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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Rabbit damage on hosta
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Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit!

Elmer Fudd from The Looney Tunes said it right, "Bugs Bunny?! You're a pesky rabbit!" I have replanted my tomato plants three times this spring. The first two times the plants were gone the next morning and I think the "cute" little rabbit I saw hop down my stairs is the culprit!

My first line of defense was to learn more about rabbits from our University of Illinois Extension "Living with Wildlife" website at Here is what I learned.

As you know, our Eastern cottontail rabbits produce many offspring and grow quickly. One female cottontail rabbit may have 20-25 young per year, which reach full size in six months.

My efforts to naturalize many parts of my property likely increase my rabbit population. They are found in open spaces near woody cover and are abundant where grass fields adjoin bushy areas. I have many locations with that exact description.

You might ask how I know a rabbit ate my plants. Rabbits clip off flower heads, buds, or small stems (my tomatoes!) at a clean 45o angle. Deer, on the other hand, do not have sharp teeth like a rabbit and instead twist and pull plants when browsing. Cutworms don't eat the entire plant.

Unfortunately there is no easy fix for managing rabbits and other wildlife in our yards. Control options include habitat modification, exclusion, repellents, and removal.

I chose to try the exclusion method. The third tomato planting included a wire mesh fence cover to keep rabbits away from the plants. The mesh has to be small enough to prevent small and large rabbits from slipping through. Rabbits also burrow so the bottom six inches of wire should be bent outward and buried six inches deep.

My tomato plants are in my herb garden. The rabbits have also eaten some basil and nasturtium. To my amazement they have left my cabbage, kale, and other herbs alone – so far. If they move to other plants, repellents might be an option. Since these are food crops, I can only use products labeled for safe human consumption. These products are taste repellents and are applied directly to the plants. Unfortunately it has to be reapplied after heavy rains or watering and as the plant develops new growth.

You might ask why I don't use Elmer Fudd's method for controlling Bugs Bunny – a gun. In Illinois an animal removal permit form an Illinois Department of Natural Resources District wildlife biologist is requited to trap rabbits. Rabbit hunting season in Illinois is from November through early January.

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