Gossip & Glee April 12: Those %&^% BUNNIES!!!

Although the Easter Bunny is a revered icon (the Ontario government declared the Easter bunny an essential service),and bunnies hopping across the snow look oh so adorable, what they can do during the winter months is anything but.

This is the time of year when damage inflicted over the winter by rabbits is made apparent. In spring and summer, cottontail rabbits feed on buds, clover, lush grasses, dandelion heads, flower blossoms, legumes, lettuce, and even fruit. In winter, they eat bird seed spilled at winter feeders, buds, stems, and the bark of woody plants, including young trees. Their teeth are adapted to ripping and gnawing on plants, including the bark of trees. The upper front teeth grow continuously, which allows the rabbits to munch away without wearing them down. So…  the rabbits must gnaw to keep them “filed” to the proper length.  Teeth that get too long or become maladjusted can prevent them from eating and lead to starvation.  Still, this is not of great comfort when looking at a completely girdled tree or shredded shrubs.

If the damage is only a quarter of the way around the trunk or less, keep an eye on your tree to see if it heals naturally over the next few seasons. If damage runs about halfway around the trunk, there’s a smaller chance the tree will survive, but it may also survive over time.

Any branches or trunks that have had the bark completely removed around them generally die as a result because the vital  the movement of nutrients has been disrupted.  If a girdled tree is of great value, it might  be saved by a technique called “bridge grafting”. This is something a skilled professional should be contracted to undertake. Or perhaps contact our local grafting expert Andy Harjula for advice.

Sadly, replacing the girdled tree is usually the best option. Most deciduous shrubs will produce new shoots or suckers at their base and recover in time. Prune off the girdled stems just below the damaged areas in early spring so that the shrub can fill back in.

The only real defence against this kind of winter injury is the installation of protective physical barriers like chicken wire, wire mesh, plastic sleeves or tubing that must extend way above the anticipated snowline and the reach of those lovely bunnies. One can also spray shrubs and trees with a repellant which has an unpleasant taste and smell to discourage rabbit feeding. It is best to apply repellant when temperatures are above freezing. Repellants often need to be re-applied and some can smell horrible.  However, in lean times, a starving rabbit will chew on a tree regardless of the taste. There are many natural predators that help keep populations down including hawks, owls, falcons, kestrels, weasels, foxes and coyotes. Fake predator figurines such as owls and hawks, intended to repel or scare away rabbits, do not work.  Having a dog can be an effective tool. And some cats will hunt rabbits,  but in my experience with multiple felines, they simply find bunnies a source of amusement.

Keeping bunnies out of the summer garden will be a topic for another newsletter. For all our cursing and sighs of despair at their winter handiwork , they are extraordinary creatures worthy of our respect.

The oldest complete rabbit fossil, found in 2008 in India, dates back 53 million years to the Eocene Epoch. It was a rabbit that hopped and was very similar to those of today, but with smaller ears and a longer tail.

Continuing on the Easter theme….. a contribution by Ruth on this other traditional worldwide symbol.

EASTER LILY (Lilium longiflorum)

A million lilies in full bloom for the Lily Festival, Iejima Island, Japan

The elegant snow white Easter lily is the traditional flower of  Easter and is highly regarded as a joyful symbol of purity, beauty, spirituality, hope, and life. … The flower retells the resurrection story with its life cycle originating from a single bulb.

Native to the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan, this lily was discovered by the famous plant explorer Carl Peter Thunberg in 1777 and sent to England in 1819.  Missionaries and sailors further carried it to Bermuda in 1853.

Much commercial bulb production was in Bermuda during the late 1800’s, hence its other name “Bermuda lily”. It was Mrs. Thomas Sargent, visiting Bermuda in the 1880s, who loved the flowers blooming naturally there in the spring, and brought some bulbs back home to Philadelphia. A local nurseryman there, William Harris, began growing them, forcing them into spring bloom, and selling them to other florists. Many people began buying this flower for Easter, as they do today.

When a virus destroyed the Bermuda crop in 1898, production moved to Japan. Louis Houghton, a WWI soldier, brought a suitcase of these lily bulbs home with him to Oregon, distributing them locally to his horticultural friends. With the outbreak of WWII, the commercial source of the bulbs dried up so the price increased greatly. The few individuals with bulbs in the USA who were growing them more for a hobby, began growing this “White Gold” for business. After World War II there were about 1,200 commercial bulb growers along the California-Oregon border, often called the “Easter Lily Capital of the World” as it produces about 95 percent of all the bulbs grown in the world for the potted Easter lily market. Today the 10 growers of the Pacific Bulb Growers Association produce more than 65,000 boxes of bulbs, shipping them to commercial greenhouses in the U.S. and Canada. Each fall bulbs are dug, the largest packed to sell, the smallest planted back to grow another year.

Once greenhouse growers receive bulbs in the late fall, the bulbs are potted and placed in non-freezing cool temperatures. The bulbs must receive about 1000 hours of moist cold in order to bloom, although additional light after they sprout can substitute for some cold. Once the lily bulbs sprout, they are closely monitored by growers in order to time them for Easter. This can be difficult, as Easter can vary from March 22 to April 25. Temperature is used to speed up or slow down the crop. 


At home, keep your lily away from drafts and drying heat sources such as heating ducts. Bright, indirect light is best with daytime temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees F. Water the plant only when the soil feels dry to the touch, but don’t overwater. To prolong the life of the blossoms, remove the yellow anthers (pollen-bearing pods) found in the center of each flower. If you get this staining pollen on fabrics, don’t rub it off, but remove it with sticky tape.

You can of course plant your Easter lily, hardy to zone 4, in the garden. After the flower has died off, continue to grow the lily in its container until the last frost in your area. It will thrive in a sunny spot, away from other lilies to avoid viruses, in well-drained soil, and planted at the same depth as it was in its container. Spread several inches of mulch around the base of the plant to keep the roots cool.  It should be allowed to continue to grow. Like other spring bulbs, the plant will naturally die off as summer arrives. With luck your transplanted Easter lily should awaken the following spring and produce blooms once again.

If you have cats, especially those that like to chew on leaves, keep your lily away from them.  Any part of this lily can cause kidney failure in cats.  Eating even one leaf can be fatal to a cat, starting with them stopping eating, vomiting, and becoming lethargic.  If you think a cat has eaten a leaf, call a veterinarian immediately as prompt treatment often can be successful

Local Seed/Seedling Sources

The newest trend during this challenging time,  which has morphed from bread baking (the cause of shortages of flour and yeast), is creating a ‘victory garden’.  Victory gardens originated during WWI and were popular in WWII.  Herb, fruit and vegetable gardens were planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. People were encouraged to do this to not only to supplement their rations but also to boost morale.  Because of the pandemic, there have been increased worries about the closures of farmers’ markets, prohibited access to community gardens and future worries about food security.  This has caused an unprecedented surge in seed and seedling sales. Some seed and plant retailers state on their websites that they are overwhelmed and several have reported they are out of stock.

Here are some local seed and seedling suppliers – if you know of others, please let Ruth know. If you or you know of someone who would like to offer to swap or sell seeds or seedlings – please let Ruth know this also. Perhaps somehow we can arrange a way to negotiate trades or sales safely. All ideas welcome!

Angie at Millbrook Farm Supply has promised she will be getting in various veggie seedlings and does carry a variety of seeds.  Millbrook Farm Supply is considered an essential service so the store is open . One should call to finalize arrangements for purchasing and picking up plants (705 932-2888)  Millbrook Home Hardware has seeds but under new regulations, one must call first and place an order. (705 932-2761).

Garden Club member Irene Rudigier who lives south of Millbrook on County Road 10  will be offering organically grown heritage seedlings.  She will be posting weekly what she has available on her Facebook page  IRENERUDIGIERGARLIC or  Bullbs n Things by Irene (note – misspelling of bulbs is on purpose)

People can also email Irene at : irene@makeup-services.com or text : 416-276-2727

“The things that I will be offering are all organically grown and all heritage seedlings. Since I do not have heat in my greenhouse some of my seedlings are on the small side but very sturdy and therefore also hardened off and ready to plant at time of purchase.  Prices Vary. if people email me I will send them a detailed list of the items I offer with prices!

People can have farm gate PU (no human contact 🙂 ) or for people that are not mobile I will do curbside drop off within Millbrook.

-This is what is available towards end of May: Tomatoes, Ground cherries, purple Tomatillos, eggplants, Peppers Sweet and hot, romaine lettuce, canary tongue lettuce, chard,

-Roots, tubers and plugs: horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes ( I know gardeners think I am  crazy but they are great for eating/roasting especially for Diabetics) , sweet grass, rhubarb and of course dahlias

-Canes: Eurasian summer bearing red raspberries, Blackberries (thorn less)

-Shrubs: Forsythia, lilac

-Perennials: Hostas, oriental poppies, ladies mantle,  turtle weed

-Garlic starting in June as produce.

– We also offer our own honey raw and natural!

I am suggesting to my customers to pre-order the items they want. I am a small SHOP and have to do first come first serve.”

Other local seed and/or seedling sources:

1.Urban Tomatoin Peterborough –  seed supplier run by Jillian Bishop – who is scheduled to be a guest speaker in October – hopefully this will happen.

https://urbantomato.ca/  email:  urbantomato@gmail.com

2.Florabunda Seeds – in Keene – run by Dirk Berghout in Keene  Seed packets $3.50 each 

https://www.florabundaseeds.com/ email: contact@florabundaseeds.com Tel: 705 295-6440

3. Cottage Gardener – in Newtonville –   at this time only offering some seeds available through Etsy


Phone: (905) 786-2388

4. Natural Seed Bank in Port Hope – sales manager  Joel Durant

https://www.seed-bank.ca/ Email: sales@seed-bank.ca

5. Urban Harvest – in Warkworth – seeds

www.uharvest.ca Email: grow@uharvest.ca


6. P & H Farms  – Port Hope – 4th Line – tomato seeds – as well as tomato seedlings – also sells fruit and nut trees  

https://www.phorganics.com/organic-products.htm Phone: 905 786-3043

7. Terra Edibles  – in Foxboro – seeds

https://www.terraedibles.ca/ Email: karyn@terraedibles.ca 613-961-0654

8. Boyles, Ernest & Sons – 2021 Bensfort Road, Peterborough  – seeds and farm supplies (a fascinating place) Phone: 705 745-2211

9.  Pine Ridge Nursery & Garden Centre –  on Highway 2 between Port Hope and Cobourg – recent newspaper ad claims they are fully open for business with vegetable plants, herbs, potatoes, seeds, perennials and more.  Phone: 905 372 -8848

The greatest Canadian repository for heritage, and rare vegetable (and some fruit) seeds is Seeds of Diversity Canada (SODC). One does have to become  a member in order to receive the massive annual seed directory. https://seeds.ca/sw8/web/

However, SODC also  has posted on their website a long list of many seed suppliers across Canada in this link below. https://seeds.ca/sw8/web/diversity/seed-catalogue-index


Until next week….. If you have any questions, observations, information or news you wish to share – please send an email to the Millbrook & Area Garden Club Communications Co-ordinator Ruth Benns:  ruthbenns@outlook.com

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