Humans have a way of taming many problematic species, turning them into pets. However, some of these animals remain pests outdoors, even though they are great companions indoors.
Feral dogs, cats, squirrels, and especially rabbits can ruin your garden.
At least for the latter, one can find numerous plants marketed as being rabbit-resistant or even having rabbit-repellent qualities.
Marigolds are a popular, cheap flower that’s said to repel rabbits, but does planting them really work?
Do Marigolds Keep Rabbits Away?
Unfortunately, marigolds aren’t an effective rabbit repellent on their own.
However, there are reasons for this myth, so let’s look at what led to this belief and how to protect your garden.
The Truth About “Rabbit Resistant” Plants
In the modern world, people tend to change the meaning of words all the time to suit their needs, but there is a reason dictionaries were once highly valued.
The word resistant is a perfect case in point, as this word is often confused with the word “immune.”
Here are the definitions of both according to the Oxford English Dictionary (perhaps the only academic standard dictionary left):
- not affected by something; able to resist something
- resistant to something opposing something; trying to stop something from happening
- (-resistant) (in adjectives) not damaged by the thing mentioned
- immune (to something) that cannot catch or be affected by a particular disease or illness
- immune (to something) not affected by something
- immune (from something), protected from something, and therefore able to avoid it
In other words, when something is immune, it cannot be affected by the thing it’s immune to, whereas something resistant merely has a reduced chance of that thing affecting it.
Resistant plants aren’t immune, thus, rabbits may generally turn their noses up at a rabbit-resistant plant, but they’ll still attack it when hungry enough.
Sadly, there’s no such thing as rabbit-proof (AKA immune) plants out there, only resistant ones.
Why Are Marigolds Repellent Plants?
Marigolds really are resistant to rabbits, but only to a small degree.
Plants that are resistant to large pests such as deer and rabbits tend to have one or more of four qualities:
- Bitter flavor
- A strong or pungent scent
- Tough, woody stems
- Woody thorns
New thorny growth and herbaceous plants are less resistant than those with firm, sharp thorns or tough stems.
Strong odors and bitter flavors often hint the plant might be toxic, making deer and rabbits seek other plants first.
Finally, strong odors tend to overpower the sensitive nostrils of both deer and rabbit, making them smell about as wonderful as a person who didn’t bathe for a week before pouring an entire bottle of perfume onto their heads.
Marigolds have a strong odor and sometimes bitter flavor, so they’re considered repellent plants.
However, the effects are very mild compared to other plants, such as alliums, so they’re much less effective at keeping rabbits away.
In fact, true marigolds (Tagetes spp.) are part of the sunflower family, and rabbits love sunflowers, so it’s no surprise that genera within that family are more prone to being nibbled on than those of more toxic families.
But Gardener Bill Used Marigolds, And They Were Super Effective!
We often hear this argument, but the truth is that marigolds were only part of the equation.
Anybody who’s played a tabletop or computer RPG (as well as scientists) will tell you that a combo attack is far more effective than a single attack.
For example, vinegar and baking soda are both great for cleaning, but mixing the two will greatly enhance the cleaning power.
Heat and cold can slowly wear materials down, but a burst of one followed by another will crack solid concrete.
So how did Gardener Bill amplify the power of his marigolds?
Here are several tricks to take marigold repellent powers to the next level.
Marigolds are companion plants in their own right. Many marigolds are actually kitchen herbs and can be planted with other strong herbs to great effect.
- Alliums (both edible and ornamental)
Be warned that a starving bunny or hare will still attempt to eat all of these plants, but a perimeter of two or more herbs will create an edible barrier that rabbits are far less likely to cross.
Wire fences are a great benefit, and chicken wire is a cheap and effective option.
If you have jackrabbits in the area, the fence will need to be 3’ feet tall but can otherwise be a mere 2’ feet tall.
Be sure to bury an extra foot or so into the ground to deter rabbits from burrowing under.
You can plant taller marigolds on the inside of the fence to help convince the rabbits the effort to break through isn’t worth it.
Finally, you can invite natural predators to the garden.
These are often more effective than deterrents such as decoys, sonic devices, or repellent sprays.
Owls and hawks are both great choices, although you will want to avoid employing the latter if you have small pets that like to go outside, as some hawks will snatch up a cat or terrier.
However, you can simply let your cat or dog play in the yard during the day.
Their urine and dander will convince rabbits to avoid the area, and (unlike predator urine crystals or similar deterrents) will replenish themselves naturally, so you don’t have to worry about rain or expenses.
Marigolds repel many pest insects and can also be used as sacrificial plants for others.
However, they are only mildly effective at deterring deer or rabbits and are among the first rabbit-resistant plants to become bunny food when options are scarce.
Combining marigolds with other repellent plants, fences, or natural predators can make their presence far more effective when protecting your garden than planting them on their own.