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Gladys Gifford: Ravenous rabbits are wreaking havoc

Who needs a hedge? I have learned that a good hedge, like a good fence, makes for good neighbors (paraphrasing Robert Frost). I prefer hedges to fences for city living. Fences can be sterile, unforgiving barriers, while hedges are a living testament to cooperation between homeowner and neighbor or between homeowner and the street. Hedges also offer shelter to critters such as rabbits.

So now, because of the hedge, I have a love-hate attitude toward rabbits.

Yes, rabbits are excessively cute. The vertical ears always alert, soft and teardrop-shaped; the big brown eyes in the almond-shaped head; the twitchy nose and mobile mouth; the cotton-ball tail; the soft round belly – what’s not to like?

Rabbits live well in my yard, since my lawn sports a variety of broad-leaved plants, otherwise known as weeds. They eat my flowers. They have lopped off the buds of young snapdragons and hollyhocks; they eat lilies and tulips as soon as the sprouts emerge from the earth.

My neighbor reports that they inhabit the whole neighborhood; when he walks his dog after work, he sees these brazen rabbits munching lawns all along the street without any worry about people and other animals.

Just the other day, I approached a rabbit in my backyard and that critter stayed put while munching away, and fled only when I was within 10 feet of it.

I saw the rabbits’ tracks last winter on my lawn, moving from their snow-covered shelters under junipers and yews out over the area in search of any live twigs for nourishment. The deep snow prevented them from digging for grass, so they traveled on the surface of the snow and stripped bark from the tall hedge that serves as the boundary line of the backyard. The deeper the snow, the higher was their reach on the hedge.

With spring, I saw that much of the hedge had been girdled by the ravenous rabbits. We need that hedge, which offers privacy from the sidewalk and street. What to do? Shall I prune the hedge or replace it? I have years of experience pruning hedges, so I opted for a severe pruning job, cutting the stalks just below where the rabbits had girdled them.

The job took a couple of days, and produced large quantities of yard waste for the town. As I worked, I found many dead stalks from the last severe assault by rabbits from the previous winter. And I found that the hedge was alive, ready to reclaim its space by putting out new foliage. Many stalks had survived the rabbits’ teeth, and were pushing new growth their whole length, so I left them alone.

The result is a two-tiered hedge: a few stalks waving in the breezes at 6 feet tall, while the majority fill out at a comfortable 2-foot height. I’ll leave them alone for now, waiting for blossoms to form, and then trim the tall section.

For me, trimming the hedge is a form of personal therapy. The muscle power required by the pruning tool gives me an outlet for energy or sorrow or frustration. And the hedge requires that I do the pruning at the right times for the health of the plants. Discipline and venting – all available because of the hedge.

I have high hopes for the hedge, as it recovers from the rabbits’ attacks. I believe it will continue to facilitate a harmonious relationship with our street and our backyard neighbors.

As for the rabbits? Stay out of my way!