Cute, quiet rabbits can be a big menace in your garden. Their need for plenty of roughage leads them to mow down your vegetables in rapid-fire succession. Their speed, ability to chew through most materials and top-notch sense of hearing makes it hard for you to find humane ways to lock them out. What's the best solution to keeping rabbits out of your garden?
Identify the Culprit
Rabbits aren't always to blame. Other animals, like deer, skunks and even chickens can consume your flowers and vegetables, too. You can tell rabbits are the culprits if you see precise cuts to the leaves of your plants; rabbits' sharp teeth don't tear ragged edges. You'll probably also spot rabbit droppings -- small, hard pebbles the size of a pea. If you know for sure that rabbits are the ones nibbling on your lettuce and chewing up your carrots, make sure they are wild.
As the third most popular pet in the U.S., domestic rabbits do find ways to escape their cages and runs. Even worse, some pet owners who don't understand the commitment required for a bunny will just release them to fend for themselves. Domestic rabbits don't breed with wild cottontails, but if they are released with another pet rabbit of the opposite sex, you could be swimming in bunnies in just a few months. If your garden foes have floppy ears, are the size of a cat or are any color but grayish-brown, contact your local humane society or animal control officer for help rounding them up. The rabbits can possibly be humanely trapped, spayed or neutered and adopted out into homes.
Understand the Rabbit Diet
To keep everything moving through their digestive systems, rabbits consume a lot of grass. But they'll also go for yummy greens like lettuce, kale, chard and carrot tops, which is why your garden is so attractive.
Rabbits do consume fruit in small quantities and will eat leaves from fruit-bearing bushes and trees if they can reach them. Some flowers like nasturtiums and roses are delicious to the rabbit taste buds, too. They'll generally leave plants like cucumbers, squash and tomatoes alone unless they're very hungry.
Keeping Rabbits Away
The best deterrent for rabbits is a strong metal fence, but you'll have to bury the wire down at least 12 inches or they'll simply dig under it. The wire should not have holes larger than 1 inch in order to be most effective, and the fence should be at least 2 to 3 feet high as rabbits can jump. Be especially sure to fence around new growth, like young trees, or the rabbits will decimate the plants.
Commercial rabbit repellents may dissuade some animals from coming to your yard, but many rabbits ignore them. Besides, you probably don't want the chemical repellents on vegetables you'll later consume. Homemade preparations that include pepper are sometimes suggested, but these need to be reapplied frequently and carefully washed off the produce you choose to eat. One trick that does work and can benefit your garden is the application of blood meal and bone meal fertilizers.
You may also want to employ a strategy of planting tasty clover, nasturtiums and violets in an area where the rabbits can easily access. Make this inviting -- perhaps near bushes or other areas where the rabbits can quickly take cover -- and you may find the bunnies stick with what they can best reach. Then, plant marigolds, onions or tomatoes around your vegetables to act as a barrier. While a few rabbits are fine with snacking on these plants, most will avoid them.
Some families also decide to get a dog or cat to keep rabbits at bay. Unfortunately, few domestic cats are large or ferocious enough to scare off rabbits, and not all dogs are willing to guard the garden. As well, some animal behavior experts claim rabbits are more attracted to areas where they smell domestic pets because they know wild predators like hawks or raccoons are less likely to invade. Only get a pet if you want to make it a member of the family, and never just to protect your yard.
Rabbits are hard on a garden, but you can protect your vegetables and flowers with fencing, repellents and less-tasty plant borders.