Plants That Rabbits Eat: Crocus and Other Flowers at Risk

Plus Tips on Protecting Your Flowers From Damage

Image: Pink Supreme carpet rose.
Rabbits do eat rose bushes, despite their prickly reputation. David Beaulieu

Somebody should beseech the Easter Bunny to demand that his minions show a little holiday spirit. Gardeners all too often go out into their spring-fresh yards in the morning, their hearts set on admiring the new crop of crocus flowers, for example, only to experience a rude awakening: Overnight, a rabbit (you can tell it was a rabbit from the fresh droppings left behind) had eaten everything, flowers as well as the plants' foliage.

Is such behavior really in keeping with the spirit of your upcoming holiday, Mr. Easter Bunny? Sure, there are some rabbit-proof flowers out there, but who wants to be restricted to planting just those particular plants?

An experience such as that described above can be heartbreaking. When rabbits eat shrub plants, at least there is usually something left over (the rabbits can't reach the high branches on reasonably mature, sturdy shrubs). But when rabbits eat spring bulb plants, that spells "the end" in no uncertain terms: You will have to wait till next year to enjoy your crocus. A year is a long time to wait (especially after having waited in vain for the flowers on your bulb plant for the current year).

How to Protect Plants From Rabbit Damage

So what is one to do to protect plants that rabbits eat? Short of establishing a reliable dog or cat patrol to keep out the rabbits, all of your options have their drawbacks.

You could surround your crocus (or other flowers known to be on the menu for wild rabbits) with chicken-wire fencing. But chicken wire is unsightly, so you may have to strike a compromise between aesthetic goals and practical concerns.

For flowers that bloom later in the year than crocuses do, the Scarecrow Sprinkler (which requires the use of a garden hose) might be an option.

But it is way too early for Northerners to be setting up a garden hose outside to protect the flowers that bloom the earliest, because one still experiences sub-freezing nights in early spring in places like New England, U.S. Who wants to risk broken pipes in the basement for the sake of protecting plants from rabbits?

Another option is to use a Havahart trap, but those are a lot of bother and, even if successful, would have to be set up continuously to control a critter that breeds like...well, like a rabbit.

Eliminating hiding places where wild rabbits can take cover is always sound pest-control policy. Rabbits are smart and would prefer not being caught out in the open. They are more comfortable coming out to graze on your landscape plants when a place to duck into, under, or behind -- when a threat emerges -- is located nearby. However, rabbits that are hungry enough are pretty brazen and will laugh at the danger inherent in grazing in an open area, where they are subject to attacks even from birds of prey.

Nonetheless, the smart thing for you to do is to make rabbits as uncomfortable as possible by depriving them of hiding spots such as:

  1. Brush piles. 
  2. Areas with tall weeds, such as goldenrod.
  1. Outdoor storage sheds that they can dart under.
  2. Woodchuck burrows.

Perhaps more importantly, brush piles, outbuildings, etc. can serve as spots in which rabbits breed. So you can nip the problem in the bud, in some cases, simply by eliminating them or by taking precautionary measures. For example, the base of a storage shed can be ringed with chicken wire (partially buried in the ground to discourage tunneling) to make it more difficult for rabbits to get under it. Or it can be sprayed with repellents to drive the critters away.

Speaking of repellents, another option is to spread some sort of stinky substance all around your property to deliver a message to that twitching bunny nose of this stubborn pest: "Keep out!" For example, some gardeners use blood meal (it has the virtue of being organic).

But such repellents generally have to be reapplied after a rain.

Examples of Plants That Rabbits Eat

Wild rabbits eat a number of different kinds of plants, including bushes. A reader wrote in to relate her own experiences with rabbit damage on shrubs:

"I had heard of rabbit damage being done to Callicarpa (beautyberry shrub) but had never experienced it, myself -- until recently. The other day, I noticed rabbit tracks in the snow in my yard and decided to follow them. The rabbit had pretty much "made the rounds" to all of my shrubs, in a quest for something good to eat.

"Only my Callicarpa and oakleaf hydrangea passed muster. The rabbit had chewed down all of the stems of the Callicarpa to within 6 inches of the ground! In this case, though, the 'rabbit damage' to my plants was inconsequential, since Callicarpa blooms on new wood. I was going to prune my Callicarpa down to within 6 inches of the ground anyhow, in spring, myself. So the rabbit just beat me to it! Still, it was a powerful reminder of the potential for rabbit damage to the plants in my yard."

Other plants that rabbits eat include:

  1. Aster
  2. Calendula
  3. Cornflower
  4. Hollyhock
  5. Hosta
  6. Nasturtium
  7. Pansies
  8. Petunias
  9. Pussy willows
  10. Sage
  11. Spotted deadnettle
  12. Yarrow
  13. Flowering quince shrubs
  14. Rose shrubs (specifically, the new growth that lacks thorns)
  15. Weigela bushes