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Ask the Gardener: Rabbits and sandy soil wreak havoc on flowers

Ask the Expert Gardening
Rabbits and other fast-breeding “prey animals’’ like chipmunks, voles, and squirrels tend to go through boom-and-bust population cycles. Shutterstock

What to do this week Even if watering has not been banned in your town, be a good citizen and water wisely to minimize loss to evaporation. Use soaker hoses in the garden and watering bags around vulnerable young trees. Place a dribbling hose under larger trees to water without run-off. Your trees probably need water much more than your lawn does, so turn off your automatic lawn irrigation system and let the grass go dormant for the summer. (It may brown temporarily, but it won’t die.) Consider canceling your lawn care service until the cooler weather so you don’t get charged for unnecessary work, as grass doesn’t grow in this weather. Keep harvesting maturing vegetables such as summer squash and tomatoes. Pick snap and green beans as soon as the seeds fill out the pods to keep them producing. Fill in gaps in your planters and perennial borders with colorful foliage plants. Sedums look surprisingly elegant in containers and need little watering.

 

Q. This year an unusual proliferation of rabbits has destroyed my flowers. They have eaten almost everything — tulips, coreopsis, daisies, black-eyed Susans, dianthus, marigolds, sweet potato vine — and even chomped the stalks of Asiatic lilies, causing them to snap at the base and fall over before blooming. Bunnies are cute, but I am mad! Can you suggest perennials I can plant that are rabbit-resistant?

A.P., Holliston

A. Rabbits and other fast-breeding “prey animals’’ like chipmunks, voles, and squirrels tend to go through boom-and-bust population cycles for many reasons. A boom like this one is often followed by a bust the next year. Warmer winters may be enabling rabbits to start having babies earlier in the spring, resulting in more broods. If you want to fight back, try animal repellent sprays and electric fencing. This is too much work for me, so I just plant what animals least like to eat and accept my losses during the boomer years like this one. Rabbits usually pass on my iris, salvia, peony, veronica, hellebore, yarrow, anise hyssop, lavender, foxglove, baptisia, bee balm, lamb’s ear, catmint, astilbe, and most of my culinary herbs. I buy daffodil, fritillaria, and allium bulbs instead of tulips and lilies for fall planting. Annual flowers and vegetables to grow include cleome, geranium, vinca, wax begonia, rhubarb, tomato, leek, asparagus, onion, potato, and squash.

 

Q. We are planting a border garden on an amended strip near salt water. The only things that have done well there thus far are baptisia and sedum. The hydrangea, yarrow, and salvia all died. The soil is quite sandy and does not have a watering system.

J.A.M., Quincy

A. My initial response is to plant more of what works, in this case baptisia and sedum. There are many kinds of sedums, so you can get a diverse effect. Most are tough as nails and need only full sun. Beyond that, try one or two each of black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), bearded iris (Iris Germanica), butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), artemisia, and rosemary as a test. Dig more compost into the sand when you plant them. If something does well and you like it, you can add more in the spots that open when other plants die. I started with one gorgeous orange butterfly-weed (host to eggs of the endangered monarch butterfly), and it self-seeded so now I have dozens. Give up on the failures and encourage the successes. September is usually the best month for planting, while August is the worst, so wait a month.

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