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Tips For Keeping Rabbits Out Of Your Garden

They may be cute, but rabbits can quickly decimate a vegetable garden. Try our safe and low-cost ways to keep these critters out!

Sometimes it’s better to see a pest problem as the normal way nature enters and adapts to a particular niche in the environment created by things like availability of food, cover, and absence of predators. Animals don’t appear magically on the scene for no reason, they simply exploit available food resources and habitat. Once we understand this, we can learn about them and adapt ourselves to their habits. That way, we not only enjoy wildlife but can minimize its impact on our homes and gardens.

Rabbits Habitat and History

The Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, is one of the most common rabbit species in North America. It’s found in abundance over the entire eastern half of the United States, as well as into parts of central and South America. Recognizable instantly from the pure white fur on the underside of its tail, it is otherwise superbly camouflaged in shades of gray and brown. Most adult cottontails in the northeast average about 2 pounds, with larger specimens of about 3 pounds common in the south. In some instances, specimens of over 4 pounds have been recorded.

Eastern cottontails are active and feed nocturnally and in conditions of low light, such as dawn and dusk. They require ready access to escape cover, such as low vegetation, scrubby ground cover and brush piles, but they prefer to browse for food in open grassy fields and meadows. Rabbits dig relatively shallow holes in soft earth, well hidden under brush, lining their nests with leaves, grass, and fur.

Rabbits’ Diet

Grasses comprise a large portion of the diet of the cottontail, especially the tender shoots of new grass, but they are constantly browsing and will not miss any opportunity to eat a variety of shoots, leaves, flowers and buds, fruits and seeds. When tender shoots or green vegetation is scarce, they are happy to gnaw on bark and small twigs, preferring sweet sap varieties such as fruit trees, maple, and sweet birch.

Reproduction

Eastern cottontails are highly prolific breeders. Reproduction depends largely on temperature. In milder climates, the breeding season can be year round, while in New England it’s usually between March and September. The young gestate for barely a month, females produce up to 4 litters a year, with each litter containing anywhere from 1-12 kits. With favorable habitat, ready food sources, and lack of predation, the population of these rabbits can quickly explode.

Problems, Solutions

Eastern cottontails can quickly decimate a vegetable garden, sometimes in a single night. The damage of these pests is most keenly felt early in the growing season when young plants are most vulnerable. Signs of rabbit activity include a generous scattering of pellets, which are dropped without regard during the cottontail’s normal activities, as well as plant damage that looks as though it was snipped with scissors, owing to the cottontail’s incisors which are sharp and mesh perfectly, clipping off buds or stems cleanly.

There is no commercially-sold rabbit repellent, but there are things you can do to deter them. Cottontails tend to avoid areas onto which something they find unpleasant has been sprayed. Common natural repellents include anything from coyote urine, to soapy water, vinegar, and cayenne pepper; but these need to be applied frequently, and it’s often reported that rabbits eventually become used to the smell and taste of these things.

Likewise, gardeners can certainly choose to plant vegetables and herbs that rabbits find unpleasant, such as rhubarb, tomatoes, garlic, hot peppers, basil, mint, and catnip. But cottontails will simply move along until they find something they do like. Gardeners have tried to create barriers of flowers that tend not to interest the pests, such as begonias, Sweet Alyssum or Vincas, but these don’t have a repellent effect. The cottontails will ignore them, and concentrate on something tasty planted nearby.

What does have a repellent effect are predators? And nothing will attract predators like abundant prey. If you notice your garden becoming overrun with baby rabbits, you’ll probably also begin to see foxes, owls and hawks, fishers, and even bobcats or coyotes move in. Domestic dogs and cats harass rabbits enough to keep the critters at bay too, and certainly, in the old days when people consumed more wild game, it was not uncommon for humans to be the predators.

Some people try to deal with a rabbit problem using humane traps, and relocation. The problem with that strategy is that you may be orphaning a nest full of babies, which may be out of sight.

Think Like Rabbits

Sometimes it pays to think like a rabbit. One of the ways rabbits avoid predators is to stay away from vegetation that will give up their position by sound or movement. So things that are dry and papery, such as dry leaves and straw mean danger because they rustle. You’ll notice that when threatened, sometimes a rabbit will freeze like a statue. This is a way to hide in plain sight rather than allow a predator to key in on their target with sound or movement.

When being attacked, a cottontail will run in a zigzag pattern, to try and confuse the predator, and it is thought that the high contrast of their white tails helps to confuse the pursuers.

Protecting Plants

There is no better or more economical way to keep rabbits out of the garden than good chicken wire, or wire mesh perimeter fence, bottom bent outward and sunk to a depth of at least 6″ under the soil, and at a height of about 3 feet. You can also protect individual plants or rows with cages, or mesh. Physical barriers are the most effective solution to keeping cottontails from destroying your crops.

You can also remove brush piles and other escape cover, which rabbits find attractive. Anyone who has done spring yard cleaning often has stories of coming upon a nest of baby rabbits while moving brush.

One strategy which is highly effective is fake snakes placed in the garden. They work like a charm!

Another strategy is to create meals for rabbits which they will find irresistible, or at least more enticing than the plants in your garden. It takes nothing more than some disposable chopsticks, a few lengths of kitchen string, and green cabbage. Try this inexpensive trick: Tightly roll a tender inner leaf of green cabbage around a chopstick (or bamboo skewer), like a cigar, leaving about half of the stick exposed at the bottom. Secure the cabbage with a piece of kitchen string. Take a few of these and “plant” them in a grassy area away from your garden. They will concentrate on the easy meal, and hopefully leave your plantings alone because trying to defeat your fence would require too much effort.

Do you have a clever way of deterring rabbits in your garden? Let us know in the comments below.

Edward Higgins is a freelance writer, artist, home chef, and avid fly fisherman who lives outside of Portland, Maine. He studied at Skidmore College and Harvard University. His article 10 Best Edible Insects appears in the 2020 Farmers' Almanac.

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Lynn Thompson

I use dryer sheets around my vegetable plants.. They don’t like the sweet smell. I either tuck a sheet partially in the dirt close to the plant or tie on a stick or cage. You may have to change frequently if it rains.

Janie

I have raised beds with a chicken wire surround and this is the second time a rabbit has chosen one of them as a nesting site. The first time, I didn’t find it until the babies were present, and then we just lived with it. This year, I found the nest before she gave birth. I installed a drip irrigation system this year, and I fear that letting her stay would mean I can’t use it while the babies are present. So I’m removing her nest attempts (she’s tried 2 nights in a row now). She seems to be able to get over the fencing, which folds down, so I’m actually going to fold it down. I think she feels secure within it because she never chooses the bed with no fencing. But now I’m off to the dollar store for fake snakes and I’ll pick up some blood meal on the way.

Interestingly, I also tried using The Straw Boss fine straw as mulch this year, which turns out to be perfect nesting material. Ugh.

Patricia

We co-exist. They’re just trying to survive. Aren’t we all? I provide black oil sunflower seeds in flat containers for birds and squirrels, but rabbits do enjoy them as well. Always a saucer-like dish, as the silly squirrels step on high-sided containers and tip them over. I assume rabbits like black seeds because it provides roughage for their teeth. I also leave out oats which they love. Over the years, these adorable wascally wabbits have taken few nibbles in the flower beds. Instead, they use the foliage, especially daylilies, to hide in. Give them options and they will come. Co-existence.

Caitlin Raynor

From someone who raises orphaned baby cottontails for release back to the wild, thank you for your acceptance of these adorable critters.

Kim

I’ve heard that getting a bar of soap and using potato peeler to shave slices off bar of soap and placing around plants that you don’t want damaged or eaten but rabbits.

pawpaw

go to deerout.com and order the rabbit repellent.. their deer repellent works too. I plant a garden right on the river swamp and would not harvest anything if it was not for these two products..they really really work

carolyn shepard

Rabbits. Not even 3 dogs in a fenced in back yard keeps these pests from nesting in the yard. 2 of these dogs are hunters But this does not deter the rabbits from continuing to nest behind our fence. Tried rabbit repellant to no avail. But what will work? Help.

Susan Higgins

Hi Carolyn, we totally understand. Have you tried the fake snakes trick? Or a motion-activated owl? We would think that it would have to be a constant threat in order to avoid nesting. If they’re feeling “safe” they may go ahead and nest, then the dogs come out. So something that provides a constant perceived threat might be the way to go.

Tractorpunk

I’ve had more issues with groundhogs on our farm, having trapped and shot about 40 in the past five years; it is illegal to “rehome” wildlife in my state.

Yet I’m not eager to blast wildlife; I’d prefer nature’s predators to keep the bunnypocalypse out of my garden.

If I keep grass short, rabbits won’t test our fences, and our livestock-guardian dog will kill any she sees, as will hawks. Our chickens even killed one little bunny. It was not a pretty sight for any squeamish suburbanites who might visit the farm, but a reminder of chickens’ dinosaur DNA.

Melissa

I don’t like chemicals in my garden but rather frustrated with rabbits one year and put moth balls around the garden and it worked like a charm.

GrammaTricia

‘@ Sherri, Hunters and fisherfolk are some of the most ardent conservationists. We want to keep the earth green and the wild places wild: Yes we do hunt and fish and ‘tote our guns’ but we eat what we kill and have one heck of a good time doing it. My three G-sons are learning to hunt and fish and I hope they do grow up to be just like me! (and Chip)

Ken Sterne

I second the white clover solution. I broadcast a large patch of clover in the lawn. The rabbits love it, it fixes nitrogen, and the bees can’t get enough of it. One down side though—– the bees do not allow barefoot travel through their patch.

Sharon Dean

I used blood meal for years to keep the bunnies away from my violets, and it never failed. Yes, it did need to be replenished after a rain but it was a small amount needed and the bag was more than affordable. But with a bigger veggie garden this yr it’s going to be chicken wire!

Paula

Try the garden commander! It’s a cage developed by a farmer that keeps deer and wild animals out of your garden. It’s not expensive, stacks and stores easily. It expands for large traditional garden rows, and fits a raised garden bed. Best of all, it’s not expensive. Here’s a link to his website if you are interested: http://www.gardencommander.com

Duke

i agree tobasco cause and water — no animals like it —- i even put in spray bottle and sprayed on roof and gutters to keep birds away —–works like a charm —-

Irishwasherwoman

While out for a walk in Portsmouth, NH, I saw a garden full of plastic forks and spoons with handles stuck in the ground and the tines/bowls sticking up. Most of utensils were in clear plastic, so they didn’t show up that much. The perimeter of the garden had white forks and spoons so they were very noticeable.

Dave

Tobasco solution, as others have mentioned, works well. Also motion-activated water sprinklers, if you have a hose by the garden.

Tina

Human hair, whenever you get a chance sprinkle hair around your garden or whatever area the rabbits will smell an think there is a human close so they won’t go but you have to freshen it up once in awhile this also helps with other animals.

Pat Hogan

We use Deer Defeat for deer and groundhogs and rabbits . It smells for about 15 min. But it really really works. We have had hosta and flowers for the past 4 years using this stuff . Better than liquid fence, etc. does not was off after rain!

Keisha

A black house laid around your garden works perfect! I have alot of rabbits as I live with who’s all around me. I put a black plastic house around one side of my garden. They stay far away from my garden. Not even one incident! They think it’s a snake and stay far away!

S Morrow-Washington

I’m sorry did you mean hose ?

Alana

What about armadillo? Have at least one that likes to tear up my tomato plants at night.

Henry

Pellet rifle, it’s quiet, discreet and even if your neighbors don’t understand. Remind them you have bigger guns for other problems, and to mind their own business.

Jim Fleming

Pied Piper pest control based in Hampshire for all your critter care.

Jim Fleming

Pied piper pest control, hi i offer a free service for dispersal or unwanted rodents, (I only charge if baits/trap are used) for all your critter care from rat’s to rabbit’s, pigions or crow’s I’m here to help, basc insured I use air rifles and traditional methods please ring or message me if I can be of assistance. Many thanks Jim 07510401481,

Lisa Martin

How about just keeping them out of your yard so your puppy will stop eating their droppings. It’s making him sick. They’re everywhere. I have 8 acres and he goes crazy for it. I’m on a strict fixed income so need something cheap and animal friendly. I love my wild rabbits, but I love my puppy more. Any suggestions?

Jason

I’d recommend a 410, 20, or 16 gauge shotgun. Use size 5 shot and lead them a little if they are moving. Good luck.

Deanna

I had a problem with birds making nests in my door wreath on my front door. I’ve tried everything but this year I put some moth balls in a little nylon bag and out in in the back edge of my wreath. No nests this year….and no bird poop on my front door.

jackie

What animals eat hastas plants .We have deer, bunnies and squirrels here..but not until today did anything eat my hastas plants almost down to the roots…I have had these plants for many years and never a problem!

Robert Lewis

When I planted my first garden it was evident rabbits were going to be a problem. I told my neighbor if he heard gun shots it was me shooting rabbits He said that was not necessary and gave me a bag of blood meal. I sprinkled it around the edge of the garden and the rabbit problem was gone.

AngelBreath69

The thing about vinegar is that it is used to kill weeds in organic gardens and if it is sprayed directly on your veggies it will kill them. Usually in a matter of hours up to one sun filled day.

Chuck

Tabasco sauce – 1 oz per gallon of water ratio in a hose end or pump sprayer will keep rabbits and deer away. Spray regularly, and after a rain.

Terry Siverling

What about squirrels?

Chip Staggs

1- recently cleaned shot gun, 3 – loads 7/12 shot, carefully aim, and BOOM! no more rabbit. Works every time!

ChipFan

Go get ’em Chip! Those little F#!kers destroy my plants every year. They are pests, and should be dealt with as such.

am van Hulle

I use old hose running through and around my gardens. I move the around so they don’t become use to it, they think it’s a snake!
I also put up plastic owls, sometimes right on the ground at eye level. Both these things are predators to a rabbits.
I also use chicken wire fences while my plants are maturing.

linda

Get the biggest shakable container you can find of Garlic Powder. Then just sprinkle
it over the plants. This smell will last thru many rains and rabbits absolutely HATE garlic. Easy

Pam LeGros

Do you keep cats out of gardens from feces leaving with chicken wire also or is there a flower or a spray to use? Concerned for pregnancy as mothers to be should not touch feces.

Sara

I use the following and it works like a charm!

Deer and Rabbit Repellent

Mix and strain the following ingredients into 1 gallon of water:
1 egg, ½ cup milk, 1 tablespoon liquid soap, 1 tablespoon salad oil.
Spray every 10 days or after a heavy rain. You may keep in sprayer, however it will become quite odorous, but the smell disappears when dry. No one will know it is there but you, deer and rabbits!

Jack Rooney

Do rabbits tunnel. A visitor is tunneling under a raised garden so installed chicke wire then it tunnels down from the top it makes a app ten ft run

Trisha

The best thing l have tried is to put string out about 1foot above the rows. Hang a couple cans on the lines, so when they are tripped it clangs and frightens the rabbits.

Deb

OMG people if we didn’t help control some animal populations we would have nothing to eat. At least it is killed for food and not just left to go to waste. Rabbits are a food source. Not any different than chickens, cows or pigs. I do wildlife rehab so no one can call me an animal hater.

Chip I can see you’re an antagonizer, lol.

joni

The Indians lived off the land and so did the settlers. I was raised in a family who hunted and we put the meat in our freezer and ate squirrel, rabbit, deer, turkey, etc. Shooting animals just because is something I do not agree with; however, if you eat them, then fine.

Marsha

I love rabbits, squirrels, birds and other wildlife, God’s creatures. It is sad that we are using every inch of habitat that these creatures live and feed on, and then we get mad and want to run them off. Don’t get me wrong….I planted green beans 4 times last year due to rabbits feeding on the tender young leaves, but the joy of watching them, was amazing.

Faith Kildow

We sprinkle dried blood on our plants. It’s good for the plants, and keeps away rabbits, squirrels, and deer. Yes, you will have to reapply after rain, but it’s inexpensive and goes a long way. Our neighbors leave their radio outside and playing 24/7 and sware by its effectiveness. Fortunately, we share their love for country music.

j.m. rodriguez

Yep living off the land as much as possible, love eating rabbit. Part of the cycle of life, I let them live on my property and I get to access good organic fed rodent. Humans are Omnivore!!!!!

Rose

i have always allowed my dog to help me garden and haven’t had any problems until this year. We are green as well and live off the land. Rabbit gravy is delicious and for all you giving Chip a hard time, at least he is teaching his family to be self sufficient.

Betty

Human hair works at keeping the deer away from the garden too. We have our garden in raised beds and the rabbits can’t seem to get that high, but our chickens can. We have started fencing them to keep our chickens out. I want something to discourage chipmunks. They seem to like ripe tomatoes. Any suggestions?

Sandy

All of the advice is welcoming except chips … We all must live on this planet together … The arrogance to kill something cause you do t like it is disgraceful… Too much meanness and hate in this world ….

Dondi

I go to a barber and get human hair. Works pretty good.

Hanna

I used some windmills last year which seemed to work. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough to cover the whole garden. They make a noise when they move. They also flash in the light. I am going to try to get more this year.

Joy Kline

I leave them a birdseed out on my porch, they concentrate on the birdseed, and leave my gardens alone. I have done this for years!!

Ray Copeland

Put used cat litter around your garden, rabbit don’t like cats, spray green beans,and other veg. rabbit like with vinegar better if you have some with hot pepper in it. Moles in garden, run you a pipe from your tail pipe on your tiller motor or lawn mower into the main mole hole and let it run for about fifteen min. no more moles. After your beans get big just mix a little vinegar and dish washing liq. with your bug spray for your whole garden.

Linda

I own a hair salon and for years I have been saving clients bags of freshly washed and cut hair. They stuff a little hair in a woman’s nylon anklet stocking and anchor it all around the garden and wherever u want to keep the little rabbits away from. Works like a charm, lasts all season and no one gets hurt!!!

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