Protecting Spring Plants from Deer and Rabbits

By Kerry Ann Mendez

This is the point of winter when many of us are counting down the days until spring is officially here by scanning the landscape for the first signs of fresh green growth emerging from warming ground. Sadly, we aren't the only ones on the lookout!

Deer and rabbits are "smackin' their lips", ready to swoop down upon delicious tender leaves and swelling flower buds. GRRRRRR.

But when preparing your defense tactics, you first need to know who your "enemy" is. One of their "telltales" is how they nibble. Rabbits have a full set of choppers that make a clean, sharp, angled cut on leaves and stems. Deer lack upper incisors (they lack top front teeth) and therefore tear at their food, leaving ragged edges. Plus, rabbits usually eat all or most of the leaves, while deer are generally messy eaters - ripping at foliage and leaving some "on their plate". Other incriminating evidence is the calling card that they leave behind their droppings or better said, scat. Rabbits produce teeny brown, pea-like poo. Deer scat can look similar although it tends to be darker, more oval in shape, and left in little piles. Rabbits like to target new, tender growth while deer are much less picky.

Research has shown that odor-based repellents are more effective than repellent that require the animal to taste treated plants before being repelled. The goal is to have animals avoid plants before they bite and not after! Products that contain bloodmeal, putrescent whole eggs, garlic, cloves and assorted mints work well.

Estabrook's offers a number of barriers to discourage foraging critters, including liquid repellants (Deer Stopper, Bonide Go Away Deer and Rabbit repellant), Blood Meal and Milorganite. We can also suggest plants that are less (or never!) bothered by uninvited guests. We look forward to helping you!

Kerry Ann Mendez KERRY ANN MENDEZ is an award-winning garden educator, author and design consultant based in southern Maine. Her latest book is The Budget-Wise Gardener. You'll now find her at our Kennebunk store consulting on garden design, answering your gardening questions and much more.