Rabbits

How to Identify and Get Rid of Rabbits

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Learn how to get rid of rabbits and keep them out of your garden with these tips.

 Why Would You Keep Rabbits Away?

Anyone who tills the soil regards the rabbit as more than 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 reach 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.

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 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.

eastern-cottontail-habitat.jpg

Identification

How to Identify Rabbits in your Garden

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.

Rabbit Damage

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 and 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.”

keep-rabbits-out-of-garden.jpg

Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Rabbits

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!

  • 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 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 will also help to 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 additional 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.
  • Spray your plants with a mixture of 1 teaspoon Lysol and 1 gallon of water.
  • 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 ¼-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 depth of snow, 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. 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 a piece of canvas. Apples, carrots, cabbage, and other fresh green veggies make excellent bait. Check it often, and release bunnies in rural areas several miles away.

keep-rabbits-away.jpg

How to Prevent Rabbits

The best way to keep rabbits out of the garden is to start early in the spring using the things they don’t like, then be consistent throughout the growing season. 

  • It’s best to keep rabbits from crossing into the garden to begin with, and many old-time remedies rely on spreading various products around the perimeter of the garden such as dried blood or dried blood meal or human hair. Sprinkle dried blood on the surface around all your plants as early in the season as you can, and repeat after a 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.
  • Do not rely on repellents alone. The most effective way of keeping out rabbits is chicken wire fencing. Install a fence that is 4 feet high and bury it 6 inches deep. Bend the top foot of the fence away from the garden like a security fence, so that they can’t climb or jump over it. For new bulbs, try a dome or cage of chicken wire secured over the bed.
  • Rabbits don’t like to leave their shelters, so try to reduce the possible rabbit homes around your yard. Brush away piles of brush and leaves, and fill in abandoned burrows. If a rabbit doesn’t have a place to live, 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!

Plants That Rabbits Dislike

According to bunny experts, rabbits have plant preferences based on taste, nutritive 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 best and worst plants for Japanese beetles to know which plants might do best. Choose plants such as forsythia, lilac bush, marigolds, 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:

WOODY PLANTS

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)

PERENNIALS

Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa)
Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata)
Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia)
Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina)
Meadow rue (Thalictrum rochebrunianum)
Peony (Paeonia hybrids)
Perennial salvia ‘East Friesland’ (Salvia x superba)
Primrose (Primula x polyantha)
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Sedum)
Speedwell
(Veronica sp.)
Spring cinquefoil (Potentilla verna)
Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis)

ANNUALS

Four o’clock flower (Mirabilis jalapa)
Geranium, zonal and bedding (Pelargonium x hortorum)
Mexican ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum)
Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Spiderflower (Cleome hasslerana)
Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)
Wax begonia (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum)

BULBS

Daffodil (Narcissus sp.)
Hyacinth (Hyacinth orientalis)
Persian onion (Allium giganteum)

VEGETABLES

Asparagus
Leeks
Onions
Potatoes
Rhubarb
Summer squash
Tomatoes

HERBS

Basil
Marjoram
Mint
Oregano
Parsley
Savory
Tarragon

Do you have any tips for controlling rabbits in your garden or yard? Please post below!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

rabbits in garden.

My wife doesn't want me to kill them, so I tried putting moth balls around my plants. This worked for the wood chuck problem I had, last year. My garden is fenced in, but the little rabbits get in. Any other suggestion are welcome on this.

Here a bunny, there a bunny...

Our best advice is above and here: The most effective way of keeping out rabbits is chicken wire fencing. Install a fence that is 4 feet high and bury it 6 inches deep. Bend the top foot of the fence away from the garden like a security fence, so that they can’t climb or jump over it. It’s a bit of work but once it’s done, you’re good for a few years at least. (For new bulbs, try a dome or cage of chicken wire secured over the bed.)

Alternatively, eliminate the bunnies’ habitat. Rabbits don’t like to leave their shelters, so try to reduce the possible rabbit homes around your yard. Brush away piles of brush and leaves, and fill in abandoned burrows. If a rabbit doesn’t have a place to live, 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!

If it’s any consolation, one of our editors has bunnies in her neighborhood, too. They’re cute but they can do some damage.

bunnies love white clover

Also see the item below with the subject line “white clover, white clover, send the bunnies right over.” That sounds like a good solution!

Rabbit Control

Here in Suburbia, USA, zone 5b, we have a moderate bunny problem. There are large wooded areas nearby. I began planting Dutch white clover in the lawn a few years ago, and among its many benefits we've found that the local rabbits prefer the clover to almost all of our garden plants. We still have to fence in the peas, beets and lettuce, but the cottontails seem to prefer the clover to almost anything, and we enjoy watching them nibbling away. The local hawks, owls, and half wild cats do their part too, especially if I leave the remains of what they catch near the garden beds. Nature will not be dominated, but she loves to dance.

white clover, white clover, send the bunnies right over!

Great comments, thank you, Odo!

rabbits

I'm pretty well at the point of just sharing my yard with the one rabbit I have seen.I have a small woody back forty behind my garage and the neighbour keeps rabbits for selling afterwards, in cages on his property. This rabbit hasn't ate anything in my vegetable garden, he has in my neighbor's yard.I think the only reason this cottontail is over here is to hide from the neighbours's dog. He doesn't bother me, I don't bother him, Have scared the crap pout of each other when I walk outside and I don't see him and he isn't expecting company. The squirrels on the other hand I am sick of being in my garden, wouldn't be too bad if they ate just one thing but they are nibblers and like to try a little of everything.My question is are rabbits afraid of squirrels or the other way around?

Rabbits and Squirrels

Hi Debbie,

Neither animal is scared of the other. To deter squirrels from eating vegetables and fruit in your garden, try hanging up packets of fox urine or spreading it around the garden. If there are a lot of squirrels, another good way to further deter them is to remove all other attractors: Move trash bins into the garage at night, take in bird feeders and bird baths, and put compost into a sealed bin.  

Do you have a rabbit problem?

Debbie. Hi, there. I've seen your post on "Farmer's Almanac" about rabbit problems. You may not want this, but if you or any of your friends/neighbours are interested - I hunt rabbits, squirrels and pigeons, so may be able to help. I regularly shoot rabbits in Powys, Shropshire and Herefordshire, and don't charge for my services. I'm also fully insured.

Hope your rabbit problems are solved. If not, and you are near West England or Wales, please reply to this message.

- - Rebecca.

Rabbits

Just read your post, I have a rabbit problem and would be grateful if you could rid me of them, it is impossible to grow anything,I live near Ross on Wye

Rabbit control

Hello Rebecca!
Can you do some rabbit hunting in Swansea?
Please let me know.

Rabbits

I have a rabit nest in my Oregano bush inside of my 2 foot tall raised bed. I want to move them but I really don't want to kill them. The babies are about the size of a large fist.

voracious rabbits

We put up a cedar fence and rabbits simply chew holes through that. There are baby bunnies all over and during night just eat everything! I don't want to enclose my whole garden in chicken wire. Am going to try a live trap... What is a good,safe chemical deterrant around vegies? So frustrated I want to cry!

A Repelling Topic

Hi, Mary: We feel your pain, having been nibbled more than a few times ourselves! The best thing we can recommend–other than cage wire, which you don’t seem to want–is to carefully go through all of the possible solutions suggested above and see what works (actually, it is often a combination that does it). Have you tried a radio in the garden? Or perhaps an organic deer repellent? Sometimes chopped up human hair works as a barrier (from a barber shop or salon). You don’t say how big your area is, but seriously, a metal fence is the tried-and-true solution. Thanks for asking, and good luck!

chicken wire

Didn't take me long to realize that I needed 2 ft x 1inch chicken wire when I moved to a new house with a rabbit population in the neighborhood.

Rabbits!

Dried fox urine, repeated a few times per plant, works quite well!

Rabbits

Keep rabbits out with coyote rabbit call

Rabbit vs Flowers

Snapdragons are a very delicate flower and rabbits love mine. One thing that has helped besides I do use chicken wire & plant as many things as I can now in hanging or"lifted"items....Look for for flowers with spikey stalks. That hasn't always helped with my squash..but as for flowers try ones such as Cosmos...I have yet to lose one! I still use marigolds around veggies/some years has worked well when I've lost veggies I didn't.But I have had good luck with prickly stemmed flowers.

rabbit deterrent?

would a 75% or 100% simple green spray around help as well as have a heart traps help

keeping out rabbits

Repellents and sprays can work if you could direct rabbits to eat something else nearby, but if the rabbits have already targeted a particular crop, they can have limited effectiveness. Fencing or coverage with garden fabric may be necessary. 

I got bird problems

I see lots and lots of rabbits but my problem this year is defiantly the birds. They are digging up my onions, cucumbers, squash, watermelon, radishes and now my pepper seedlings. I liked the one girls comment where what works for one might not work for another but lets keep trying ha ha.

Marigold and snapdragons - they ate them ALL !

You state in your article that rabbits don't eat and can be deterred by marigolds and snapdragons ... well 3 years in a row now those are their first and favorite plants to eat down to the ground !
So I would suggest editing where you state " Rabbits are deterred by some of the same plants as deer and Japanese beetles. If you’d like to control all these bests, check our list of deer-resistant plants and best and worst plants for Japanese beetles to know which plants will do best. Choose plants such as forsythia, lilac bush, marigolds, zinnias, daffodils, lavender, and snapdragons for rabbits. This will reduce your rabbit population."
As clearly it's incorrect information.

-from an unhappy gardener with no more marigold or snapdragon plants!

Marigolds and Snapdragons

Hi Bonnie,

We’re sorry to hear about your marigold and snapdragon plants. We do state that rabbit preferences can vary. Marigolds and snapdragons are sometimes not appetizing to rabbits, and planting them has worked for many people. However, a hungry rabbit will eat almost anything, and it appears that the rabbits love your garden. Growing plants that are not very appetizing to rabbits is meant to hopefully keep them away, but we do state that the most sure-fire way to keep rabbits away is to put up a fence. Based on your feedback, we have made the language more clear in that section to indicate that this is not a guaranteed solution and that rabbits have varying tastes. We would recommend putting up a fence or trying some of our other tips to stop this damage from happening again. Thank you for your feedback, and good luck!

Knockout Roses

We live in the mountains close to Lake Tahoe. Knockouts grow well and thrive in most gardens. I planted 10 plants last summer, covered them with pine needles and mulch over the winter - they sprung right back in spring and were getting buds in early June. Then the rabbits came. I put up a fence (not chicken wire as it's so ugly - probably a big mistake). Got anti-rabbit stuff from Home Depot, used cayenne pepper - you name it. I have two big Siberian Samoyeds who love everyone and everything - they chase a rabbit but it isn't serious business for them. So now I'm taking the plants out - probably give them away. Sometimes we forget that we share all this natural beauty with other living things! Anyway, will probably put in salvia. Ugggg.

Rabbit eating my garden.

I have a problem with a rabbit eating the tomatoes in my garden. I have seen the rabbit before and all the damage left to the garden fits the discretion of what a rabbit would do. I also have Parsley and Basil in my garden. Is there an explanation for this.
Thanks.

rabbit food

Some rabbits will eat tomatoes and other plants that the species normally avoids. Sometimes this might have to do with the availability of other food – when it is scarce, some might go for less preferred fare. Most of the tomato plant is not good for the animal to eat, but the fruit is edible. You might try spreading dried blood (available in garden centers) around your tomato plant to deter the rabbit, or surround your plants with chicken wire, at least 2 feet tall (3 feet is better), with the bottom buried a few inches into the soil. Eliminate any brush piles on your property, which rabbits like.

Rabbit under pool concrete patio

I have a problem rabbit nest I have to get rid of. This giant rabbit has made a burrow underneath our inground pool concrete pad. It’s totally damaging this area and despite our best efforts to keep it away…it’s frantically trying to get back in. I can only assume it has babies in there, but the hole is so deep there’s no way to tell for sure. We’ve decided to let the potential babies grow and leave the nest before trying to seal off the area for good…I just don’t know when that will be. I’d hate to seal them in there!!! When is the best time for me to do this? It’s now end of May, no baby bunnies in sight but we’ve spotted the large (we assume) female. I’d prefer not to harm them, but I really need them gone. They’ve been burrowing in this spot for years I am told by the previous house owner, but I want them gone. Wouldn’t mind them anywhere else in the backyard, but the damage they’re starting to cause in this spot could be $$$ for me. Help!
P.S. I have a dog, I have a fenced yard, I tried sealing the hole with thick garden plastic liner and dirt, and I don’t want to shoot it or harm it…even though it’s an a-hole lol.

Hi Abby,

Hi Abby,

Sorry, we are not rabbit experts. Trapping and removing the rabbit is one option. You can also call a local animal control officer for advice. Here are a couple of websites with some information about wild rabbits.

wildlifeanimalcontrol.com/rabbits.html

rabbitmatters.com/wildrabbits.html

humanesociety.org/animals/rabbits/tips/solving_problems_rabbits.html

 

 

 

fans

What kind of rabbit suitable for small gardens

Deter rabbits

Moth balls or moth crystals work. Sprinkle in & around the holes(usually more than 1) in replace fill.

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