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My run-ins with Peter Cottontail

April 28, 2017
By JOYCE COMINGORE ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Easter has come and gone, along with the bountiful supply of colored hard boiled eggs. My middle daughter had an Easter egg hunt - a Beatrix Potter Easter egg hunt for her granddaughter, nephew's daughter and a neighbor's daughter, (my great-granddaughters and friend.) We adults enjoyed the occasion, accompanying the less than caring participants, (they are 17 months old).

Adorable Beatrix Potter signs led the Bunny Trailway to nests of three colored eggs at each stop, then ending in Mr. McGregor's garden patch. All this took place alongside my son-in-law's real raised garden patch. He had surrounded his garden with chicken wire to keep the real rabbits away. Unable to keep any green beans growing because of rabbit appetites, he wanted to grow peas also, (lettuce and the whole shebang), hence the protective barrier.

I do believe that Beatrix Potter is responsible for our inability to hate rabbits and do them any harm; just drawing the line at sharing our hard-achieved garden foods. Who could harm Flopsy, Mopsy or Peter Cottontail? Preventative matters needed to be applied here.

I've had my own run-ins with Peter, ever since I moved into my home over 20 years ago. Back then, the three lots on each side of mine were void of homes, just massive vegetation, perfect for wild animals to inhabit, especially rabbits. I lost any young hibiscus plants I planted. The theory being, since things grow so well here, start them small and they will get much bigger in no time - unless you have rabbits. My vegetable garden became rectangular pots on top of cement blocks, only I put these in the middle of my backyard, hopefully out of reach of curious hungry rabbits, eventually creating an area of unsightly, unmowed grass - no weed whacker. Two lot sides eventually had homes placed on them and that left me with one overgrown side lot.

This is springtime in Florida; the time all rabbits do what they really do best - propagate. The change of day lengths signal two things to them, spring is approaching and this means breeding and feasting on tender new growth. Six-month-old rabbits are old enough to bred. Females produce a large litter, up to 12, in 30 days and immediately start again.

Any young animal is adorable, rabbits especially, staring back at you with their large, soulful eyes and floppy, soft ears - and they are hungry. Machines finally came in to destroy all the massive shrubs that sheltered and hid animal burrows. I no longer had to face those adorable faces staring back at me from my driveway or backyard. I didn't seem to threaten them, they just surveyed the territory - and it was mine, or so I was inclined to believe.

In searching how to get rid of rabbits, I found an article that started out by trying to help one identify the type of rabbit invading my territory. I didn't need to know their personal history, after all, a rabbit is a rabbit, a munching marauder. There are 9 species of North American cottontail rabbits that are rarely found in forests, inhabiting bushy fencerows, brush piles and - yes, lovely landscaped backyards, only mine isn't that lovely.

Their munching habits entail eating every morsel right down to the bare ground, a clean cut. They do this in all seasons, but the tenderness of spring shoots is their food heaven.

Getting a dog is the #1 investment. You can't just let the dogs run lose, chaining them up is a cruelty, be there with them when they survey the territory. #2 is to dust plants with talcum powder (if you don't like the powdery mildew look go to #3). Since they sniff and smell a lot, spread dried sulfur on the ground or plants carefully as sulfur burns: they also don't really like the onion fragrance, so surround the garden with onions. Have you seen people putting shavings of Irish Spring soap around? "Feeling really fresh?" Seems to work.

There is always the hot pepper cocktail, grinding together 3 hot peppers, 3 onions and 1 whole bunch of garlic, adding water, enough to make 1 gallon, making a spray for your plants. It needs to be repeated after any rains. Or try a spray of Lysol with a gallon of water. Clear glass jars of water throughout the garden cast reflections the rabbits don't like, a very old fashioned remedy.

My son-in-law's father is a Master Gardener in Leon County; he goes to the barbershops and gets bags of human hair to spread around. This works great for deer, but that's not our problem here in the city. I believe my son-in-law has tried it for his rabbits, but the conclusions are sketchy. Circling with dried blood is also a remedy worth trying, but dogs will tear it up so if dogs are around, and they always are, forget it. These are very old-fashioned solutions. Trapping and relocating can be done if you have the time. Fencing so you can reach in, but the rabbits can't, is the most humane and effective way to protect the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor.

Rabbits are technically not rodents, they are lagomorphs. They make a delicious prey for hunters, human or animal. I have heard their shrill screams when they are attacked by other animals, that is the only time they make a sound, but they warn others by thumping their hind foot on the ground. When I was young we owned a large rabbit hutch where my father raised rabbits. As a child I carried on so vehemently about not eating my pets, he had to give it up. I understand they are better than chicken, but I don't raise chickens for pets.

And of course, I'm a sucker for trees. Thank one today.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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