Keep rabbits out of your garden

keep rabbits out of gardens in Western New Yorkby Connie Oswald Stofko

Our yard is overrun with rabbits.

They chomped on my gladious.

They decimated my delphinium.

I planted four straight, healthy, nearly perfect sunflowers along the fence, as well as two scrawny, twisted specimens. The rabbits ate the four perfect plants and sidestepped the others.

I kept seeing my campanula toppled over, and discovered the rabbits had built a nest right in my garden, trampling plants as they made their way in and out!

We used to have a dog that kept the pesky rabbits at bay, but our Cookie died this winter at age 14. Now I’m trying to find new ways to protect my garden.

Our next door neighbors have a small dog. I’m trying to encourage Fluffy to at least bark at the rabbits, but she doesn’t seem very interested.

In the meantime, I’ve had to take matters into my own hands. Whenever I spot a rabbit, I chase it like a wild woman, sounding like a cartoon character as I holler, “Get out of my garden, you rabbit!” I fling garden tools in their general direction. I’m careful to not actually hit them, but I’m not sure it would bother them much anyway. They take precisely three hops, then stop, bored with my display. It can be good exercise for me, but it’s not an efficient way to stop garden damage from rabbits.

Here are some ways that you may find more helpful. The animals may become used to some of these methods, so you may have to switch them up to keep them guessing.

Fences and barriers. When the Mitros of Niagara Falls find that rabbits are bothering a plant, they put a small fence around that plant.

Pepper. A spray made with cayenne or red pepper is supposed to keep rabbits away. You have to reapply it to your plants after it rains. Since we still had some sliced hot peppers in our freezer from last year’s crop, I decided to use them. I rubbed them on my gladiolus leaves, left seeds on the ground, and actually hung the rings on the leaves (see photo). It looks silly, but I think the rings tend to keep their potency even after a rain. A drawback is that it’s time consuming to loop  pepper rings on individual plant stalks.

Dried blood. You can buy this in a nursery or garden center. It’s a powder that is actually made of dried blood (a by-product of the meat-packing industry), and the rabbits don’t like the smell. An extra benefit is that it acts as a mild fertilizer. You can sprinkle it around any plants the rabbits bother. There are a couple of drawbacks. One is that it might lose its effectiveness after a rain. The second is that some dogs (such as our Cookie) are attracted by the smell and may want to dig where you sprinkle it.

Irish Spring soap. Chris Martin of Lancaster suggests cutting up Irish Spring soap into chunks smaller than an inch square and sprinkling them around your plants (see photo). This also seemed to work for me. I occasionally rub the soap on the leaves as I’m weeding, too.

Get a dog. The Hagemans of Lancaster noticed that they don’t have a problem with rabbits– or skunks– since they got their dog. While I’m pretty sure we won’t be getting another dog anytime soon, I have to admit this was very successful for me.

What methods do you use to keep rabbits out of your yard? Please share by leaving a comment!

13 Comments on “Keep rabbits out of your garden

  1. Hi Natalia, I checked with John Farfaglia, extension educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. He said that some old pesticides contained nicotine, which is in tobacco, but those pesticides aren’t used anymore. Also, don’t use cigarettes as a pesticide because they contain many chemicals that could contaminate the soil and our drinking water.

  2. Penny,
    This is a great list. I’m sure people will find it helpful– I know I do!
    Your point about rabbits eating anything if they’re hungry enough is well taken. They did considerable damage to my neighbor’s bushes that they never touched before. My azalea is something they’ve been munching on, too. I plan to spray rabbit repellents this winter.
    Thanks so much.

  3. Most of the plants that I grow are rabbit resistant as well as deer resisitant such as Salvias, Agastaches, Rosemary, Penstemons, Heuchuras, Butterfly Bushes, Yuccas, Silene virginica, Silene regia, Lychnis chalcedonica, Cardinal Flower, Monarda (Bee Balm). Other plants that they leave alone are Asters, Azaleas and Rhododendrons, Dusty Miller, Helleborus, Red Hot Poker, Lantana, Iris, Daffodils, Catmint, Alliums, Astilbe, Baptisia australis, Foxglove, Lavender, Veronica, and Peonies. In addition to being rabbit resistant many are used as a nectar source for hummingbirds and butterflies.

    One thing to keep in mind….there are NO plants that are rabbit proof if they are hungry enough.

  4. Barb says:
    To answer your comment regarding trapping rabbits, we relocate them to a local wildlife refuge.


  5. Thanks for your comment. I, and I think the other readers want to know, what do you do with the rabbits once you catch them?


  6. Gardening is definitely an exercise- in patience and perseverance. But if you can extend it to the fitness arena, all the better!

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