Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Residents of garden are eating more than their share

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I have a dilemma. A few weeks ago I discovered a nest of baby cottontails in the middle of my vegetable garden. Admittedly, they were as cute as a bunny ... which, if you're a rabbit, is better than being cuter than a bug's ear. At the time I discovered the wee bunnies, they were just a few inches long and blind, indicating recent birth. As of this writing, they are still in the nest, but have opened their eyes and have grown to about four inches in length.



Here's the dilemma. Their momma, poppa and uncles Wiggily and Peter, and Aunt Flopsy have been dining voraciously on several of my vegetable crops, including mowing down almost the entire 30 foot row of soy beans despite my efforts to fence them out. Hence, do I destroy the nest and residents in order to eliminate additional diners? I'm not sure that bunnycide is prohibited within the directives of the 6th Commandment. Regardless, my daughter and grandson prefer that I find another way. Despite their protests, it is time for me to put on my big boy pants and take decisive action ... uh, I'll ask fellow columnist and esteemed naturalist, Thom Smith, to suggest humane solutions to rid the garden of the bunnies.



In the meantime, some things that can be done include spreading a repellent, such as dried blood (sold as an organic fertilizer) around the garden, covering favored plants with netting and making sure that fencing around the garden be of a mesh no larger than one-inch and in tight contact with or slightly below the ground. Since cottontails may have as many as three litters in a year, preventing momma rabbit from continued use of the garden as a birthing center is imperative.



MORE GARDEN WORK

When not hopping down the bunny trail, consider these garden tasks:



- Place flower pots or open ended tin cans beneath melons ripening in the garden. This gets them up off moist soils away from slugs, and seems to hasten their ripening. You can also speed the ripening of melons, winter squash and tomatoes by removing any flower buds which now appear. These buds are not likely to produce mature fruit before the onset of cold weather later this season.



- Pinch off any new blossoms on tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and winter squash. Any new blossoms which develop from this point on are unlikely to result in fruit production before fall frost. Leaving the blossoms on will simply deter energy that might otherwise be directed toward the maturation of existing fruit on these plants.

- Seed new lawns from now until late September. When constructing a new lawn, you'll need a minimum of 6 inches of topsoil. Prior to seeding the lawn, incorporate organic matter (e.g. peat moss), limestone and starter fertilizer into the topsoil



- Divide and replant bearded and beardless irises. They should be divided about every two to five years. You'll know when it's time to divide because the clump of iris begins to take on a donut shape, that is, it has an open center.

- Apply a water-soluble, acid-type fertilizer containing iron chelates (pronounced: kee lates) to azaleas, rhododendrons, hollies and mountain laurels which have yellow leaves, but green veins, an indication that soil pH is too high or soil is iron deficient. Follow the rates listed on the package label.

- Cut back floppy annuals including petunias, snapdragons and verbena; feed them with a water-soluble plant food and they should re-bloom in September.

- Watch for development of suckers on roses and remove them. Suckers are rapidly growing shoots, which develop below the graft joint. The leaves look a little different on suckers because the root stock from which they arise is typically of a different type of rose than the grafted shoot stock.

- Take cuttings from healthy geraniums, coleuses, and heliotropes. The rooted cuttings can be grown through the winter as stock plants for next summer's garden.

- Use a string trimmer, sickle, scythe or rent a goat to mow down tall weeds at the edges of the yard, around the garage or other structures and especially near flower and vegetable gardens. This is the time of year when many tall weeds produce seed heads that are about to drop millions of seeds, many of which will find their way into the gardens.


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