How to keep rabbits out of your garden

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On our farm, we strive to create a thriving ecosystem that supports wildlife, as well as our family. Most of our yard is filled with vegetables, fruit trees and mushroom logs, but we also have a large pollinator garden and a brush pile in our food forest which provide habitat for native insects and small mammals .

We love to see rabbits eating grass and clover in our garden, but we also have systems in place to prevent them from eating the vegetables that feed us. Some gardeners use cover scents like hot peppers and vinegar or even ready-to-use repellents as prevention methods, but in our experience there are much better ways to treat rabbits that don’t involve to pulverize your food. Scent repellents can alter the taste of your vegetables and wear off before you have a chance to reapply them, allowing rabbits to roam freely in your yard.

How Rabbits Damage Gardens

If the tender greens in your spring garden are suddenly cut short, chances are you have rabbits. To identify if rabbits are the culprit, look for net damage to plants. Other pests and insects will leave ragged edges or torn leaves, but damage to plants from the sharp teeth of rabbits will cut with precision. They will also likely leave trails and pellets behind after stealing your local produce.

The rabbit ended up in the grass in the back of this image before getting trapped in this native plant nursery.

Use a fence to keep rabbits away

There really is no better method of keeping rabbits out of your vegetable garden than a physical barrier. Metal chicken wire, which is sold in long rolls at most garden centers, is an excellent long-term solution to a rabbit problem. The wire mesh should be at least 2 feet high to discourage rabbits from just jumping over it. I’ve seen rabbits wriggle through very small cracks in a fence, so make sure the bottom of the fence is level with the ground all around your garden. If you want to be extra careful, you can even dig a small trench around the garden and bury some of the wire netting to prevent any attempt at tunneling.

Use wooden stakes every 5 to 6 feet to maintain the structure of your fence. You can staple or tie it to the top and bottom of the stake to keep it straight. If you are unable to step over the wire to gain access to your garden, you can cut a gate there, but be sure to bend over the cut ends of the wire netting carefully as they can be very sharp. A good way to make a fence is to staple the two ends of the chicken wire roll to side-by-side stakes held together with a rubber band. Then when you need to enter the garden, you can remove the rubber band and separate them.

chicken wire
Using a fence is the best method to keep rabbits from eating your plants.

Use raised beds

Like most animals, rabbits prefer to take the path least resistant to their food source. We grow the majority of our leafy and cruciferous vegetables in raised beds, but we also intercrop them in our pollinator gardens and around our fruit trees. In our experience, rabbits and other small mammals are much more likely to prey on vegetables that are strewn across the yard than jump into a raised bed that they can’t see the top of. Using raised beds in combination with a few feet of chicken wire ensures your garden will be rabbit free.

Plant Sources of Natural Food to Repel Rabbits

In the wild, fresh grass is one of the cottontail rabbit’s primary food sources. They also use tall grass as cover to avoid detection by predators. Many people keep their grass clippings so low that the rabbits have very little to eat and they are completely exposed when trying to graze so they often avoid it altogether. It may seem counter-intuitive to create a habitat for rabbits to keep them away from your garden, but removing their natural habitat just means you’ll have rabbits eating flowers and vegetables instead of grazing grass.

We like to keep a few areas of our yard untamed by allowing native grasses and other leaves to grow naturally. Because our vegetable garden is out in the open in full sun, the rabbits would actually be at greater risk from the many red-tailed hawks in our neighborhood if they decided to prey on our spinach. When we see rabbits in the yard, they are almost always eating fresh grass or spending time in the canopy.

natural rabbit habitat
Providing a habitat for rabbits is a natural way to repel rabbits from your garden.

Dogs as a deterrent for rabbits

As has been well documented, the presence of predators has a strong impact on the behavior of prey like rabbits. Our pitbull mix, “Little Moo”, has come very close to snagging adult rabbits in our yard on several occasions and in all cases the rabbits have avoided our yard for weeks after encountering her. As you can imagine, a downside to this method is that dogs are usually not very aware of the gentle nature of a vegetable garden when they put down a rabbit. This method often results in a bit of collateral damage, so keep that in mind before throwing your dog at the neighborhood bunnies.

Rabbit stew

If you try all of the above and still have bunnies eating your vegetables, I recommend trying Danielle’s Moroccan Braised Rabbit Recipe. Rabbits are very prolific breeders and can repopulate an area quickly, but driving their population down during hunting season will help bring some relief the following spring. And in a way, you also get back some of the food you lost during the growing season in the form of rabbit meat.

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