Some gardeners view rabbits as the enemy because of the damage they can do to a garden. However, rabbits are timid, not aggressive. Once you accept the fact that rabbits get hungry and your veggies look like a great lunch, the actual circumstances come into better focus. Your goal should be to keep rabbits away from particular crops, not to oust them from your property entirely. If you see their pea-size pellets or rabbit hair on a wire fence, it is likely that you have rabbits. Generally, there are three good ways to protect crops from rabbits, in addition to folk and home remedies that may work but do not come with a guarantee.
Protect Targeted Areas
Chicken wire fencing has small holes designed to keep chickens in and everything else out. Chicken wire works well to keep rabbits out and all of your lettuce, beans and broccoli in. Think through the crops that have been or are likely to be damaged by rabbit nibbling, and go to work.
With chicken wire, you can fence an entire garden, individual beds or separate plants. The installation is both expensive and time-consuming, so you'll want to identify the smallest possible area that you could fence to protect your crop. Use wooden stakes or PVC pipe with 1/2- to 1-inch mesh chicken wire. Make sure the fence is at least 2 feet and maybe 3 feet high. This will keep even very hoppy rabbits from launching themselves over it.
The hard part is "rooting" the bottom of the fencing in the soil. You need to dig a trench of at least 8 inches around the area to be fenced. Then bury the bottom 6 inches of fencing under the soil, ideally angling that section outward. This arrangement will prevent the rabbits from burrowing under it.
Another option is to cover the bed with garden fabric, using hoops available at the garden store to support the fabric like a little tent. You can quickly and easily guard a bed of salad greens or an area of newly planted broccoli using this method. The key is to keep the fabric securely anchored on all four sides.
You can also use fencing for individual plant protection. Think of a cylinder of chicken wire as a force field to protect a young shrub, bush, vine or tree. Use fencing 2 to 3 feet high with 1/4- or 1/2-inch holes. The tubes of fencing should sit a couple of inches away from the plant and be braced away from it so that little rabbit noses can't poke through to chew. Bury the bottom of the fencing to prevent burrowing under it. You can also use self-supporting pop-up nets anchored carefully over favorite plants.
Remove Rabbit-Friendly Habitat
The less friendly rabbits find your garden environment, the better chance you have of keeping them out. If rabbits have nested in the area in prior years, remove the nesting before more young rabbits take up residence. Be imaginative, and make enough changes to the geography to keep the animals from coming back in. This can include taking out low shrubbery where rabbits can safely hide, and mowing down tall, dense vegetation. Remove piles of logs, tree branches and other debris.
You can find lots of rabbit repellents available at the store. They either release a repulsive odor or make plants taste bad. These only work to push a rabbit away from food A to food B -- if there is a food B. When food is scarce, rabbits consume any food that’s available, and that includes repellent-treated plants. And note: You'll probably have to reapply repellent after rain.
If you hesitate to spray your veggies, why not try an old remedy as a repellent? According to the wisdom of yesteryear, rabbits avoid fragrant or pungent herbs and vegetables, including herbs like rosemary, basil, mint, oregano and lavender. They are also supposed to dislike the smell of onions and leeks. Grow these plants next to veggies rabbits love, and see what happens.
- University of Wisconsin Extension: Protecting Gardens and Landscape Plantings From Rabbits
- New Mexico State University: Garden Rabbit Control
- Penn State University Extension: Rabbit-Resistant Garden and Landscape Plants
- University of California Integrated Pest Management Online: Rabbits
- University of Illinois Extension: Rabbits in the Garden
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Rabbits in the Garden
- Rutgers University: Keeping Rabbits Away From Desirable Plants in Your Garden and Landscape
- National Gardening Association: All About Rosemary
- National Gardening Association: Lavandula Angustifolia
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