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Fielding Questions: How to deal with rabbits

Q. Our problem is rabbits. There is a substantial population in our neighborhood and they love our cotoneaster hedge as a food supply. Is there a good hedge shrub that they aren’t crazy about? Or is there a way to discourage them from dining on our shrubs?

– Bill Eide, Fargo

A. I know rabbits were not a plague in Biblical times, but they are this year. But good news. I’ve actually seen a large looking well-fed fox in our area of town.

Rabbits have demonstrated they’ll eat all known shrubbery depending on what’s available. Lists of rabbit-resistant shrubs are not much help, because your cotoneaster is actually on the list.

Several listed hedging shrubs that I’ve found less appealing to rabbits are alpine currant, dogwood and several taller spireas.

Although the rabbits pruned your cotoneaster back severely, it might come back better than ever.

Human hair in bags, blood meal and lion feces all have had mixed results and don’t weather well. Bars of smelly soap hung on plants and shrubs have shown to be fairly effective repellents. Commercially available products such as Deer Away, Hinder and Liquid Fence have had good results but are expensive.

I stumbled across a homemade version of the commercial repellents a few years ago after examining the ingredient label and doing an Internet search. Break a dozen eggs into a five gallon bucket with a little milk. Allow to spoil in sun and warmth for five days. Fill the bucket with water, add a container of cheap garlic powder and cayenne pepper plus a quarter-cup of dishwashing detergent. Spray or pour onto plants.

If done well, the aroma is less than pleasant, but we’ve used this with good results to diminish severe deer and rabbit problems.

Q. I have planted about 10 silver maples ranging from 18-inch twigs to 5-foot trees. They all have new growth shooting up at the base of the trunks which I trim off twice a year. Any way to stop this besides trimming?

– Dale Kaber, Enderlin, N.D.

A. “Sucker” shoots that arise from the point where the trunk meets ground are usually very vigorous, unsightly and rob strength from the rest of the tree. They are most common on maples, fruit trees, ornamental crabapples and lindens, including the native basswood.

If removed early when still tender, they can be rubbed away from the trunk by hand. If they become larger, it is necessary to prune, cutting close to the trunk without leaving stubs. They will usually re-sprout, making it a chore, as you describe.

I’ve heard of people holding onto the end of the sucker and hitting it at the base with a hammer, so it gets ripped off close to the ground leaving the remaining piece with a tattered cut having less chance of regrowth. I’ll need to try that before commenting.

There is a spray that prevents suckers without harming the living tree. It is called Sucker Punch from the Bonide Co., which has the same active ingredient as the older Sucker Stopper that was discontinued.

Spray the cut area immediately after pruning the suckers and then spray any regrowth when it’s a few inches high. It does need to be reapplied seasonally and it reportedly works better on some species than others.

I am not certain of local availability, but it can be ordered online.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.