From the moment you start a garden, you need to start preparing yourself for the eventuality that something will eat your plants. Be they fruit, vegetable, flower, or even a tree, some little critter will come along at some point and treat your hard work like a buffet.
Perhaps the most pernicious of these little buggers is the common rabbit.
Sure, they’re cute. That is until they come in and neatly munch the tops off your carrots, strip the leaves from your strawberries, and turn your lovely spinach leaves into raggedy tragedies.
But when it does happen, you need to get over those feelings quick and act fast to keep rabbits out of your garden in the future.
Rabbits have up to six litters per spring/summer, with around three offspring per litter. That’s about 20 additional rabbits per year. With no other goal besides reproduction, their main activity is eating. And they have no sense of guilt.
If you didn’t happen to make your garden bunny-proof, basically what you’re doing is damage control. Don’t get frustrated, though—when it comes to protecting your veggies, there’s more than one way to skin a rabbit.
Yep, I went there. Sorry, not sorry. But I promise all the methods outlined below are humane and do not involve poisons, BB guns or other harmful things.
Strategy #1: Pursue the enemy
If you’ve got a dog (or even a cat) that you trust in the back yard by itself, try giving him/her the run of the yard in the early morning and early evening. This is when rabbits are most active and most likely to find their way into your garden.
Note: Having a watchful pet on duty will discourage them from nibbling on things, but make sure you’ve treated your pets for fleas and ticks—that extra time outside makes them more vulnerable to pests of their own.
You can also chase after them yourself. I’ve found that after I’ve chased them out of the yard, they rarely come back…that night. My husband has come outside several times to see me clomping through the yard in my gardening clogs, clapping and hollering at rabbits.
In other words, you will not look graceful, and you will feel a little silly. Just forbid your spouse from taking any video with their phone, and you’ll be fine.
Strategy #2: Non-chemical warfare
If you ever had a problem with biting your nails growing up, you probably heard—or maybe even used—that stuff that goes on them and tastes disgusting. I’ve never used it myself, but I heard it’s an effective deterrent.
The same goes for rabbits. Get a new, clean spray bottle and add:
- 1/4 C Tabasco sauce
- 2 C water
- 2 Tbsp liquid dishsoap
Give it a good shake, and then spray it on your seedlings. The vinegar and pepper in the Tabasco sauce tastes vile to most furry things, and the soap helps it stick to the plants. The mixture won’t harm the plants, and it’s easy to wash off. I sprayed it on spinach leaves and after a good wash a day later, they tasted fine.
For me, this mixture has been more successful than organic store-bought liquid deer and rabbit repellent. You have to reapply it after a rain, or every week, but they seem to hate it. I accidentally inhaled some of the mixture after the wind blew some spray back in my face. It is indeed pretty potent.
Note that you will have to spray often. Also, it’s more than likely that the rabbits will decide after a while that they’re okay with the funky flavors and eat everything anyway. When that happens, it’s time to change tactics.
Another thing they can’t stand the smell of? Nasturtium flowers. They hate ’em. And these flowers spread like bonkers. So they’re a great perimeter option. They’re also edible (both the flower and the leaves) for humans and are great in salads, so win-win!
I have read that Irish Spring soap cut into chunks can be a deterrent, because of the animal tallow used to make the soap. But I have not tried that one!
Strategy #3: Secure the perimeter
Rabbits are burrowers. It’s how they build their homes and infiltrate your yard and garden if they’re fenced. Look closely at the bottom of the fence around your yard or garden, and you’ll likely see places where they’ve dug under the fence in order to gain access.
You need to make that fence as impassible as possible. If you have the time and patience for it (or you don’t have a fence at all), here’s how to improve your garden fence:
- Remove existing fencing and set aside
- Dig a trench 6″ deep around the perimeter of the garden
- Install posts every 6 feet
- Get a roll of chicken wire or other sturdy mesh fencing
- String the fencing along the posts, attaching them securely
- Push the bottom 6″ of the fencing in the trench and backfill with soil
- Firm the soil around the buried portion of the fence
Keep in mind, though—rabbits also jump. So the standard 3-foot roll of chicken wire may not be tall enough.
Strategy #4: Duck and cover
Rabbits can’t chew what they can’t get to. But your options aren’t limited to fencing.
Lightweight garden fabric is a great way to keep seedlings safe from rabbits, squirrels an many insects. Gardeners usually use it to create a floating row cover that’s tall enough to cover the plant without touching it. It lets sunlight, air and rain through, and that’s it. Here’s a great how-to article if this is something you’re willing to tackle.
Don’t have the time or resources for a floating row cover? Dig through your recycling! An empty milk carton with the bottom cut off and the top cut a bit wider will help protect your seedlings. Just be sure to remove it during the hottest part of the day—otherwise the jug traps all the heat and your plants will fry.
Strategy #5: Stage a decoy
I’m not talking about those fake owls. Or hawks. Or any fake predatory animal that a rabbit would usually be afraid of. Those have generally been shown not to work.
I’m talking about planting a decoy garden.
I know, this sounds insane. But hear me out: you’ve got extra seedlings when you thin out what you’ve sown, right? Why not plant them outside the garden? That way, the bunnies are kept busy munching on the stuff you don’t want to harvest yourself. And if they don’t eat absolutely everything? You’ll have extra!
I leave the wild strawberries growing at the back of my yard for this reason. We also have an apple tree, and rather than throwing the under-ripe, fallen apples away, I toss them under a clump of evergreens, away from the garden.
Some people say this only attracts more rabbits. They could be right. All I know is, once those apples start falling, my garden gets a break.
Strategy #6: Capture the enemy
Your last option? Use live traps to capture the critters and release them somewhere far, far way. More than likely, they won’t find their way back.
Remember, it’s either them or your produce.
In the future…
Raised beds are a great way to control all kinds of pests, including rabbits. If they’re a serious problem for you, consider planning ahead for next year and building some above ground, much more rabbit-proof, raised beds.
Either that, or build a six-foot tall concrete wall around everything. That would do it.
What’s your experience with rabbits? Got any other humane tips for making them vanish like abracadabra? Share below!