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Grow with Kare: How the Arboretum protects against rabbits and deer

You asked and we got the tips straight from the Arboretum on how to protect your flowers from hungry rabbits and deer.

A viewer from a 651 area code texted us asking, "How do they keep the rabbits and other wildlife from eating the flowers at the Arboretum?"

We got the answers from Erin Buccholz, Integrated Pest Manager for the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

She tells us there are two types of prevention, mechanical and chemical, and they use both!

When it comes to deer, the Arboretum constructed a fence around the entire grounds for the winter. Buccholz says anything shorter than 7.5 feet is too short and the deer will jump right over. 

Another method that specifically applies to their famous tulips is just good old fashioned diligence. The tulip bulbs are buried deep, about 5" to 6" under the ground. The paper covering that surrounds the bulb is also buried that deep or completely removed and composted or discarded. Then the bulbs are covered in a thick layer of mulch.

A the bulbs grow and emerge from the ground, the Arboretum staff apply a chemical method for deterrence. Buccholz said when it comes to deer, any spray on your plants should include the ingredient putrescent egg. Basically it's rotten egg. Deer have a very sensitive sense of smell and this rotten egg turns them off. 

Now rabbits, which are a little more complicated when it comes to chemical control. Buccholz says rabbits are more driven by fear of predators and blood meal can help deter them.

In addition, you can apply something that doesn't taste as good as the flower itself. The problem here however is that, like human, not all rabbits have the same opinion on what tastes good or bad. Buccholz uses the example of garlic spray. A spray on the plants containing garlic might keep away a rabbit on one yard but a different rabbit in a different yard might find it palatable and chomp away.

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Hot pepper spray is another popular choice, which does work on many rabbits. However, Buccholz cautions that hot pepper spray can harm bees that are visiting the flowers for nectar. In order to minimize any threat to the bees, hot pepper spray should be applied to the plants very early in the day or late in the evening when the bees are not out foraging. Once the spray is dry, it appears the be safe for bees and pollinators.

Other important things Buccholz says we need to keep in mind.

  • If you are treating edible plants, make sure the spray you are using is safe for consumption.
  • Always follow label instructions.
  • Commercial products have been tested to be safe for the plants. Homemade versions can burn or otherwise damage plants.
  • After a significant rain and as the plant grows, chemical protection for both deer and rabbits needs to be re-applied. As a general rule, reapply every time the plant puts on one inch of growth.