Garden Plants That Will Repel Deer and Rabbits

Most of us never saw ourselves as allies of Elmer Fudd or Mr. McGregor. Rabbits and adorable bunnies have populated our children’s storybooks. A little velvet number could bring a tear to the parental eye even at the 100th reading. For families celebrating Easter, a simple equation describes all things bunny: Bunny = candy.

That was then. It is now.

If you live in a neighborhood along the Front Range, the words cute and bunny no longer enjoy closeness in your sentences. An aphorism your mother liked to use probably comes to mind: familiarity breeds contempt.

Focus on races.

“We have a lot of that right now,” says Michael Morris, durable goods manager at the Flower Bin in Longmont. He talks about both the rabbits and the customers looking for ways to repel them.

“There are repellents you can buy that work pretty well,” Morris says. “None of them harm the animal. They affect its nasal passages. They are naturally based – blood meal, rotten eggs, pretty cool things like that.

He says the products come in spray and granule form. Some types also discourage deer.

Harriett McMillan, horticulture specialist at the Echter Nursery and Garden Center in Arvada, says the nursery gets many customers looking for a cure for the rabbit invasion.

“(Rabbits are) mostly in the western suburbs, even in Littleton,” she says. “All over the city, there are a lot of rabbits.

McMillan also recommends repellents as a tool.

“One of the most popular is made with fox urine pellets,” she says. “The predatory scent of a fox can act as a deterrent. (Others are) herbal oils, clove oil, blood meal, garlic. Once they taste it, they won’t come back.

Plants Rabbits Hate

Another strategy is to plant perennials and some annuals, like zinnias, which rabbits don’t like. As you may have gathered from the discussion of repellents, rabbits have sensitive noses. Strong-smelling plants, especially those with an earthy, grassy aroma, often fail the rabbit smell test.

Echter’s has several documents outlining control strategies for rabbits and other pests. For those choosing plants for the garden, a tip is to experiment plant by plant – planting one of a variety of plants and checking it over the next two mornings. If it hasn’t been dug up and eaten, it’s probably safe to plant more.

Another handout runs through the plants rabbits love and hate.

Some of the plants he calls “salad bar specialties for rabbits.” These include tulips, pansies, irises, petunias and fennel. Plants that rabbits dislike include lavender, penstemon, mugwort, hyssop, sages, shasta daisy, gaillardia, common butterfly bush, blue spiraea and columbine.

“I find a lot of them will have gray, fuzzy foliage,” says McMillan.

A paper by Echter also lists plants that deer tend to avoid. Trees include Douglas fir, Colorado blue spruce, lodgepole pine, pinon pine, and hackberry. Other plants include lavender, echinops, delphinium, goldenrod, chokecherry, chocolate flower, and Apache plume.

“The caveat to all of this,” McMillan says, “is that if the deer are hungry, they will eat.”

Another thing to watch out for, if you live in a populated area, is that some plants do not attract deer and rabbits because they are poisonous. Children may not be able to understand this like wildlife does.

If you’re particularly interested in xeric plants that deter deer and rabbits, the High Country Gardens catalog – – is a good source.

Fences Make Good Neighbors

When those strategies fail, Flower Bin’s Morris says fencing is the best way to keep the critters out.

“It takes several meters to repel a rabbit,” he says. “He must be strong enough. They can overthrow it. People usually use chicken wire or fences like that.

And don’t neglect the bottom of the fence.

Remember, Peter Rabbit snuck under the garden gate.

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