In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2007
Regional Report

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Yellow dot ground cover is ignored by rabbits and grows in either full sun or full shade.

Bunny Buffet

So many people have been asking about rabbit-proof plants lately that I decided to try a little experiment. My original plan was to surround some new transplants with chicken wire until they got established, but I decided to leave the "subjects" at the mercy of the rabbits and see how appealing the plants proved to be.

One week ago I transplanted a half dozen plants into a small gravel mulch area beneath a tree. This spot is backed by a low stucco wall and surrounded by HOA-maintained areas. On one side is grass, which numerous rabbits chomp like ravenous goats. On another side are woody shrubs that act as the rabbits' warren. If they feel threatened, they dash from the grass across the gravel mulch to scurry beneath the shrubs.

This is a challenging planting area because it has a northern exposure beneath a tree canopy. For much of the year, it's in full shade. In summer it gets hit with hot afternoon sun. I chose plants with characteristics that are reputedly less attractive for creatures to munch on, such as rough, scratchy foliage or strong aromas.

My other consideration was plant size. One, I didn't want to damage the mature tree's roots with big holes; and two, I don't like to dig because it's a lot of work! So although there were other species I was prowling for at my nursery stops, I bought only plants that came in 4-inch perennial pots or 1-gallon containers. I did get lucky with one choice, finding lantana in a 6-pack.

Plants for the Test Site
Here's what I transplanted: desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), desert verbena (V. rigida), globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), purple autumn sage (Salvia greggii 'Nuevo Leon'), and 'Lucky Peach' lantana, as well as white and purple trailing lantana. I also added a few aloe pups from plants in my garden that needed thinning.

The space already had an established clump of yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata) on its shadiest corner. The rabbits have never bothered this ground cover, probably not caring for its rough texture. It's a good option for spaces with variable sun exposure because it takes full sun to full shade. There aren't many plants that can tolerate that exposure range for desert landscapes.

Mexican hat (Ratibida columnaris) wildflowers are also growing there, trying their best to make a comeback. The landscape maintenance crew mowed them down to the ground on one of their "take no prisoners" binges, and the rabbits have been enjoying the tender new shoots ever since. Growth seems to be 1 inch forward, 3/4 of an inch back!

My progress report to date: For one week, none of the new transplants were touched. The Mexican hats continued to be sampled, although they are getting a bit taller. This morning (Day 8) I found that the globe mallow has been reduced by about one-third. I'll keep you posted.


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