There are a lot of animals common to the backyard that dine on garden plants, whether you are growing ornamental flowers or have a plot of vegetables out there. The one that strikes the most fear into the hearts of the gardener is the rabbit.
A rabbit is unmistakable in the garden and needs no description to help you recognize it. They are active during the day, and are broad herbivores.
Rabbits will eat almost any plant they can sink their teeth into. That includes anything leafy, along with bark, twigs, roots and most fruits.
Other than eating your plants, most rabbits won’t do any further damage in your yard.
Signs of a Rabbit in Your Garden
Before you dive into a full rabbit-proofing project, you should be sure that is the right animal chewing up your plants.
Take a closer look at your damaged plants. Are they full of small holes, or ragged tears? That is probably insects.
Rabbits tend to eat most of the plant all at once, leaving very clean edges behind. It will look like someone came by and cut most of the plant off with scissors.
Another clear sign of a rabbit is the presence of small round droppings. They’re likely very dark brown or nearly black, and the size of a big pea.
Squirrels or mice, on the other hand, have much smaller droppings and they are more elongated.
Digging in the garden? Though rabbits do dig for root vegetables, they are likely going to stay above ground when your garden has so much easy-to-reach greenery available.
A lot of small holes being dug is more likely to be squirrels, chipmunks, or mice. Some birds can also poke around plants, and can dig very noticeable holes in your lawn turf.
You might also have the common gardener’s debate over whether you are dealing with a rabbit or a hare. They do look quite similar and it may not be obvious right at first which you have visiting your yard.
Hares are larger than rabbits, with a longer body and longer legs. Once you settle this argument, the reality is that it doesn’t make all that much difference when it comes to protecting your plants.
Once you are sure you have a rabbit (or hare) problem, there are several approaches you can take to protect your plants.
How to Keep Rabbits Away from Your Plants
1 – Put Up a Fence
We all know that rabbits are excellent jumpers, and can hop over most obstacles. The fact is that a typical wild rabbit won’t be likely to leap over 3 feet, so putting up a fence isn’t a bad idea. It’s not like the 12 foot barrier you would need to keep out deer.
Rabbits do like to dig and will get under the fence without difficulty unless you bury at least a foot of it underground.
Wire mesh like chicken wire or chain-link will work very well. Anything with larger holes may allow a determined rabbit to squeeze on through.
For something a little more attractive, you can also keep rabbits from eating your plants with a wooden fence rather than wire. Pickets or boards still need to be quite close, and also still need to be buried partially underground to prevent tunneling.
2 – Make Your Plants Less Appetizing
Now we are talking about various sprays or applications to take the tasty appeal out of your garden plants. A classic one can be made at home with minced garlic or garlic juice, and water. Strong citrus flavors can also work, such as lemon or orange.
If you are making your own spray with essential oils, be sure to dilute them before application. Just like they are too strong for your skin, they can be too strong on plant leaves as well.
With sprays like this, you do have to be diligent and reapply every few days as well as after any watering or rainfall.
Hot cayenne pepper can also turn away most animals, though it can be a bit more painful on the nose or mouth than the options already mentioned. Sprinkle on the soil around your plants as well as on the leaves to create a more distasteful garden.
A variation of this is to grow plants that rabbits won’t like the taste of to begin with. Rabbits do have a broad palate and there are unfortunately not many things they will fail to eat.
Garlic and onions are the two most repellent choices (and they help turn away insect pests too).
For flowers, you can add black-eyed Susan, yarrow, periwinkle, poppies or catnip to turn off the rabbits.
The last one can have the added benefit of possibly attracting neighborhood cats, which can be another rabbit deterrent altogether.
3 – Give Them a Scare
Urban rabbits can seem indifferent to people, but generally rabbits are timid animals and you can use that against them to protect your plants.
Scented products that give the illusion of a nearby predator are another option. Various choices are on the market, that are made with coyote or other predator urine.
Generally, these items are not that aromatic to humans but a rabbit has a much better sense of smell and will certainly notice the “presence” of a predator.
A DIY approach of your own urine may work but rabbits won’t have the same strong instinctive response.
Hanging foil pie plates around your garden, in such a way that the clatter against each other in the breeze can be another low-tech way to startle rabbits.
The trick is getting the right number of plates, so that they make unexpected noises but not so much noise as to stop having a startling effect.
Foil works best because it can also reflect light on sunny days, creating a flash as well as a sound. A wind chime may also work in the same way, if you hang it near the garden area.
If you want a more vigorous option, you can get a motion sensor device that works with a garden sprinkler. When a rabbit hops past the sensor, it gets a spritz of water. This can be highly effective, though the sensors are usually more effective with larger animals (like deer).
They also don’t discriminate, so anyone walking past the garden can get sprayed down. That can include you, your kids, or the neighborhood mail carrier if you position the sensors where people walk by.
4 – Clear Away Cover
Rabbits don’t like to roam too far out in the open, and prefer to dart from one safe spot to another. If you get rid of all the tall grass, fallen trees or rock piles around your garden area, it will create an exposed zone that can discourage them from exploring too close to your plants.
This will also prevent them from making a den or nest on your property. Rabbits do breed very rapidly, and if you allow a family to live in or near your yard, you can soon have a much bigger problem.
5 – Get a Dog
This may not be a convenient solution to the rabbits eating your plants, but having a dog that spends a lot of time out in the yard can be an effective deterrent.
Being chased around by a dog can be enough of fright to drive rabbits elsewhere for their food. Of course, this is assuming that your dog has any interest in chasing rabbits, or just sits and watches them.
If you are lucky, even a lazy dog can help with your cause as their smell can be a deterrent all on its own. Let them pee around the plants for added effect.
6 – Trap and Relocate
As a last resort, you might have to consider moving the rabbits to another location to save your garden. Lethal traps are an option but humane ones seem a little more appropriate for the situation.
A live trap bated with fresh pieces of apple with some peanut butter can be very effective, though this type of bait may also attract larger animals like raccoons.
There is no reason to resign yourself to fate and watch your garden disappear to the local rabbit population. You can try a number of different tactics, or mix and match for the right combination to keep the rabbits from eating your plants.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.
Friday 23rd of April 2021
I resorted to fencing around my house vigoro rockdale black steel fence panels have worked wonderfully around the house beds and bunny baracade work for stand alone plants. I tried all the repellant products and pepper and they were useless. They just kept chewing up seedlings and loved my shrubs no matter what I did. Even the gross plants they would just take a bite and then spit it out on the ground. I removed a lot of cover from my backyard too since I have a creek with woodlands between me and the next subdivision. So I no longer see them in my front yard. I am trying some plants with no protection this year. So we will have to see I figured the commonly avoided ones might be safe. Time will tell if they like bee balm, black eye susan, coneflower hummingbird mint and sage here.
Thursday 1st of July 2021
Unfortunately the bunnies ate 3 out of 6 of my cone flowers and all my black eyed Susan’s this spring.
Patricia A Niedercorn
Sunday 28th of March 2021
EVERY Spring my entire flower gardens are eaten off completely before they even have a chance to start growing. This makes me so angry because I see them doing it and everyday is the same with me trying to scare them off. The rabbits seem to be getting worse every year. I love Spring but the population with the rabbits but this is so frustrating. Is there anything I can just sprinkle and I do not have to reapply after every rain??? Spring is here and the rabbits are about to have a hay day. Thank you
Friday 22nd of May 2020
Trapping wildlife, transporting it off your property, and releasing it elsewhere is also illegal in many states. Relocating an animal may not only give someone else a nuisance problem, but spreads diseases, such as rabies and distemper, Lyme disease and West Nile virus. As well as hefty fines if you are caught. So I’d stay away from the last one.
Tuesday 2nd of June 2020
You make a good point. I will note that in the article. Thank you!
Lois J. Moyer
Monday 5th of August 2019
RABBITS LOVE BLACK EYED SUSAN PLANTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lisa | The Practical Planter
Tuesday 6th of August 2019
Thanks for letting me know! I think this might be a case of "experiences may vary". Rabbits taste in flowers very regionally, and as a general rule, rabbits tend to avoid plants that have bristly hairs on their leaves, among other things. I'm sorry to hear that you might be in one of those regions where Black-eyed Susans are a prime choice!