Rabbits can be very cute and charming creatures…until they get into your garden and eat all the fruits and vegetables that you’ve worked so hard to grow.
You can keep rabbits out of your garden with a combination of physical barriers, adding plants that rabbits tend to avoid, and removing any elements around your garden that they could turn into a nesting spot.
These solutions won’t harm the rabbits (who, after all, are simply following their instinct and trying to find food in their natural habitat), and won’t harm your organic garden. However, they will deter them from turning your garden into their personal buffet.
Build a chicken wire fence
A picket fence simply isn’t enough. Rabbits can squeeze through, dig underneath, or push through a loose board.
The best fence is made of chicken wire with one-inch mesh, or even smaller. Place this around your entire garden or around individual garden beds. Since rabbits are very good diggers, you’ll have to build the fence at least 6 inches below the ground.
Inspect the fence often for holes or loose wires—rabbits are good nibblers too, and they may be able to loosen a section that has a weak spot.
For those of us that have our gardens scattered around the property, this method isn’t really an option but if you have a nicely squared off garden section this can be a very effective way to protect your garden.
Use raised beds
Rabbits prefer grazing on ground level, so they won’t bother trying to climb into high containers. So, plant your vegetables in areas rabbits can’t reach, like a tall container or a tall raised bed that is at least as high as your waist.
Aside from being rabbit-proof, the height is actually easier on your knees and back—you don’t have to bend down to water and tend to your plants.
To make these raised beds even more convenient for you, look for self-watering containers or install a self-watering system. If raised beds aren’t an option for you, consider using hanging planters or vertical gardens.
Add motion-activated water sprinklers
Rabbits are cautious creatures, and a sudden spray of water can startle them and send them scampering away.
Place motion-activated water sprinklers in the garden, and in outside pathways where they are most likely to enter through. You can find those areas by inspecting the soil for signs of footprints or rabbit droppings or looking at which side of the garden they tend to favor when they forage for food.
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Keep your garden brightly lit at night
Rabbits will avoid danger, and don’t like being seen out in the open. So one natural way to keep them out of your garden is to keep it brightly lit at night. If you want to save on electricity, use motion-activated garden spotlights, or solar-charged lights.
While the traditional scarecrow may work, modern versions include metal pinwheels that will shine brightly when light hits it, owl statues and rubber snakes.
You can also add objects that will move whenever a strong breeze hits it: colorful foil balloons, strips of aluminum foil hung on twine or wire or even leftover Christmas ribbons. You can place these around your garden fence, or certain sections of your garden. Just place two wooden stakes and clear wire, and tie these visual deterrents as you please.
Be sure to switch the objects regularly, because once the rabbits become familiar with them and realize they aren’t dangerous, they will learn to ignore them. You can also move the objects around so they aren’t always in the same spot.
Protect vulnerable plants
This includes new, small plants, fragile flowers, fresh sprouts, or woody shrubs and trees that rabbits like to gnaw on during the winter.
You can place individual chicken wire fences or buy plant cages. During the winter, increase the height of the barriers, since the accumulated snow levels will allow rabbits to climb up the trunk and reach the branches.
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Include plants that rabbits don’t like
Some plants deter rabbits because of their strong smell. They are not dangerous or toxic to them, but they have learned—through instinct—to avoid them. This list can help you decide which ones to plant in your garden.
- Sweet Alyssum
- Wax begonia
- Rose of Sharon
- Coral berries
- Butterfly bush
- Spicy basil
- Hot peppers
No plant is 100% rabbit-proof, because young rabbits are curious enough to eat anything, and even older rabbits will have different personalities and preferences. So, it’s good to include a mix of plants, and switch them around—especially since rabbits can grow used to a plant’s smell after a while.
Clear out potential nesting areas
One of the most important things to do to keep rabbits out of your garden is to remove potential nesting areas. A mother rabbit will have about a dozen babies in a single litter, and your garden can easily become their “family restaurant.”
Rabbits favor shaded, overgrown grassy areas for their nests. So, keep your grass trimmed, and install lights in the darker areas of your garden. As a permaculture gardener, this doesn’t work as well for me as I have created plenty of natural habitats around my yard that rabbits can easily make a home in.
If you can’t fix that area completely—for example, it falls outside your property boundary, but it is in close proximity to your garden—place more visual deterrents (like pinwheels or ribbons) there. You can also bury old soda bottles halfway through the ground; these can make ominous whistling sounds when the wind blows.
Enlist the help of your pets
Rabbits are naturally wary of dogs and cats, so just letting your pet wander the garden can help keep them from entering.
If you don’t have a pet, you can trick the rabbits into thinking you do. Fill your garden with the scent of a dog or cat by filling a potpourri bag (or old pantyhose or burlap bag) with animal hair from the local groomer, and then hang these around the garden. Replace these often as the scent fades away.
You can also regularly invite one of your neighbor’s or friend’s pets over to your garden. They will instinctively mark the territory and leave their scent.
Create a natural rabbit spray
While you can buy commercial rabbit deterrents, these may contain chemicals that will remain on your plants and penetrate the soil—and that’s exactly what you don’t want in your organic garden.
Homemade sprays are natural, safe, and cheap to make. However, they are not as strong as commercial sprays, so you will have to apply liberally and frequently. Here are some recipes you can try:
- Pepper spray. Mix 2 tablespoons of hot cayenne pepper, 2 to 3 tablespoons of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of castile soup, and five cups of water. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and shake.
- Tabasco spray. Mix 2 tablespoons of Tabasco or any hot pepper seasoning, 2 to 3 tablespoons of crushed garlic, ½ cup dish detergent, and 3 cups of water. Mix and pour into a spray bottle. Allow to sit for a day for the fresh garlic to soak in the water before using.
- Garlic spray. Mix 1 teaspoon crushed hot red peppers, 1 whole head of garlic (crushed), 1 to 2 tablespoons of dish soap, and 1 gallon of water. Mix and pour into an empty milk jug or soda bottle. Allow to sit in the sun for 2 to 3 days. Pour into a spray bottle as needed.
This method has been the one I have used most and have had relatively good results. It doesn’t stop all the rabbit damage but it certainly reduces it.
Sprinkle pepper around your plants
As the DIY sprays show, rabbits hate the scent of pepper. If the spray doesn’t deter them, you may want to sprinkle pepper directly around the plants. The scent will be more concentrated, and you won’t have to bother with mixing the spray.
Try a soap sachet
DIY pepper sprays can also be irritating to other pets. This may be a benefit (like if you want to keep your dog away from your tomato plants, which are toxic to them) or it can be a problem if your curious puppy likes to sniff around when he’s out in the yard.
If this is the case, you may want to try scents that are not exactly toxic, but that rabbits seem to dislike. This includes soap—especially Irish Spring and any soap that has a strong mint or lemon scent. Carve a bar of soap and put the shavings in a small cloth.
Hang these sachets on garden stakes, attach them to the pinwheels, or use the wires you installed to hang ribbons.
Be persistent and patient
There are many natural, safe ways to keep rabbits out of your garden. However, you have to keep trying new ones, or changing their locations, so that there is always a new and unfamiliar “danger”—or what rabbits perceive as a danger.
However, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Even changing out the colors of the balloons, or trying a different kind of DIY spray, can keep rabbits on their toes and away from your garden. If that doesn’t work, adding more physical barriers and using high plant containers can protect your plants.
And always remember, don’t harm the rabbits. They are simply following their natural instinct, and your garden is within their natural habitat. So, it’s better to find a way to co-exist peacefully—where both your garden and your rabbits are safe from harm.