kind of mulch...

I like to use: shredded pine bark, shredded hardwood, composted woody fines, andtriple shredded in bulk .  In bags they tend to be called: Pine Soil Conditioner, Organic Soil Conditioner, and Mini Pine Bark.

These very finely shredded mulches made from bark or aged wood are what I use for perennial beds when fallen leaves, cocoa hulls or compost are not available. Because they are dark and fine in texture, they make more attractive backgrounds for perennials than lighter, chunkier materials. Since they break down more quickly than bigger, woodier chips, they do more, more quickly, to improve the soil. The finely shredded pine bark is, as the bagged product name indicates, a very good additive to heavy soils because its high lignin content means long-lasting aerification. These mulches can be used throughout the landscape.


Green thumbs up

to you who still appreciate beauty despite disappointment. Although it was a terrible winter, leaving scorched foliage and bare spots in the garden, you are not focusing on the losses to the exclusion of the spring show. You know that May flowers don't wait around for grumps to appreciate them. In perhaps only one year in four do magnolias escape frost to look so good for so long as they have this spring. This year's late start has also given us a bulb display that's more concentrated than usual.


Green thumbs down

to planting codes in new developments that deliberately or indirectly restrict tree species diversity. Especially now as crews remove trees killed by emerald ash borer, leaving whole blocks bare, we should strive for diversity so our children won't suffer such neighborhood-wide losses. If your community specifies type of trees to be planted, lobby to lengthen the lists. If it mandates very large tree size, overturn this unwise policy -- too few species are available in the 14-foot or 4-inch trunk size.

Originally published 5/3/03