To tell if a rabbit has been eating away at plants, look for clean nips.

How to Critter-Proof Your Garden

Do you love spending time in your garden, putting in seeds, plants or bulbs and waiting for the fruits of your hard labor to come up? So do rabbits, squirrels, deer, voles and other animals. To them, you have just planted a smorgasbord of salad. Having your garden eaten overnight can be frustrating, but there are some things you can do to critter-proof your garden.

A matter of taste
If you live where there are lots of garden munchers, consider planting something that’s not as tasty for them. Rabbits aren’t fond of plants with fuzzy foliage such as lamb’s ear or those with thorns on their leaves, said Barbara Arnold, green corps coordinator for Franklin Park Conservatory.

“Animals don’t want their tongues touching something that will cause uncomfortableness in their mouths,” she said.

Some plants that help deter wildlife with their odor are crown imperial fritillary and ornamental alliums, which are related to onions and garlic.

“The crown imperial smells disgusting to animals. You can protect an area up to 6 feet by planting them,” Arnold said.

“Deer will walk up your driveway if they really want (your plants),” said Arnold, who noted that hostas and tulips are a favorite of deer.

Know your pests
If you’re not sure what’s devouring your plants, take a close look at the foliage. If the damage starts at the ground and works its way up 6 feet, it’s probably deer. Because deer have no teeth on top, the gnaw marks on plants are jagged because they have to pull with their bottom teeth and upper gums, said Donna Daniel, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Both rabbits and groundhogs have clean nips but groundhogs tend to eat a lot more while rabbits nibble here and there, she said.

Repel away
Putting up a physical barrier such as a fence or applying repellents are the most popular ways to keep animals away from plants. To keep rabbits out of a garden, erect a wire mesh fence that is at least 18 inches high and about 6 inches below ground, Daniel said. You can put wiring around individual plants but be sure that the fencing doesn’t lean into the plants and harm them.

Daniel recommended repellents that taste or smell bad to animals. Home remedies include rubbing a fragrant bar of soap such as Irish Spring on branches and foliage. Human hair hung in nylon stockings, rotten eggs and hot pepper also are known to work. The problem with using most repellents is that they wash off plants whenever it rains or during watering.

Some repellents bought in stores work fine but Daniel cautioned against using those billed as “cure alls” or those that contain the urine of predators such as wolves and mountain lions.

“The idea of these products is that if a deer has the sense that a lion is nearby, it will stay away. But deer in Ohio haven’t been near lions so it won’t be effective,” she said.

By using the methods above, you should be able to deter some animals from eating your plants and shrubs. Even if most of a perennial is eaten, it will probably survive, Daniel said.

“Plants can be browsed all the way to the ground and come back,” she said. 

Amy Beth Graves is a freelance writer from Franklin County.