Mexican evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, is a perennial native to the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. The plants are grown for the pinkish-white, fragrant flowers that bloom from late spring to early summer. Unfortunately, evening primrose, long beloved by gardeners, is also attractive to rabbits, who may browse on the young shoots and leaves.
Right Size for Rabbits
At 9 to 24 inches tall, evening primrose is just the right height for hungry rabbits. Its large, showy, flowers open white and mature to pink, exuding a fragrance that attracts butterfly and moth pollinators. The scent of evening primrose may not attract rabbits, but it does nothing to deter them. Plants in the mint and other families exude aromas that repel foraging animals. In its natural habitat, evening primrose often flourishes in dry places where other plants struggle. Rabbits search out young tender growth, especially in dry situations and evening primrose puts out abundant young shoots.
Fence Them Out
Where it is practical, the best way to keep rabbits away from evening primrose is to put a barrier between plants and animals. Start with 24- to 36-inch-tall, plastic-coated chicken wire or other wire mesh with holes 1 inch or less in diameter. Dig a trench around the bed and sink the wire mesh down 3 to 6 inches below ground level, with the last inch bent at a 90-degree angle away from the garden. Fill in with soil. This arrangement prevents rabbits from either jumping over or burrowing under the fence.
Repelling the Rascals
Timing is everything with rabbit repellents. Rabbits generally feed in the evening, so any spray, either homemade or store bought, should be applied in the late afternoon. Homemade remedies can vary in effectiveness, depending on the garden situation. If you buy a commercial spray, choose one made with natural ingredients, like egg solids and pepper extracts, and spray on evening primrose leaves and shoots. Most animal repellent sprays must be applied after rainstorms, as they wash off. Always use caution when using repellents around children or pets or on windy days.
If barriers are impractical and repellents are of limited help against rabbits; select alternative plants that rabbits will reject. Replace evening primrose with pink or white members of the poppy (Papaver) family, generally hardy in USDA zones 4 or 5 through 8 or 9. Though poppies lack fragrance, the flowers have a similar cup shape. Annual corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas), especially varieties in the Shirley group, feature flowers in pastel colors. The light-green foliage is lobed and the plants grow about 12 inches tall. Though corn poppies are annual, they self sow readily, creating a perennial effect.
- Illinois Wildflowers: Showy Evening Primrose
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Oenothera Speciosa
- Rutgers University: If Plants Could Talk -- Keeping Rabbits Away From Desirable Plants in Your Garden and Landscape
- The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers, Christopher Brickell, Editor-in-Chief
- Colorado State University Cooperative Extension: Rabbit/Ground Squirrel/Deer Resistant Plants