Thursday, March 25, 2021

Sweet Bunnies, Bold Bunnies!

During March it seems grocery store shelves are well stocked with edible, sweet bunnies… white chocolate, milk chocolate, foil wrapped.  

Gift shops also are well stocked with an assortment of delightful bunnies… furry, soft, cuddly… bunnies seem to be everywhere. 

All of these adorable, desirable bunnies bring smiles to the faces of children and adults.

The bunnies that are NOT so adorable are those that frequent our gardens during every season, particularly winter and spring.  Even when shrubs are deep in snow, cottontail rabbits roam the landscape and boldly chew any exposed branches.  This chewing results in straggly, uneven branches when the snow melts exposing an unsightly shrub or plant.

This spring a bold bunny attacked my Japanese Barberry shrub, covered with tiny thorns; this bunny consumed several inches of top growth from each branch.  This barberry carries the botanical name Berberis thunbergia ‘Orange Rocket’ and it is a specimen plant next to our front entrance.  

Its dramatic coral colored foliage in spring looks striking against the terra cotta shades of our brick, and in past years, it was quite attractive. (‘Orange Rocket’ turns from coral to shades of green in summer with burgundy foliage in fall.) This winter several 24” stems were chewed down to barely 6” which I will manually prune to encourage new growth.  This plant normally has a vertical growth format, but with all the auxin hormone gone from each stem tip, it might grow in an erratic shape this season.  

(Although this bush has been planted in same location since 2015, this past winter was first evidence that a bunny could consume its thorn-covered branches.)

    Another shrub called Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ had a     similar fate from bold bunnies.  Footprints in the snow        leading up to this shrub were unmistakably bunny               prints. 

    This plant is a broadleaf evergreen; a bold bunny feasted     on branches and left most foliage fall to the ground.  

    In the genus Sylvilagus, the cottontail has a ravenous        appetite for several species of shrubs and plants. 

Cottontails also love to gnaw tender foliage of newly emerged tulips; these can be protected by placing a cylinder of 18” tall hardware cloth around each clump of tulips.  Even when tulips are in bloom, they can be admired through the hardware cloth. 
Since I don’t wish to place chemicals around tulips to deter rabbits, this cultural practice works well.  

Although we need to coexist with creatures in the natural world, gardeners also need to protect plantings that will beautify the world around us.

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener

A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

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