Cute, but deadly -- to your plants, that is.

Companion Plantings to Deter Rabbits

by Linsay Evans

As cute as rabbits are -- and as much as your kids probably love watching them cavort in the yard -- these little creatures can wreak havoc on your garden. Rabbits view your garden as an all-you-can-eat buffet; fortunately, they tend to avoid certain plants, especially those with thick or prickly foliage, milky sap or strong-smelling leaves, flowers or bark. No plant is completely rabbit-proof all the time, but using unattractive plants to "hide" plants that rabbits find yummy can reduce rabbit damage.

1. Vegetable Gardens

Rabbits love to nibble on your vegetable garden. Mask the delicious smells with the strong aromas of rabbit-repellent plants such as alliums and herbs. Members of the Allium genus, such as onions (Allium cepa), garlic (Allium sativum), leeks (Allium porrum) and chives (Allium schoenoprasum), tend to repel rabbits. Plant alliums near beets (Beta vulgaris), carrots (Daucus carota), chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), lettuce (Lactuca sativa), parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) and members of the cabbage (Brassica oleracea) family, but avoid planting alliums near beans (Phaseolus spp.) and peas (Pisum sativum). Instead, plant aromatic herbs such as catmint (Nepeta spp.), oregano (Origanum vulgare), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), rosemary (Rosmarinus spp.), sage (Salvia officinalis), savory (Satureja hortensis) and thyme (Thymus spp.). Certain vegetable species themselves tend to turn rabbits off; these include asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), potatoes (solanum tuberosum), rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), summer squash (Cucurbita spp.) and tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum).

2. Annual Gardens

Rabbits adore chewing on freshly budded annuals. Protect your colorful seasonal garden by mixing rabbit-resistant species into your beds, such as ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum), begonia (Begonia spp.), campanula (Campanula glomerata), four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa), geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum) English marigolds (Calendula officinalis), Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia) and pincushions (Scabiosa spp.). A few strongly scented herbs placed through the bed, such as basil (Ocimum basilicum), mint (Mentha spp.) and tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), deter rabbits as well, while adding colorful foliage and flowers.

3. Perennial Gardens

Protect your perennials with strongly scented species such as astillbes (Astillbe x arendsii), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, bee balm (Monarda didyma) and violets (Violeta spp.) for USDA zones 4 through 9, goldenrod (Solidago spp.) in USDA zones 2 through 8, verbena (Verbena spp.) for USDA zones 6 through 10, or candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) and yarrow (Achillea spp.) in USDA zones 3 through 9. Perennials with thick or prickly foliage that repel rabbits but aren't poky enough to harm the kids include bear's breeches (Acanthus spinosa latifolius), hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10, lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) in USDA zones 4 through 8 and small globe thistle (Echinops ritro) for USDA zones 3 through 8.

4. Ground Covers and Grasses

Rabbits love to nibble away at ground covers, so mix in aromatic or tough-leaved -- and less-palatable -- varieties. These include creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) for USDA zones 2 through 9, spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) in USDA zones 4 through 7, and vinca (Vinca spp.) or bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) in USDA zones 4 through 8. Rabbits tend to avoid ornamental grasses as well, so consider planting feather grass (Stipa spp.) in USDA zones 6 to 8 or blue fescue (Festuca ovina "Glauca") and blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), both hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9.

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