The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Rabbits in the garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Love-hate relationships. We all have them. What conjures such emotional extremes in gardeners? RABBITS. I vacillate between feelings of "oh aren't you cute" to "may a plague descend upon your family" so fast my neck aches.

Rabbits are not picky eaters and seem to devour just about every garden plant. I've also discovered a direct correlation between the expense of the plant and its high rating on the rabbit taste-o-meter.

Newness also factors into the rabbit menu. The newer the planting the more attractive it is to a rabbit's dining. Rabbits have me trained so every time I plant I upend one of those wire storage baskets over the new plant. My garden is dotted with plants under house arrest.

If you want to be really depressed consider that one female cottontail rabbit may have 20 to 25 young per year. Yes, they do breed like rabbits.

One way to reduce the potential for damage caused by rabbits is to remove potential places that rabbits might take cover. Remove brush piles, weed patches, stone piles and other debris, and keep grass cut short.

Commercially available repellents are available to deter rabbits from eating plants. Repellants work as odor and/or taste deterrents. The most effective repellants contain both. Some products contain the fungicide thiram as a taste repellent.

There are plenty of other repellants including homemade mixtures that rely on rotten eggs, hot peppers and garlic. I've had pretty good luck with these; however the smell will temporarily keep humans out of the garden as well.

Read and follow all label directions. Many repellants are not approved for use on edible plants, therefore should not be used on vegetable garden plants or fruit trees. A good fence is a vegetable gardener's friend. The products will need to be reapplied as the plants develop new growth and after heavy rains. Repellents do not guarantee plant safety. If there is a large rabbit population or if food is scarce, rabbits will eat treated plants.

Wire fencing is the most effective protection. Construct cylinders around plants and tree trunks and fences around vegetable gardens made of hardware cloth with a mesh of no more than 1/4 inch. Bend the bottom six inches of the fence outward at a right angle and bury the bent fence under an inch of soil to discourage digging. The taller the fence the better but 4 feet tall is usually enough.

For more information: UI Living with Wildlife or Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management

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