My sister Lori wrote me last year asking for advice about her new vegetable garden in St. Louis. They have loads of little bunnies. Apparently they’re extremely persistent and have been known to eat even jalapeño peppers! She was worried they will eat her yummy new lettuces, carrots, radishes – and considering their track record, even her tomatoes.
We had jackrabbits at our Northern California home. Have you ever seen one? They’re not your little St. Louis bunny: they are amazingly fast, and they are much bigger than our dog! They eat grass and clover, and presumably they would find our carrots and lettuce absolutely delightful…. but guess what? They were everywhere in our yard EXCEPT in our vegetable garden. I never saw – or found evidence of – a single nibble.
It could be luck, but considering that the rabbits regularly hopped within inches of the vegetable garden, I think it may have to do with a few other things. So I wrote this post to help Lori and all the rest of you who have bunny problems!
How to Keep Rabbits Out of the Vegetable Garden:
Humanely, Organically, Frugally, and Sustainably.
Note that many of these solutions will work for deer, raccoons, coyotes, and various varmints as well.
1. Build Raised Beds. You don’t have to build formal raised beds, but even if you mound up the dirt as we did, it confuses them. Ours beds were also sloped, so that may be a further deterrent.
2. Create Narrow Pathways Between the Beds. If you think about it from a rabbit’s perspective, there are these mounds about 1.5 to 2 feet tall. If I were a rabbit and tried to hop between those mounds, I’d be a sitting duck for any cat or coyote standing on the mound. No way, not worth it! Our pathways were about 1′ wide, just enough for us to walk through.
3. Mulch. I’ve read over and over that for whatever reason, mulch deters deer, rabbits, gophers, moles, voles… I don’t know why, but seems to work. We use straw mulch, because it’s cheap and plentiful, and eventually it will decompose and become plant food.
4. Interplant. Again from the rabbit’s perspective, I am hopping around finding a nice clover patch here, another one way over there, and then… wow, a whole row of tender, organic greens all to yourself. But, if that row is interplanted with things I don’t like – like onions – suddenly, maybe it’s not worth it to me. This goes for all sorts of pests, including aphids, powdery mildew, voles, and so on. For example, we planted carrots and scallions together.
5. Plant a Perimeter of Things They Don’t Like. Garlic, onions, chives, catnip, lavender, and marigolds are all deterrents according to several sources. The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends planting a double row of onions. You could also try a low, dense hedge. Here is a list of plants rabbits (and deer) reportedly do not like. If you don’t find anything there, many more are listed here.
6. Build a Fence Around the Beds, or Around the Plants. You probably want to build a fence at least 2 feet high. It can be made out of a number of materials, so you can make it quite attractive: bamboo, chicken wire, wood, wire mesh will all work. If you don’t have raised beds, you should dig a trench at least 6-8″ below ground, and start the fence there. If you’re using a bendable material, bend it outward for added benefit. Rabbits (and voles, moles, etc) can burrow, so you want to cover above and below ground. And incidentally, this is what Lori ultimately used on her garden – there are pictures here.
7. Put a layer of mesh or other material over the hardest hit plants. You can use wire mesh, burlap, or hardwire cloth for this. You can build a loop-wire tunnel as well (we usually have one over our greens).
8. Try Other Alternatives. Fake snakes or owls, soap flakes, sulfur, blood meal, wind socks, human hair, motion-sensor sprinklers, a mostly buried bottle, dog, coyote, or fox urine, and cat litter are some I’ve found but haven’t tried. There are also some store-bought remedies, but I’d suggest trying some of these cheaper, organic, and sustainable methods first. (Note cat litter should not be put in the vegetable garden, only on the perimeter, to avoid consuming potentially harmful bacteria.) Have fun!
9. Plant Clover and Other Bunny Favorites in Another Area of the Yard. This is the decoy effect: if you feed them well with their favorite foods, they won’t need to eat your veggies. What do bunnies like? Goldenrod, wild strawberries, clover, dandelions, wildflowers, alfalfa, and long grass.
10. If All Else Fails, Plant Extra for the Rabbits. They need to eat, too, and goodness knows we have altered their world by putting up roads and houses where they used to graze happily. Why not give them a little bit of extra food to survive in their human-altered environment?*
Note that you’ll probably want to try at least a couple of these methods together to make it work for you.
I would not try poisons, pepper spray, or fire arms. I personally feel all of those are dangerous to you, your neighbors, and other beneficial wildlife.
I also don’t think trapping is a great option. The problem with trapping is that you are relocating a rabbit from its home, family, and established territory: the place where it knows its predators and food sources. It could be pregnant or have babies. And you could be relocating it to a place where it doesn’t have a good food supply or is eaten quickly by a predator. And you may end up putting them where someone else has to deal with them in their yard – someone who may or may not use humane methods to deter them.
Please consider trying the many humane methods above. You may have to work a little harder at it. But in the end, your family, community, and the planet as a whole will be better off for your efforts.
*Note that in Australia and New Zealand, rabbits have been introduced into the area, and have created havoc with the native ecosystem. In that case, I would avoid feeding the rabbits, and in general discourage their presence – your local municipality likely has a policy that you should follow in these areas. If you have the choice, try the sustainable, integrated pest management approaches to the problem. Indiscriminately poisoning and shooting them has proven time and again not to work!
Do You Have Any Other Tips?