Rabbits

How to Identify and Get Rid of Rabbits

get-rid-of-rabbits

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 stolonifera)
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!

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Reader Comments

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Rabbits need to chew a lot

The Editors's picture

Rabbits need to chew a lot because their teeth grow constantly. They are probably attracted to the wicker since it is similar to wood twigs. You might try placing a large pile of twigs similar in diameter to your wicker nearby on the lawn. Also, you might try rabbit repellents such as sprinkling dried urine of predators (available at garden centers); scattering fur of a dog or cat around the area (replenish every so often); or installing motion-detector sprinklers (available online, such as from Havahart). Depending on the layout of the deck, you might also consider fencing (which can also help to keep the animals from setting up shop under your deck).
Although it was once a common home remedy to use mothballs to repel wildlife (indoors or outdoors), it is no longer recommended. Mothballs can be toxic to beneficial insects, animals (including pets), and humans (especially children), and will leach chemicals into the soil. They contain pesticides and are meant to be enclosed in a small airtight space indoors to control insects that eat natural fibers; if used outdoors, their fumes will dissipate (which might be partly why the rabbits trotted right over them).
Hope this helps!

Parsley does not deter

Parsley does not deter bunnies - it's an aphrodisiac & they are all over it. That's the first thing they go for in my garden (I have two pet rabbits & was looking at things NOT to use trying to deter cats that foul in my garden). The second thing is mint, they love it! Also, my Yucca & the primroses.
Hope that helps :-)

I have rabbits, groundhogs,

I have rabbits, groundhogs, chipmunks, squirrels and who knows what else. The rabbits live in the garden - I watch my step so I don't step on the babies. The trick I have found to be most effective is to provide plenty of food for the animals as well as for myself. They like a lot of the plants we call weeds so let some weeds grow, especially when the veggies are just getting started. I do put chicken wire around my peas but 2' high is enough to send the rabbits to easier pickings. I don't know if the resident rabbits won't allow newcomers or why it is that the rabbit population stays about the same from year to year. Anyway, we get along - I just expect to find a few things munched on. Also, I don't discourage the few snakes that live in the yard. Nature will keep a good balance if we don't get in the way.

Amen to living in harmony

Amen to living in harmony with the rabbits! Someone shot a baby bunny and he is now healing and hiding out in my yard, and yes he has helped his self to my green bean plants! We r the smart ones and if you don't use a fence then you'll be sharing, not killing!

A rabbit ate a jalapena

A rabbit ate a jalapena pepper right off my plant today. You wouldn't think they would even like them.

The only thing I found to

The only thing I found to deter rabbits is cats. Started feeding 2 stray kittens & they stuck around. Mom now has a litter of 4 kittens & no rabbits or mice in site. I bought many different color coral bells to plant as I understand a deer & rabbit would starve before they would eat them.

Last year my tulips were

Last year my tulips were demolished be rabbits despite being surrounded by chives, covering in red pepper flakes, and finally using a horribly nauseating repellant. This year I figured would be the same but as I had several dinner parties and large family meals, my chives were trimmed every few days while the tulips were young. The bunnies didn't touch my flowers. They look great! My guess is that the strong smell of
the freshly trimmed chives all around the tulips
spoiled the bunny fun. Yay, finally a point on the gardener's side!

I have about 4 baby rabbits

I have about 4 baby rabbits and a very small backyard so we let them ran around, they got into the Basil plant and ate about half of it, over the last 3 day they have been dying one by one, would this be why?? I hate going into the backyard and founding them like this, what could be it???

Are you referring to the

The Editors's picture

Are you referring to the basil dying? Yes, rabbits eat basil!  We're not sure what to say here. Move the rabbits or move the basil.

GMO plants may contain pest

GMO plants may contain pest control properties... rabbits and insects both fall in "the animal kingdom" so I hope it wasn't GMO basil that did this :-( this would mean it would be potentially harmful to humans as well! Also, rabbits can "scare to death" by as much as a dog barking at them. Are there any stressor that could have caused them harm?

Barely any plants are GMO.

Barely any plants are GMO. Basil is not one of them. There are so few GMO foods, that no popcorn varieties are GMO whatsoever--and regular corn is one of the few crops that sometimes is GMO, along with canola, and soybean.

Unfortunately, there are too many GMO foods

Not only are there many GMO foods but they're also used as ingredients in an endless assortment of foods. There is also a huge effort to genetically modify other plants; hence the reason for some of these companies hoarding seeds for their own development of new and potentially patented varieties.
GMO Food: List of Genetically Engineered Food.
Corn, soybean, rapeseed/canola, potato, papaya, zucchini/squash, beet/sugar beets, alfalfa, flax, apple, plum, salmon (farm raised), cloned meat, yeast, enzymes & hormones, pineapple, tomatoes, rice, sugar cane, wheat, chicory/radicchio, melon/cantaloupe, bananas
This can be found on 'organic hawaii .org'

aren't you afraid of Mad Cow

aren't you afraid of Mad Cow from Blood and Bone meal. I know a person who's dad was a gardner and had died from Kreutzfeld/Jakob from just such fertilizers. dreadful.. There is no guarantee that when our own parents used such fertilizers that we aren't going to be subjected to such a fate as well. is Alzheimers really growing or is it bovine spongiform encephalopathy on the rise from the old days when we still ate marrow bones?

According to the Organic

The Editors's picture

According to the Organic Consumers' Association, "Chances of getting mad cow disease from garden fertilizer are slim. Experts say scientific evidence is scant or nonexistent on the danger of such products made from rendered cow parts, but add there's an easy way to play it safe: Don't use them.
Safety concerns about bone meal have turned into something of an urban legend, according to Dalton Hobbs, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, but he knows of no evidence that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) can be contracted by inhaling bone meal dust.
"One would think there is a theoretical possibility, but that has not been documented as a form of spreading BSE," he says." Read more here:  http://www.organicconsumers.or...

The rabbits at my home do not

The rabbits at my home do not eat the mint, but they sure love to hide in it!

Young bunnies love to nibble on my young tomato leaves.

Marigolds: There are many types of marigolds, so, you can have success with one sub-specie and not another.

Thanks for all the other advise. I will try to use it and see what happens.

Chives don't work for me. I

Chives don't work for me. I had a huge chive plant in a pot on my back steps, next to one of parsley. The chives are now down to a stump...they love it. The parsley is fine. They've eaten my sedum, roses, yarrow, daisies and more. They even chomp on the beach roses, which have thorns. They are not starving...every morning and early evening we see them all chomping on the clover in our lawn. But they don't touch the lavender, Russian sage or Bishop's weed (all purple, by the way).
Question about dried blood and dried bone meal: Do they attract other animals, like raccoons and coyote? Does blood attract carnivores?

That's a good question. Dried

The Editors's picture

That's a good question. Dried blood and compost can really make a garden bloom. It repels small animals efficiently, thought it may attract carnivores like raccoons and opossums.

Rabbits dislike tomatoes?

Rabbits dislike tomatoes? They had no problem decimating my transplants at the beginning of the season.

The plant of the tomato is

The Editors's picture

The plant of the tomato is toxic for rabbits, however, they will munch on the fruit.

They eat my tomato leaves and

They eat my tomato leaves and the fruit as well.

I used blood meal and bone

I used blood meal and bone meal when tilling up my garden.
I watched three big.....rabbits go through the garden stopped middle ways and kept on hopping. lol
they all come out in the evening, some one had babies. but they have left my garden alone.!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I used two more bags a couple of weeks ago when tilling inbetween rows. Just for safe measure.
My garden looks great :-)

They have Basil and Parsley

They have Basil and Parsley on the dislike list of herb. We feed my girlfriends bunny basil and parsley and he seems to like them especially parsley often ripping it out of your hand with a little grunt (and no he is not starving). These are also listed on numerous sites on approved foods to give your pet bunny rabbit. I highly doubt these plants will deter rabbits from your garden they may be safe if they have a choice between these and a salad bar of nice crisp Romane or chards.

Since I have to use Seven

Since I have to use Seven dust anyway for bugs, the old time hardware store said to go ahead and put it on the new bean sprouts. Rabbits and such can't stand the acidic taste and I shouldn't have to replant this year. I've also heard of taking an old sweaty sock and putting it in a piece of hosiery tied to a stick, and put it in the ground. The human smell helps to deter the little critters.

Sevin Dust

I looked up Sevin Dust...you misspelled it...and found it to be highly toxic to humans and a pollutant to groundwater. Do not use the stuff...it can kill you along with everything around.

Rabbits ate my green beans to

Rabbits ate my green beans to the ground. They allowed them to grow until just before running, then, bam! The next morning they looked like some one had taken a weed eater to them, only without the rubble of cuttings. I am thinking of planting pumpkins around the perimeter. I have to put them somewhere, just as well plant them where they will do the most good.

Some great advice here. Last

Some great advice here. Last year my garden was blissfully untouched by the rampant rabbits coons skunks groundhogs and deer that live around us. I kept expecting my carrots to be mauled. But they never were I believe because I planted them along the very middle of the garden surrounded by herbs tomatoes and onions & potatoes. I think its a great method- this year I'm surrounding my garden with pumpkin vines to provide a natural barrier since before they were planted the little critters broke in and nearly chewed my collards and brussles sprouts to the ground! I think it'll work! Good luck gardeners!

Pinwheels are working for the

Pinwheels are working for the wascolly wabbit and birds

I plant Marigolds every 6"

I plant Marigolds every 6" all around the garden and a rabbit WILL NOT cross the marigolds, nor will deere, cats, dogs, mice etc. Smells like a skink downwind and works incredibly well

That is interesting - rabbits

That is interesting - rabbits ate my marigolds! down to a ground!

Yep, I planted marigolds in

Yep, I planted marigolds in my front flower garden and the family of rabbits that live in my yard ate half of them two days after I planted the young plants. The war is on! :)

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