Gardeners looking for plants to keep rabbits and deer out of their gardens often plant marigold (Calendula officinalis and Tagetes spp.). The simple-to-grow annual plant for all U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones has a sharp scent that many gardeners hope will convince deer and rabbits to stay away. Unfortunately, nothing about marigold keeps either deer or rabbits out of a garden.
Marigolds are not the favorite food for either deer or rabbits. If given a choice, the animals will choose something tastier, such as garden vegetables. If, however, their food selection is limited or they are very hungry, both deer and rabbits will eat marigolds. If the animals see or smell something in a garden they would like for dinner, they simply go through the marigolds to reach the food they want.
The best way to keep deer and rabbits out of a garden is to install a physical barrier to make getting in the garden difficult or impossible for them. Because deer jump so well, a fence needs to be 6 to 8 feet tall to keep them out. Covering the lowest 2 to 3 feet of the fence with wire mesh, securing it to the ground and installing a tight-fitting gate keep rabbits away from a garden. Electric fencing is also effective for both animals, but it may not be the best option if children and/or pets will be near the fence. Any kind of fence needs to be maintained to be effective because animals find weak spots, and rabbits chew through wires to reach food.
Both deer and rabbits are sensitive to strong aromas as indications of possible danger. Marigolds, however, do not have a threatening aroma. Pacing a line of strong scent around the garden may keep the animals out, especially if food sources other than the garden are near. Commercial repellent, chili pepper spray or bars of strongly scented soap can be effective. Because scent barriers wear off or are washed away when their garden is watered or rain falls, they must be reapplied frequently. Also, animals can become accustomed to a scent if it is used continually. So alternating the type of scent barrier every few weeks is beneficial.
Changing the environment around the garden also can keep away animals. Deer normally travel long distances looking for food, but they prefer areas that provide them places to hide from predators. Small animals such as rabbits look for food nearer to their homes, and locate those homes in brushy, concealed areas. Without those hiding places near a garden, deer and rabbits may choose to look somewhere safer for food.
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