Are Rabbits Ruining Your Burgeoning Vegetable Garden? Here Are a Few Ways to Keep Them Away from Your Yard
Rabbits are undoubtedly the cutest of backyard critters, but they can wreak havoc on your garden beds, especially if they are overflowing with growing fruits, vegetables, and perennials. Home gardeners and professionals alike know the damage they can inflict on a natural space, from nibbled-on flower buds to strawberries, rendering crops inedible. As annoying as they may be, Sonya Harris, the founder and CEO of The Bullock Garden Project, Inc. in Camden, New Jersey, explains that it is important to pause and remember that "rabbits are a part of nature." "The outdoors is their home, and humans are encroaching on their natural habitat," she explains, noting that these often preyed-upon creatures are likely taking refuge in your lush yard.
Still, that doesn't mean that you should give these sanctuary-seeking bunnies unlimited access to your vegetable and flower beds. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep these animals away from your harvest. Ahead, Harris and Angelo Randaci, master gardener and horticulture expert at Earth's Ally, explain how to keep hungry hoppers out of your garden for good.
Opt for physical barriers, like fences, cages, and raised beds.
Both Harris and Randaci agree that physical blockades, including fencing and netting, are the best ways to restrict rabbits' access to your homegrown flora and food. "Use chicken wire with a one-inch mesh or smaller," advises Randaci, noting that you will need to adequately stake the netting so bunnies don't start burrowing. "Dig the wire into the ground six inches or so to prevent rabbits from digging underneath. You can also use this method to protect individual plants that rabbits prefer—or use plant cages with holes that are one inch or smaller. Wire and cages should be at least two feet high and made of metal."
Other popular physical barriers, notes Randaci, are motion-activated sprinklers, plastic netting or cloth row covers (rabbits can chew through these, however, he notes), raised beds, and artificial snakes and owls ("This may work for a while, but they will eventually get used to seeing them," he says). Harris is a fan of the penultimate option; when in doubt, "plant high," she says. "Grow vegetable or container gardens in a raised bed or tall container, about waist high," she says, adding that this not only easier on the knees and back, but will keep rabbits away. "I love going with simple design and self-watering raised beds. Most rabbits feed right down at ground level and do not jump or climb into containers. And to save my strawberries from the furry little munchers, planting them in hanging pots close to my patio doors has tripled my strawberry harvests."
Repellents are another option.
Harris notes that taking a two-pronged approach, which involves using physical and spray-based repellents; she prefers the Repels-All Animal Repellent Concentrate ($31.49, amazon.com), noting that these products tend to be the most effective way to ward off bunnies. Adds Randaci, "Rabbit repellents are available, both chemical and organic. Most of them are contact or taste options that make the plants unpalatable to these creatures," he explains. "Others are odor repellents and do not need to touch the plant." And while homemade, DIY sprays may offer some protection, they are not as long-lasting—and all repellants need to be re-applied post-rainfall or after you finish watering your plants, which makes them more high maintenance overall.
Be mindful of the plants and food rabbits prefer.
Understanding which plants draw bunnies to your yard will make keeping them out of your beds easier; you don't, after all, have to cage or spray each and every variety in your garden, since the creatures will naturally avoid certain types (bunnies have taste buds, too!). But it's best to be on your guard when your garden comes back to life in the spring, since rabbits "typically nibble on the tender new growth," says Harris, "and will try anything once." This include trees, especially during cold weather: "They will chew on the trunks of trees and shrubs during the winter months to help sharpen their teeth," she adds. As for the plants they always love, without fail? On the plant and flower front, it's best to protect impatiens, pansies, petunias, young sunflowers, asters, tulips, crocus, lilies, poppies, daisies, phlox, and zinnias, notes Harris; apples, beans, pepper, broccoli, Swiss chard, strawberries, Brussel sprouts, black and red raspberries, blueberries, lettuce, spinach, and okra are food favorites.
Consider planting repellent varieties.
If you live in an area where bunnies run rampant, landscape accordingly. "Rabbits love anything that can be a shelter, such as low shrubs, bushes, and grasses, so keeping those trimmed may help. Eliminate areas they can hide, and it will make your garden an unwanted place for rabbits to reside," notes Harris. Another method to try? "Mix in plants that are not appetizing into the landscape to deter feeding," she says, adding that Encore azaleas, boxwoods, hyacinth, daffodils, allium, butterfly bushes, Japanese maples, mountain laurels, rhododendron, peonies, lamb's ear, sedum, primrose, yucca, Russian sage, speedwell, geranium, wax begonia, cleome, and vinca are not so tasty to these creatures.
Be vigilant—and employ your pets.
"You must constantly be on the defense to prevent damage to your vegetables and garden plants from all pests, including rabbits," says Harris. "Inspect your plants and watch for signs such as fecal pellets, chewed plants, or bark and immediately take action, so the rabbit does not develop a routine of visiting your garden for mealtime." You might need to catch a rabbit in the act, she adds, so you can retrace its steps and block of its point of entry; this method might also lead you to nesting sites, "such as overgrown grassy areas and wood piles," notes Randaci. Remove them promptly, but never while young rabbits are in residence. "Never try to pick up a rabbit," says Harris, "as it is a wild animal and may carry disease." And don't overlook the intimidating presence of a pet: According to Randaci, a dog or cat prowling around in the yard is often enough to keep rabbits away.