Most people think nothing of a harmless rabbit hopping around their backyard. When encountering one, they see a cute, furry animal with a bushy tail. Gardeners, on the other hand, chase a bunny away at first sight. They know all too well the reality of the havoc a bunny can wreak on a spring garden.
Overnight, your just-planted lettuce can be nibbled to the ground without a trace. Once your garden has been discovered, chances are the culprit will be back to stake his claim on other tasty crops. Without taking action, you’ll be left wondering if you planted your garden for yourself or for the neighborhood rabbit population. Fortunately, as more and more people find themselves gardening in urban and suburban areas, creative and practical solutions have been created to keep rabbit damage to a minimum.
There are two types of rabbits that you are likely to find hopping around your garden: jackrabbits and cottontails. Jackrabbits are the most common species, and are typically a brownish-gray color with a black strip on their tail. On average, a jackrabbit lives about six years and produces between two and six litters each year, with each litter including up to eight babies. Unfortunately, once jackrabbits find a reliable source of food, they are likely to stay put and create a nesting spot. Eating morning and evening throughout the year, rabbits will consume a variety of vegetation, depending on the season.
Rabbit damage in the garden is usually pretty easy to identify. A healthy young head of lettuce can be completely consumed seemingly overnight, and a robust bed of salad mix will be mowed to the ground. If you think you have rabbit damage in your garden, a telltale sign will be one-fourth to one-half inch fecal pellets scattered around the garden. Looking for rabbit footprints in the garden is also a good indication that you have some hungry visitors.
What should you do, then? Let’s take a look:
1. Fencing. The simplest approach to keeping rabbits out of the garden is putting up a basic wire fence around any plants the rabbits seem to like. A 36-inch-high woven wire mesh fence is a great option. Turn the bottom of the fence out to a 90-degree angle and bury it a few inches in the ground to ensure the rabbits do not dig underneath the fence. Electric fencing also can be used, and can be easily removed and stored when rabbit interest decreases or during the winter months.
2. Cloches. These nifty devices look similar to a microwave cover for food, except they cover garden plants — and are larger. Some cloches cover only one plant, while others are large enough to cover two or more. Most have vents that can be opened and closed. The only problem with cloches is that they can act as a miniature greenhouse, so gardeners must be careful not to let their plants get too hot during the day. One solution: Use cloches only during times when rabbits are more likely to be around.
3. Reducing habitat: It is nearly impossible to completely eliminate the rabbit population from your yard or garden. However, selectively removing areas where rabbits live and hide – such as brush piles and weedy areas – will force the rabbits to relocate away from the garden. Ultimately, this will not solve your rabbit problem, but it will certainly make it more difficult for the rabbits to ravage your garden.
4. Repellents. Commercial rabbit repellents decrease the palatability of the plants for a brief period.
There are numerous synthetic and natural repellents on the market, but all will need to be reapplied after rainfall or watering, or on new plant growth. You also should take care not to spray these repellents on portions of plants that you will consume.
5. Traps. If your rabbit population is on the small side, traps can be used as an effective tool to relocate these furry garden pests. Purchase sturdy wire traps at hardware stores or garden centers and place them in areas where you have noticed rabbits feeding or nesting. Bait the trap with the same foods the rabbits have been eating from the garden, placing it on the floor near the back of the trap. It also can be beneficial to cover the traps with burlap or canvas, and make sure to move the traps every few days for maximum effectiveness. Once caught, make sure to release the rabbits a few miles from where they were caught, and in a place where they will not become a problem for other gardeners in the area.
How do you keep rabbits out of your garden? Share your tips and tricks in the section below: