To many people, the image that comes to mind at the mention of a rabbit is a soft, fluffy cute bunny; for children, the image may be caricature of a rabbit carrying a basket of eggs or even of the cartoon character, Bugs Bunny. But for those who have and love their gardens, the image that comes to mind may be of a destructive wild rabbit that eats up their gardens.
Although all are strong images, the one we addressed here is that of the destructive pest.
How Do You Know if a Rabbit Is Eating Your Garden?
The first step is to determine if it is a rabbit that is eating your garden - or something else is looking for rabbit evidence.
One very reliable sign that a rabbit is in the area is scatterings of coarse, round fecal pellets (poop). Depending on the species, these may be 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in size. You may also see rabbit hair or fur caught on or under tree branches, rabbit trails, or nesting areas under bushes or brush. But the strongest sign that a family of pest rabbits is in the vicinity is their damage and destruction:
Feeding. Rabbits will eat about any tender plant. In the spring, they will feed on newly sprouted grass and clover; in the fall and winter when food is less available, rabbits will survive on whatever bark and seedlings it can find. But, too often, the rabbits' favorite food is that found in homeowner's vegetable gardens. Some of these are vegetables (such as beans, beet, broccoli, carrot, lettuce, and peas); Herbs (such as cilantro and parsley); tree and berry items (almonds, apples, berries, plums, etc); and ornamental flowers, shrubs, and trees.
- Gnawing. Although about any tree can be gnawed by rabbits, they prefer the smooth, light bark and tender shoots of young trees over rough, tough bark of older trees. Tree gnawing can cause significant damage, particularly if the rabbits completely gnaw off all the bark or any essential branches. Rabbits will gnaw on things other than plants as well, including hoses, wires, and cloth. In fact, care must even be taken with pet rabbits in the home, as their gnawing can damage such things as furniture, shoes, clothing, cables and wires - possibly causing sparks or fires from chewing on electrical wires.
3 Good Ways to Keep Rabbits Out
The best means of controlling rabbit damage in the garden is by discouraging their presence and preventing access to plants. Professional control is also available through pest management companies that provide nuisance wildlife management services.
- Fencing. As with protection against other wildlife, the top recommendation is the use of fencing around the garden (or other area to which the rabbits are attracted) with 1/2- to 1-inch mesh chicken wire. The fence should be at least 2 feet high to keep rabbits from jumping over it. To prevent then from burrowing under it, the fencing should extend at least six inches below ground or be secured to the ground to keep the bottom edge tight. Electric net fencing also can be used for temporary control around seasonal gardens.
- Individual plant protection. Use 1/4- to 1/2-inch-mesh poultry netting to create cylinders to protect new trees, shrubs or vines. Again, the fencing should be buried to prevent burrowing and the cylinder should be at least 2 to 4 inches greater than the diameter of the plant and braced away from it to prevent rabbits from pushing the netting and reaching through to nibble
- Habitat Modification. If you have found evidence of rabbit nesting, remove it, and modify or block off the area to keep them from coming back in. Proactively reduce nesting options by removing low shrubbery branches that provide harborage for rabbits; eliminating tall, dense vegetation and wood and debris piles; controlling vegetation along fence rows; and sealing spaces beneath buildings.
Other Rabbit Control that Works - with Restrictions
- Trapping. Live trapping is an option, but it is not recommended that the homeowner do it him/herself, because you then have to do something with the trapped animal. Because rabbits are considered agricultural pests in many states, and they can carry disease, there are often laws that regulate where and how you can release them.
- Repellents. Chemical repellents can be applied to some trees, vines, or other plants that are in danger from rabbits. But these can create an unpleasant odor, taste, or stickiness. Because of this, and their toxicity, most repellents are not suited for use on vegetables or other food plants, as the can make the plant inedible for humans. In addition, repellents often work only for a short time and need to be reapplied frequently. If you choose to use a repellent, carefully read and follow all label directions before use.
- Hunting and Kill Traps. These are also an option, however due to state and local regulations, you must know and follow all laws of your area and state or contact a pest management professional.
2 Things that Don't Work Against Rabbits
- Noise and Lights. Devices intended to frighten or discourage rabbits, such as noisemakers, flashing lights, or ultrasonic sound waves do not scare away or otherwise affect rabbits.
- Pesticides. There are no EPA-registered pesticides or toxic baits for rabbit control.
Keep Rabbits Away
No matter how you choose to prevent, discourage, or get rid of rabbits, you will need to be constantly vigilant because, it seems there are always more rabbits coming round. To keep rabbits away:
- Regularly inspect the fencing to ensure rabbits are not getting through, under or around them.
- Inspect plants for recent damage.
- Keep an eye out for rabbits signs - fecal pellets, gnawing, etc.
- Act as soon as you see the first sign of rabbits.