How to Protect Gardens from Rabbits

In their natural habitat, rabbits are cute and enjoyable creatures. Gardeners, however, often have less favorable viewpoints. Rabbits can cause considerable damage to flowers and vegetables in home gardens. Rabbits can also cause damage to woody trees and shrubs over winter.  When damage becomes unacceptable, control measures are in order. 

rabbit in the garden
Rabbits can cause considerable damage to gardens, especially vegetable and flower gardens.  (1)

Damage Caused  |  Habitat Modification  |  Fencing  |  Repellents  |  Scaring  |  Trapping  |  Winter Protection  |  More Information

Damage Caused

Rabbits will devour a wide variety of plant material. Numerous flowers and vegetables are enjoyed during spring and summer.  Rabbit damage can be distinguished from deer damage (another common animal pest in the garden) by its appearance. When feeding, rabbits snip plant leaves and stems off cleanly, leaving behind a stem that looks like scissors have cut it. Deer damage leaves behind a more jagged edge as deer tend to tear the leaves and stems from the plant. 

A rabbit's tastes (like ours) vary considerably by region and season. Thus, planting certain flowers like marigolds may not be a successful rabbit control method. In fact, rabbits have been known to dine on marigold flowers. While nearly any plant can be a rabbit's meal, some are often preferred over others.  Learn more in this article: Susceptibility of Plants to Rabbit Damage.

In the fall and winter, woody plants become the targeted food and are gnawed around the base and often destroyed. Young trees are preferred over older trees because of their smooth, thin bark.

Rabbit Control During the Growing Season

Rabbit control is difficult. A combination of fencing, trapping, repellents, and habitat modification typically provides the best results in the home landscape.

rabbit behind fence
Fencing is the most effective way to prevent rabbit damage in home gardens (2)

Habitat Modification

Brush, junk, and tall weeds near flower and vegetable gardens provide good food and cover for rabbits. Removing debris (brush and junk) and cutting tall weeds should make the area less attractive to rabbits.


The most effective way to prevent rabbit damage in home gardens is by placing chicken wire fencing (the mesh should be 1 inch or smaller) or 1/4-inch hardware cloth around vulnerable plants. Fencing material that is 2 feet tall should be adequate. Support the fence with wooden stakes or metal posts. (Rebars work nicely with chicken wire fencing.) To keep rabbits from crawling underneath the fence, pin it tightly to the ground with u-shaped landscape pins or bury the bottom 1 to 2 inches below the ground.


Rabbit browsing can be discouraged by repellents. Taste repellents, such as thiram and ziram (Rabbit Scat), make plants distasteful. Odor repellents, such as Hinder (ammonium soaps), repel rabbits from treated areas with their strong odor. 

Unfortunately, repellents are not always effective. Rabbits may become accustomed to the disagreeable odor. Others may ignore the poor taste. Repellents (especially taste repellents) cannot be applied to edible crops.  In addition, most repellents must be reapplied after heavy rains, irrigation, or to new growth as the plant grows.


Devices used to scare rabbits away include lifelike recreations of common rabbit predators such as owls and snakes and shiny spinning objects. These devices will only provide limited results and are only effective within close proximity. Rabbits will also become used to them over time. Rarely does this tactic provide adequate protection from rabbit browsing.


Live traps can be used to remove rabbits from the landscape. Traps can usually be purchased at garden centers, hardware stores, and garden catalogs. Place traps where rabbits are frequently seen eating or resting in the yard and close to protective cover. In particular, be sure the trap is not exposed to full sun, which causes considerable discomfort to the animal inside.  In the spring and summer months, bait the trap with apple slices, carrots, cabbage, or lettuce. Check the trap daily and place fresh material in it. When successful, release the trapped rabbit a few miles away in an area where it will not cause problems for others.

Always check trapping and relocating regulations for your county and municipality before removing rabbits from your garden.

Rabbit Control in Winter

rabbit damage to tree
Rabbit damage to tree (4)
rabbit damage to shrub
Rabbit damage to shrub (3)

In winter, food is scarce as it is dormant or covered by snow.  In this situation, rabbits feed on the tissue between the bark and the wood. While any woody plant can be a target, some species are often preferred, including crabapple, apple, pear, redbud, honey locust, serviceberry, burning bush (aka winged euonymus), flowering quince, barberry, roses, raspberries, and small evergreens (especially pines). This feeding causes girdling, which destroys the tree by disrupting the downward flow of food from the tree's foliage to the root system. 

Protection of these plants over winter is beneficial and can be approached using a few different options. More detailed information about winter protection can be found in this article: How to Protect Trees and Shrubs from Animal Damage Over Winter.


Placing chicken wire or hardware cloth fencing around vulnerable plants is the most effective way to prevent rabbit damage to trees and shrubs in the home landscape.  To adequately protect plants, the fencing material needs to be high enough that rabbits won't be able to climb or reach over the fence after heavy snow.  In most cases, a fence that stands 24 to 36 inches tall should be sufficient.  To prevent rabbits from crawling underneath the fencing, pin the fencing to the soil with U-shaped anchor pins. 

Small trees can also be protected by placing white corrugated or spiral tree guards around their trunks.  After heavy snow, check protected plants to make sure rabbits aren't able to reach or climb over the fencing or tree guards.  Remove some snow to keep rabbits from reaching the trees or shrubs if necessary.


Repellents discourage rabbit browsing because of their unpleasant taste or smell. Unfortunately, repellents aren't always effective and can be challenging to apply in winter when temperatures are below freezing.  They need to be reapplied after heavy rain or snow. 

Other Options

Damage may also be reduced by removing brush, junk piles, and other places where rabbits live and hide. Repellents are another option. It may also be helpful to reduce the rabbit population in the area by removing some of the rabbits with live traps.

How to Manage Rabbit Damage If It Occurs

On many trees and shrubs, rabbits remove the bark completely around the trunks and stems, effectively girdling them. All growth above the girdled areas will eventually die, and for most home gardeners, replacing the girdled trees is the best course of action.  There are no applications that will mitigate the effects of rabbit damage or save severely damaged trees. Wound dressings, pruning paints, latex paints, wrappings, and other alleged protective barriers do not help.

Most deciduous shrubs can produce new shoots or suckers at their base. Because of this ability, many severely damaged deciduous shrubs will eventually recover. Several years may be required for some shrubs to fully recover. In early spring, prune off girdled stems just below the damaged areas. 

More Information

Photo credits: 1: Tammi Mild/AdobeStock; 2: Jay/AdobeStock; 3: Richard Jauron, 4: Richard Jauron

Last reviewed:
June 2024