Garden Plants That Rabbits Love to Eat

Flower of Pink Supreme carpet rose.
David Beaulieu

There are many species of wild rabbit found in the Leporidae family, and virtually all of them will readily feast on garden plants, ranging from herbs and vegetables to shrubs and even the bark of trees. Rabbits can be a severe nuisance to gardeners and homeowners since they can devastate vegetable gardens and kill all types of ornamental plants, shrubs, and flowers. So voracious are rabbits that it may be easier to list the plants that aren't eaten by rabbits than to list all the plants that are at risk. Still, there are some plants that are so tasty to rabbits that merely to plant them is to risk inviting rabbits to take up residence in your yard.

Plants That Rabbits Find Delicious

In difficult conditions, rabbits will eat almost any plants, but in normal circumstances, there are some plants that rabbits find so tasty that they are drawn to landscapes containing them.

Annual Flowers

Many annual bedding plants are favored by rabbits, including:

  • Bachelor's Button (Centaurea cyanus)
  • Cockscomb (Celosia argenta cristata)
  • Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
  • Gazania (Gazania rigens)
  • Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)
  • Morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea)
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)
  • Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana)
  • Petunia (Petunia x hybrida)
  • Rose moss (Portulaca grandiflora)
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius)
  • Verbena (Verbena x hybrida)
  • Wishbone flower (Torenia)
  • Zinnas (Zinnia elegans)

Perennial Bulbs and Flowers

These perennial plants, in particular, are attractive to rabbits:

  • Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
  • Baby's breath (Gypsophila paniculata)
  • Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)
  • Bellflower (Campanula spp.)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta & Goldsturm)
  • Clematis (Clematis spp.)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Coral bells-flowers only (Heuchera sanguinea)
  • Crocus (Crocus hybrids)
  • Daylillies (Hemerocallis spp.)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)
  • Great masterwort (Astrantia major)
  • Hosta, Plantain lily (Hosta species)
  • Iris (Iris hybrids)
  • Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule)
  • Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida)
  • Johnny-Jump-Up (Viola tricolor)
  • Lilies, oriental and asiatic (Lilium spp.)
  • Lupine (Lupinus & Russell Hybrid)
  • Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)
    Marguerite daisy (Felicia amelloides)
  • Marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata)
  • Daisy (Aster novi belgii)
  • Mountain blue (Centaurea montana)
  • Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale)
  • Phlox, tall (Phlox paniculata)
  • Phlox, creeping (Phlox subulata)
  • Pincushion flower (Scabiosa caucasica)
  • Pink coreopsism (Coreopsis rosea)
  • Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)
  • Threadleaf coreopsis(Coreopsis verticillata)
  • Tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa)
  • Tulip (Tulipa hybrids)
  • Vervain (Verbena rigida)

Shrubs

A great many shrubs are at great danger from rabbits eating the tender spring shoots. Severe feeding may even kill the plants. Some shrubs to avoid if rabbits are a problem include:

  • Barberry (Berberis & Crimson Pygmie)
  • Common flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
  • Deutzia (Deutzia spp.)
  • Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum)
  • Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • Flowering crabapple (Malus spp.)
  • Forsythia (Forsythia spp.)
  • Fothergilla (Fothergilla spp.)
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)
  • Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica)
  • Judd viburnum (Viburnum x juddii)
  • Juneberry (Amelanchier)
  • Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)
  • Lilac (Syringa patula & Miss Kim)
  • Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)
  • Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
  • Purpleleaf sand cherry (Prunus x cistena)
  • Rose (Rosa spp.)
  • Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
  • Sand cherry (Prunus bessyi)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier)
  • Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria)
  • Winged Euonymus (Euonymus alata)
  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Vegetables and Fruits

Predictably, rabbits are drawn to many of the same foods that appeal to humans. But despite popular depiction in animated cartoons, carrots are not a principal food for rabbits.

  • Apples (Malus pumila)
  • Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)
  • Beets (Beta vulgaris)
  • Blackberry and raspberry (Rubus spp.)
  • Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
  • Broccoli (Brassica oleracea italica)
  • Currant and gooseberry (Ribes spp.)
  • Grape (Vitis spp.)
  • Kiwi (Actinidea arguta)
  • Pear (Pyrus species)
  • Peppers (Capsicum frutescens)
  • Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
  • Peas (Pisum sativum)
  • Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
  • Strawberry (Fragaria ananassa)
  • Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris cicla)

Plants That Actually Repel Rabbits

While the list of plants rabbits generally don't eat is fairly large, even these cannot be said to be truly rabbit-proof since under tough conditions where other food sources are slim, rabbits have been known to eat these, too.

But there are actually some plants that genuinely repel rabbits. Having these in your garden may actually convince them to go elsewhere:

Shrubs

  • Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)
  • Boxwood (Buxus spp.)
  • Bush cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
  • Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
  • Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
  • Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)
  • Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba)
  • Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Perennials

  • Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa)
  • 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 spp.)
  • 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 spp.)
  • Hyacinth (Hyacinth orientalis)
  • Persian onion (Allium giganteum)

Vegetables and Herbs

  • Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum)
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • Mint (Mentha spp.)
  • Onions (Allium cepa)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum)
  • Rhubarb (Rheum × hybridum)
  • Savory (Satureja montana)
  • Summer squash (Cucurbita pepo)
  • Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
  • Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Identifying Rabbit Damage

It is not difficult to identify when rabbits have been eating your plants. Tender green shoots will be gnawed off, often right to ground level. Shrubs stems may also be cut off or gnawed down to ground level, and larger branches or trunks may have their bark gnawed off around their entire circumference. The teeth marks are often evident in the wood of the shrub or tree. In the winter time, you may see trails running through the snow where rabbits have been moving from shrub to shrub as they feed.

If you notice signs of digging and bulbs or roots removed from the ground, this is usually not rabbit damage. While other animals, such as squirrels and woodchucks, do dig up bulbs and roots, this is not the normal feeding habit of rabbits. Rabbits will not even dig up carrots, though they will eat them if another creature has already uprooted them.

Tips for Combatting Rabbits

Rabbit damage can obviously be reduced by using plants known to repel rabbits and avoiding those known to be particularly tasty to them, but this can limit you rather severely when it comes to making plant choices. Other ways to minimize rabbit damage include:

  • Plant more mature shrubs and trees. Rabbits prefer to nibble young, tender growth; older established shrubs are often relatively immune to rabbits unless the winter has been especially harsh and there are no other food sources. Planting older established specimens rather than young potted shrubs may prevent some rabbit damage.
  • Plant shrubs that flower on "new wood." Some shrubs bloom on old wood—the wood that grew during the previous season's growth. If these shrubs are gnawed down to the ground in late fall and winter, you will get no flowers the following spring. But shrubs that grow on new wood produced in the spring will bloom even if rabbits have gnawed the shrubs badly over the winter.
  • Allow a dog or cat to roam your yard. Letting pets have the run of the yard is controversial in some neighborhoods, but the truth is that certain dog breeds (terriers, for example) and many domestic cats will do a very good job of keeping rabbits away. A dog, however, should be given the run of the yard only if you have a fence to keep it confined.
  • Surround planting areas with protective fencing. An 18-inch-high fence made from chicken wire with 1-inch openings, for example, can keep rabbits away from shrub borders and other planting areas. For fencing to work, though, the barrier has to be complete and sturdy enough that the wire can't be bent over. Rabbits can easily burrow under fencing, too, so the wire needs to extend 6 to 10 inches below ground in order to be completely effective.
  • Plant high. Vegetable gardening in wooden beds raised up to waist level is not only easier on the back and knees, but it puts your vegetables well out of the reach of rabbits. Large, tall clay pots are also usually beyond the reach of rabbits. Unlike the common perception, most rabbits feed right down at ground level, they don't routinely leap or climb or dig.
  • Live-trap the rabbits. Yes, you can bait rabbits into entering a live trap, but you are then left with the problem of where to take those live rabbits for release. Rabbits are considered a nuisance animal in most areas, and local regulations may not allow you to release rabbits on public lands. Nor do farmers in rural areas appreciate city folks dumping live rabbits in the countryside. Moreover, trapping has limited value since more rabbits invariably arrive to replace any that you have moved.
  • Eliminate hiding and nesting spots. Rabbits are generally secretive creatures, and they like yards with places to hide and to nest. If you eliminate dense brush piles and block other areas where they can hide, your property will be much less attractive to them.
  • Use repellants. A number of commercial rabbit/deer repellants are available. Usually, based on garlic or other strong-smelling herbs, the concoctions are quite effective at repelling creatures, which find the scent seriously unpleasant. They come in both granular and spray forms, and need to be reapplied frequently, especially after rainstorms, in order to be effective. Blood meal is another effective rabbit repellant, but be aware that domestic dogs and cats are sometimes fascinated by the scent and may dig up the ground where blood meal has been applied. Blood meal will also need to be reapplied after every rain.
  • Hunt the rabbits. This is certainly not a solution for those with moral prohibitions against killing animals, nor is it a solution for urban areas, where hunting wild game with firearms or using kill traps is usually illegal. But in rural areas, it is often allowed, and it may be an option if you have no moral misgivings and the skills to do it safely. In the rural hunting culture, rabbits serve as small game and are a routine source of food for the table.

Finally, you can encourage natural predators as a means of putting limits on rabbits that are out of control. With wild rabbits at epidemic numbers in many suburban and even urban areas, it is no surprise that small natural predators have popped up in areas where it was once unusual to see them. Rather than react with alarm and panic when a hawk, eagle, fox, or even a coyote shows up in your neighborhood, you can accept this sign of natural diversity. It is rare for a small wild predator to attack a domestic pet, and virtually unheard of for any human to ever be threatened by one. But it is very common for rodent and rabbit populations to dwindle when a fox or hawk shows up in the neighborhood.