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Rabbit-Proofing Your Garden: How to Keep Rabbits Out of Your Garden

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Seeing a rabbit hopping around a garden and nibbling on vegetables might seem charming—until it’s your own garden, and those are the vegetables you’ve grown.

Unfortunately, rabbits have a taste for many of the same vegetables we enjoy, not to mention some plants that aren’t meant for eating.

Both cottontail and jackrabbits can look adorable, but knowing how to deter them from your garden is crucial to prevent the havoc they can cause.

They’re known to devour not only garden plants but also trees, shrubs, and even damage furniture and wires with their constant chewing. The most effective strategy to minimize rabbit damage is to gently deter them and block their access to your plants.

Voracious Garden Pests or Adorable Nuisances?

Gardeners often view rabbits as more than just cute nuisances in their vegetable gardens. These creatures are known for their intense craving for a wide variety of plants, including trees, perennials, annuals, vegetables, and fruits.

In fact, the list of their preferred foods is so extensive that it’s simpler to mention the few plants they avoid.

Rabbits are prolific breeders, which explains why their presence can quickly overrun gardens.

In colder regions, they may have up to three litters per year, each with six young, while in warmer areas, they can produce as many as six litters, with each litter having three offspring.

The breeding season starts as early as March in colder climates and can be year-round in warmer areas, with a gestation period of just 29 days—only slightly longer than a chicken egg’s incubation period.

For a backyard rabbit, survival means eating while avoiding predators, a challenging task since numerous predator species target them.

Thus, when a rabbit nibbles on your petunias, it’s not just a leisurely activity but a risky endeavor. Nevertheless, if it finds a gap in your garden fence, it can safely enjoy its meal.

While we offer tips for protecting your garden from rabbits, consider viewing them as Beatrix Potter did—a natural part of a serene, rural setting. Focus on safeguarding the plants that both you and the rabbits cherish, and don’t fuss over the others.

Identifying the Eastern Cottontail: Appearance and Habits

The eastern cottontail rabbit, often seen hopping around yards and gardens across the U.S., is a familiar sight.

This particular species, known scientifically as Sylvilagus floridanus, typically inhabits areas with extensive landscaping rather than untouched natural settings.

Characterized by its large, pointed ears and a patchwork of brown, black, and white fur, the eastern cottontail grows to a length of 15 to 19 inches and weighs 2 to 4 pounds.

eastern cottontail rabbit
Credit: wikipedia

Rather than digging its own burrows, it prefers to nest in the shelter provided by hedgerows and other dense plantings or in burrows left behind by other creatures.

Unlike the larger, brown jackrabbits that can reach the size of a domestic cat, the eastern cottontail is smaller and more common in residential areas.

brown jackrabbit
Credit: National Geographic Kids

Among North America’s nine cottontail species, the eastern cottontail tops the list for both prevalence and nuisance.

Found everywhere from urban settings like Boston to open landscapes like Boulder, and even as far south as Mexico, this bunny favors environments like brushy fence lines, field edges, and well-maintained gardens or backyards.

Its diet mainly includes flowers, vegetables, and other greenery, which unfortunately means it’s not uncommon to find your garden favorites like peppers and cosmos noticeably trimmed down by these furry visitors.

Despite its endearing nicknames like ‘bunny’ and ‘cottontail,’ and its undeniably cute appearance with large ears and a fluffy white tail, the eastern cottontail can be quite the garden pest.

Typically gray or brownish in color with a distinctive short tail and oversized ears, it weighs 2 to 4 pounds and measures 15 to 19 inches in length.

Living typically for about a year to 15 months, it remains mostly quiet, although it will let out a high-pitched scream if it feels threatened.

The eastern cottontail’s survival strategy does not involve digging elaborate tunnels but instead utilizes existing shelters like brush piles or abandoned burrows of other animals.

These rabbits prefer to venture out during the safer twilight hours of early morning or evening and are keenly attuned to the lengthening days of spring, which signal the onset of breeding season and a time for more active foraging.

How to Identify Rabbit Damage in Your Garden

If you notice rabbits scurrying around your yard in the early morning, late afternoon, or at dusk, look for these telltale signs that they have taken up residence:

  • Small, round, brown droppings scattered around (tubular droppings suggest the presence of other rodents)
  • Trees with lower trunks chewed or bark stripped off
  • Clumps of rabbit fur near burrow entrances
  • Plants nibbled down to the stems

Rabbits are known for their hearty appetites, and they leave behind distinct damage. Inspect your plants’ leaves and stems for clean-cut marks, which are characteristic of rabbit feeding.

In contrast, insects and other pests typically leave jagged tears on plant surfaces. This neat grazing usually occurs right at the soil line, where rabbits feed on the succulent green parts of tulips and other vegetation.

These furry landscapers prefer grazing close to the ground, actively seeking out and devouring the newest sprouts. They relish dining on various garden staples like flowers, clover, peas, lettuce, and beans.

Keep in mind that some of these plants are also favored by woodchucks or groundhogs, so it’s wise to scout for burrows to accurately identify the culprit behind the damage.

While mature plants are generally s afe from rabbit foraging, it’s particularly disappointing in early spring when rabbits ruthlessly devour the young, tender shoots of plants just emerging from the ground.

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As one gardener from Connecticut recounted, “It was disheartening to see my tulips just beginning to break through the snow, only to find them abruptly cut down as if by a lawnmower. Those rabbits! Their tiny footprints were all over the scene.”

How to Keep Rabbits Out of Your Garden
Credit: bonnieplants

How to Keep Rabbits Away from Your Garden

If you’re struggling with rabbits raiding your garden, the most reliable method to deter them is by installing physical barriers like fences.

Although we often refer to eastern cottontails, these strategies are effective against all rabbit breeds that have a taste for your greens.

The optimal barrier is a chicken wire fence. Erect a fence about 4 feet tall and bury the base around 6 inches into the soil. Additionally, angle the top part of the fence outward, mimicking a security barrier to prevent them from climbing or leaping over.

For those familiar with Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, you’ll know a simple picket fence won’t suffice. Instead, opt for chicken wire with a mesh size of 1-inch or smaller to encircle your garden beds.

Remember, rabbits are natural burrowers, so ensure the wire extends at least 6 inches underground. Regularly inspect the fence for any gaps or damage. To further discourage these furry intruders, consider installing motion-activated sprinklers that startle them away.

When planting bulbs, protect them with a dome or cage made of chicken wire secured over the planting area.

Another preventive measure involves using natural repellents like dried blood meal or human hair around your garden’s perimeter. Sprinkle the blood meal early in the growing season and reapply after rainfall.

However, avoid this method if you have dogs, as they might be drawn to the scent and disturb the garden.

Pets, particularly dogs and cats, are excellent at keeping rabbits and other pests at bay. If you’ve been considering getting a pet, defending the garden is another benefit to consider. If getting a pet isn’t an option, simulate the presence of one.

Gather fur from a local groomer and place it in burlap bags or old pantyhose around your garden; this can fool rabbits into thinking predators are nearby. Refresh the fur periodically, especially after wet weather.

In regions with a high population of rabbits, natural predators like foxes, hawks, owls, and snakes might also be drawn to the area. These predators are generally harmless to humans and domestic pets and can naturally control the rabbit population.

Therefore, welcoming these predators can be part of your strategy against rabbits. However, if your family dog loves to chase, letting them patrol your fenced yard might be enough to keep the rabbits at bay.

While cats can also deter rabbits, it’s generally advised to keep them indoors to protect local wildlife.

Lastly, minimize potential rabbit shelters near your yard. Clear away brush piles, fill old burrows, and block gaps under structures to discourage rabbits from settling in. Remember, fewer hiding spots mean potentially fewer rabbits.

Also, avoid creating nesting areas, as female rabbits can produce large litters. If you do find a rabbit’s nest, contact local animal control for guidance rather than handling it yourself to ensure the rabbits are not harmed.

Dealing with Rabbits in Your Garden

If you’ve noticed that rabbits have taken a liking to your vegetable garden, it’s crucial to implement some strategies to discourage their visits.

Rabbits have a keen sense of smell, which you can use to your advantage. Sprinkle dried sulfur or scatter chopped onions around your plants, as rabbits find these odors unpleasant.

Another simple method is to dust your greens with plain talcum powder. For more intense measures, consider using powdered red pepper, which, due to its strong scent, can keep rabbits at bay when sprinkled around your garden.

Some gardeners have found success by hanging shavings of Irish Spring soap in little bags throughout their garden, which seems to repel these furry visitors.

Alternatively, you can create a potent homemade repellent by blending hot peppers, onions, and garlic, diluting it with water, and spraying it over your plants.

This mixture should be reapplied after any rainfall. You can also consider commercially available repellents that contain strong scents like garlic oil.

For those who prefer DIY solutions, here’s a recipe to try: mix cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and liquid soap with water, and spray it on the plants that rabbits typically target.

If you have pets, however, be cautious with this mixture as excessive cayenne can upset their stomachs.

Gardeners often explore various home remedies. For instance, wrapping a bar of soap in cheesecloth, attaching it to a stake, and placing it around your garden might keep rabbits away.

Spreading spices like black pepper or garlic powder around your plants also helps, though remember to reapply these, especially after rainfall.

For physical barriers, encase young plants with mesh cylinders or chicken wire to prevent rabbits from nibbling on them.

Larger trees and shrubs might require protective measures like expandable trunk protectors, especially in winter when rabbits are more likely to chew on the bark.

Chemical repellents are another option, though they are not always suitable for food plants due to their potential to alter taste and odor. If using these, always adhere strictly to the label instructions.

Another quirky deterrent involves using large glass jars or garden reflectors to scare the rabbits with their own reflections. While effectiveness varies, incorporating unpredictable elements like metal pinwheels or owl statues might enhance your garden’s defenses.

Lastly, while live trapping is an option, it can be complex and is often regulated by local laws due to the potential for disease transmission and the status of rabbits as agricultural pests.

If considering this route, ensure it aligns with local regulations and perhaps opt for building your own trap using fresh vegetables as bait.

How to Keep Rabbits Out of Your Garden
Credit: shopify

Rabbit-Resistant Plants

Rabbits are notorious for their appetite for tender greens and can be quite a nuisance for avid gardeners. During the vibrant spring days, they feast on fresh grass and clover sprouts, while in colder months, they nibble on whatever twigs and young shoots they can scavenge.

Unfortunately, these furry intruders often have a taste for the same yummy veggies and fruits that we do—such as beans, carrots, lettuce, and peas, along with fruit-bearing bushes offering apples and berries.

They don’t stop there; many rabbits also have a penchant for ornamental blooms and shrubs.

Just like rabbits, other wildlife such as deer and raccoons also munch on soft plants and gnaw at bark. You can usually identify rabbits as the culprits in your garden by their telltale signs of droppings and distinctive long rear footprints in the dirt.

Without a fence, protecting your plants might feel like an uphill battle. Though no plant is completely rabbit-proof, some are less appealing due to their pungent aromas like basil, garlic, and mint.

Interestingly, while some gardeners swear by marigolds as a deterrent, others find that rabbits are drawn to them. Young rabbits, in particular, are less discerning and might munch on plants that older rabbits would avoid.

To discourage these little pests, it’s wise to experiment with various plants known for being less attractive to rabbits. For example, planting forsythia, lilacs, or lavender might make your garden less appealing to them.

Remember, there’s always some trial and error involved. What deters rabbits in one garden may not work in another. So, here are some plants you might consider if you’re looking to fend off these furry foragers:

Woody Plants:

  • Azaleas and Rhododendrons
  • Boxwood
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Japanese Maple
  • Mountain Laurel

Read more about Small Farming, Big Profits: The Top 16 Profitable Crops for Small Farms

Perennials:

  • Yucca (Adam’s Needle)
  • Creeping Phlox
  • Peony
  • Russian Sage
  • Sedum

Annuals:

  • Geraniums
  • Spiderflower
  • Wax Begonia

Vegetables:

  • Asparagus
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Rhubarb

Herbs:

By planting these, you might just save your favorite blooms and veggies from becoming rabbit snacks. However, remember that a starving rabbit might still take a chance on less-favored plants.

Wrapping Up

Rabbits have a unique pattern of activity, being most active during the early morning and late evening hours. If you’ve never actually caught them nibbling at your garden, here are a few telltale signs that they might have visited:

  • You might notice small, round droppings about the size of peas.
  • It may seem like your plants have been neatly clipped with shears, a result of rabbits’ sharp incisors.
  • The disappearance of soft, young plants can often be a clue.
  • Look for fur clumps or small dug-out spots, which suggest the presence of a small critter.
  • Check if your irrigation lines or hoses show signs of chewing.
  • Trees and woody plants might show signs of being gnawed around the base.

Defending your garden against rabbits is a continuous effort. Regardless of the prevention or eradication methods you employ and their immediate effectiveness, staying alert is essential.

Given their high reproductive rate, new rabbits will continually emerge, curious about your garden and landscape. Maintaining a rabbit-free garden involves:

  • Regular checks of fences to confirm there are no gaps that rabbits can exploit.
  • Weekly examination of plants for any signs of damage.
  • Being vigilant for indications of rabbit presence, such as fecal pellets, chewed plants, and gnawed tree bark.
  • Acting swiftly upon the first sign of rabbit intrusion.

You might consider hiring a professional to install robust fencing or manage these pests through a wildlife control service.

FAQ

  • What are common signs of rabbit presence? The most obvious sign is the presence of coarse, round fecal pellets. You might also find rabbit fur on low branches or see signs of their nesting in sheltered areas.
  • Are rabbits deterred by noise? Noise-making devices, flashing lights, and ultrasonic emitters are often ineffective. Rabbits quickly adapt and ignore these deterrents, continuing to feast on your plants.
  • Do scarecrows scare rabbits? Despite the market being flooded with various animal figurines intended to act as scarecrows, they rarely work to deter rabbits.
  • Do rabbits carry diseases? One significant disease rabbits can transmit is tularemia, or rabbit fever. This can spread to humans through various means, including contaminated food or water, insect bites, or even inhaling particles from infected animal remains.

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