Controlling and Deterring Rabbits in the Garden

rabbit eating grass

The Spruce / Micah Issitt and Adrienne Legault 

Cute as they are, rabbits can do a lot of damage in the garden. Since there is always more than one rabbit, trapping is not a practical option. While there are some plants rabbits do not particularly like, they will eat anything if they get hungry enough. To keep rabbits from destroying your garden, you will need a combination of repellents, diversions, and barriers.

Rabbit Repellents

It would be nice if we could just figure out what rabbits avoid and place that throughout our yards. Repellents only work part of the time. If an animal is hungry or even too young to know better, it will munch on anything. However rabbits are somewhat picky, especially about a scent, and repellents can be quite effective.

Repellents will need to be applied repeatedly throughout the growing season, especially after a rain or following significant new plant growth. Common rabbit deterrents include home remedies like sprinkling plants with red pepper, garlic and onion powder, or talcum powder.

It's always a good idea to alternate repellents so that the rabbits do not get used to any scent or flavor. Rabbits do most of their feeding in the evening and into the night. To be most effective, apply deterrents at the end of the day.

Types of Deterrents

  • Fertilizer repellents: Blood meal and bone meal are natural soil amendments that make very good rabbit deterrents. Rabbits are herbivores, and the scent of these slaughterhouse by-products is usually enough for them to look elsewhere for food. Both are available as fertilizer, in garden centers. Blood meal is high in nitrogen. Bone meal is also a source of nitrogen and is high in phosphorous. They break down in the soil and will need to be applied every week or two.
  • Home remedies: There are many household products used as repellents, with mixed success, from human hair to black pepper.
  • Pets: Pets provide some deterrence, but rabbits may prefer to live near domesticated animals because it means they are relatively safe from the more dangerous wild animals. Still, a dog or cat will help keep the rabbit population in check.
California Red Onions in the garden
Barbara Rich / Getty Images

Diversions and Habitat Modification

If rabbits are content with the food that is easily accessible to them, they won't be so persistent about getting into your flowers and vegetables. A rabbit favorite you can easily provide is clover. Overseeding your lawn with clover will provide them a ready source of food and it will even feed your lawn since it is a legume and fixes nitrogen. Clover seed is often available next to the grass seed.

Modifying your yard to make it less hospitable for rabbits is not practical for most of us. It would involve removing or reducing overgrown areas where the rabbits can find cover. That could be around fencing or along the hedging or other large structures. Rabbits will also seek cover under staircases and porches.

Fencing and Other Barriers

Many favorite rabbit plants can be found in the vegetable garden. They are particularly fond of tender young shoots and dark, leafy greens. If you have a problem with rabbits, you are going to need to fence in your vegetable garden.

Rabbit Fencing Tips:

  • Rabbits will chew right through plastic and fiberglass fencing. Go with metal.
  • A coated metal is easy to work with and lasts longer than non-galvanized fencing, which will rust.
  • The hole openings should be no more than 1-inch wide.
  • Height of 2-3 feet will deter them.
  • Bend the bottom of the fencing at a 90-degree angle, facing outward, and bury it 3-6 inches deep,
  • Rabbits can squeeze under gates. Put a flashing of fence at the base of the gate.
  • Do not leave the gate open while you are in your garden. They will be happy to hide out until you leave.

Protecting Free Standing Trees and Shrubs

Rabbits will gnaw on woody plants, like blueberries and hydrangeas, especially in the winter. They will also girdle young trees and shrubs, chewing the bark down to the heartwood in a circle near the base of the tree. This opens the tree to disease and insect infestation and can effectively kill a young tree. To protect freestanding plants, encircle them with two- to four-foot-high fencing. You don't have to bury it, but make sure there is no access at ground level. And keep the fencing several inches from the trunk of the plant.

Remember that snow cover will allow the rabbits to reach higher up on the plants. If you routinely get several feet of snow, make your fencing higher.

Garden fence
Elizabeth W. Kearley / Getty Images

Most Popular Rabbit Plants

Rabbits have wide-ranging tastes and there are many plants they will nibble on. In my yard, pansies, hydrangeas, blueberry stems, pea plants, bean plants, young pepper plants, beet greens and Swiss chard are the most favored plants, besides clover and violets.

Rabbit Scram has an extensive list of plants damaged by rabbits, from the plants they eat most often to the ones they visit occasionally.

Plants Rabbits Tend to Avoid

This is a tricky one. The University of Illinois Extension has a list of plants least browsed by rabbits and it doesn't include any vegetables. Here are some of the herbs and flowers they list: lobelia, snapdragons, petunias, astilbe, columbine, iris, peony, purple coneflower, basil, chives, oregano, rosemary and sage, buddleia, lantana, lavender, and viburnum. Keep in mind that while the rabbit may not eat your oregano, she may find it's strong fragrance the perfect place to disguise her nest from predators.

Of course, animals are unpredictable, so you will have to pay close attention to what happens in your yard and take action accordingly.


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