Got rabbits? These small mammals can do a number on young plants, so prevention is paramount. Aside from fencing, there are a number of old-time remedies and other solutions that will keep them out of the garden patch! Plus, see a list of plants that rabbits tend to ignore.
Why Would You Keep Rabbits Away?
Anyone who tills the soil regards the rabbit as more than just a cute threat to the carrot patch. This long-eared animal possesses a voracious appetite for all kinds of fresh vegetation—woody plants, perennials, annuals, vegetables, and berries. In fact, a menu of rabbit favorites is so ridiculously long that it’s easier to list the few plants they don’t enjoy.
Rabbits also have an extremely high reproductive potential, which is why keeping them around might quickly cause a total garden infestation. They can produce up to three litters of six babies each, per year in the north, and up to six litters of three babies each, per year in the south. The first litter appears in March in the north, year-round elsewhere. The gestation period is 29 days. That’s only about eight days more than it takes a chicken egg to hatch!
Your backyard bunny’s primary concern is to eat without being eaten, a difficult task given that rabbits are relished by more than two dozen species of predators. Nibbling your petunias is therefore not a carefree picnic but a danger-fraught mission. However, if your neighborhood bunny can squeeze through a hole in your garden fence, it will find time to be able to munch in safety.
You can check our tips for keeping your plants safe from rabbits, but try to regard rabbits as Beatrix Potter did—part of a peaceful, pastoral landscape. Then protect the plants that you and the bunnies really love, and don’t worry about the rest.
Of the nine species of North American cottontail rabbits, it’s the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) that is our most abundant and annoying. Ranging from Boston to Boulder and south into Mexico, this bunny-about-town is rarely found in forests, preferring instead brushy fence rows, field edges, brush piles, and—you guessed it—landscaped backyards. Its fondness for flowers, vegetables, bark, and bulbs often results in pruned peppers and clipped cosmos.
Even though its nicknames are adorable (among them bunny, bunny rabbit, and cottontail), and you’ll probably want to befriend it once you see its cute ears, the eastern cottontail can be a bothersome pest. It is gray or brownish, with a short tail and big ears. It can weigh 2 to 4 pounds, be 15 to 19 inches in length, and live for 12 to 15 months. Its vocal call is almost silent, but it will emit a scream when threatened. Its famous features include a short white tail resembling a cotton ball and long, tapered ears.
For an eastern cottontail, security is a pile of brush, leaves, or another animal’s abandoned burrow. Unlike their European cousins, these rabbits do not dig intricate burrows or warrens but make due with what they find. Rabbits rarely leave their shelters in broad daylight, preferring instead early morning or evening. Like most animals, they are sensitive to the change in day length as spring approaches. For rabbits, the longer days signal the start of two things: breeding season and spring dining.
Rabbits are voracious eaters and leave clean-cut damage. Check the leaves and stems of your plants for cleanly cut damage; insects and other pests usually leave jagged edges on damaged plants. This clean-cut damage often happens at ground level, as rabbits tend to eat the yummy green shoots of tulips and other plants.
These low mowers graze close to the ground, sniff out the first tender young shoots and crop them short. They love to munch on flowers, clover, peas, lettuce, beans, and more. Many of these plants are also the favorites of woodchucks or groundhogs, so check for burrows before deciding you have rabbit damage. Once your plants have passed the seedling stage, they are usually safe from rabbit damage.
Although bunny nibbling occurs in every season, it’s especially discouraging in the early spring when rabbits mercilessly munch the tender green shoots of plants. As a Connecticut gardener remembers, “My tulips were just poking through the snow when suddenly it looked like they’d been weed-whacked. Cut clean off! I blame the bunnies—their little paw prints were everywhere.”
Cute, yes. But behind those eyes lies an eternal hunger!
Control and Prevention
How to Prevent Rabbits
The best way to keep rabbits out of the garden and prevent rabbit damage is to use physical prevention methods such as fencing. Though we’ve mostly been discussing eastern cottontails, keep in mind—these tips should work for any type of rabbit that loves to munch on your plants!
The most effective way of keeping out rabbits is chicken wire fencing. Install a fence that is 4 feet high and bury it at least 6 inches deep. Bend the top foot of the fence away from the garden like a security fence so they can’t climb or jump over it.
For bulbs, try a dome or cage of chicken wire secured over the bed.
Focus on keeping rabbits from setting foot in your garden to begin with. Many old-time remedies rely on spreading various products around the perimeter of the garden, such as dried blood meal or human hair. Sprinkle dried blood meal on the surface around all your plants as early in the season as possible, and repeat after heavy rain. (Note: If you have dogs, don’t try this method because they might be attracted to the scent, and start digging up your garden themselves!)
Rabbits don’t like to stray far from their shelters, so try to reduce the possible rabbit homes around your yard. Rake away piles of brush and leaves, fill in abandoned burrows, and seal any holes under sheds or structures. If a rabbit doesn’t have a place to live or hide nearby, hopefully, it won’t stay and munch. Rabbits will also breed much more if they have a good habitat available—all the more reason to have no vacancy!
How to Get Rid of Rabbits in the Garden
If rabbits have already found their way into your veggie patch, it’s time to try some techniques to discourage them from staying.
As their twitching noses indicate, rabbits sniff a lot. Try sprinkling dried sulfur around or on your plants. Rabbits also dislike the smell of onions, so try planting these around your garden to further deter the furry creatures.
To discourage pesky rabbits, try dusting your plants with plain talcum powder.
Since rabbits are such great sniffers, powdered red pepper sprinkled around the garden or on targeted plants may keep them out.
Irish Spring soap shavings placed in little drawstring bags around the garden have been said to help keep rabbits away.
Make a bad-tasting rabbit cocktail by grinding together three hot peppers, three large onions, and one whole bunch of garlic. Add water to cover, and place into a covered container overnight. Strain, and then add enough water to make a gallon of the mixture. Spray onto plants, repeating after rainfall. Commercial products using pungent garlic oil are also worth a try.
Some people protect plants with individual “collars” of tin cans or screening so that the plants may reach a less vulnerable size. Put the collar around each stem for protection.
Use cylinders of 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth to keep rabbits from nibbling on young fruit and landscape trees. The cylinders should extend higher than a rabbit’s reach while the rabbit is standing on the expected snow depth, and they should stand one to two inches out from the tree trunk.
Some of the deer techniques related to odor are also said to work against rabbits. Deter rabbits with commercially-available deer repellents that contain a mixture of dried bovine blood, sulfured eggs, and garlic.
Legend has it that rabbits are terrified of their own reflection, so try an old-time rabbit remedy and place large, clear glass jars of water throughout the garden. Garden centers sell ready-made reflectors, as well as other devices—crouching cats, fake snakes, menacing owls—designed to frighten bunnies away from your plants.
Sometimes, humane traps are the best solution. (However, trapping and releasing wild animals may be against the law in your area.) If you don’t want to buy a trap, consider building one. Place the trap where you’ve seen the rabbits feeding or resting, and cover it with canvas. Apples, carrots, cabbage, and other fresh green veggies make excellent bait.
Plants That Rabbits Dislike
According to bunny experts, rabbits have plant preferences based on taste, nutritional value, the presence of poison or prickles, and ease of availability. Their tastes in food can also vary by region and season, so not all plants work for all rabbits. Be tricky and tend plants that rabbits don’t find very appetizing.
Rabbits tend to avoid some of the same plants as deer and Japanese beetles. If you’d like to control all these pests, check our list of deer-resistant plants and the best and worst plants for Japanese beetles to know which plants might do best. Choose plants such as forsythia, lilac bush, zinnias, daffodils, lavender, and snapdragons for rabbits. This might help to reduce your rabbit population. This is not a guaranteed solution, as hungry rabbits will eat almost anything, but filling your garden with these plants might make your garden less appetizing than another one. Here are more plants that rabbits dislike:
Azalea (Rhododendron sp.) Boxwood (Buxus sp.) Bush cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster sp.) Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) Rhododendron (Rhododendron sp.) Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba) Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprise that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann