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Wascally Wabbits!

by Paul James

I moved into my current home just over four years ago, and from day one I’ve dealt with rabbits ravaging my vegetable gardens. I actually made the situation worse by building fences to keep my three dogs out of the gardens, which basically created safe havens for the rabbits (and squirrels, but that’s another story).

I’ve contributed to the problem in other ways – a pallet of stones that I bought a while back but haven’t figured out what to do with, and several hay bales that I buy every year and allow to rot for months before applying to the gardens as mulch. Both are ideal habitats for rabbits. And I have a deck and storage building that rabbits burrow beneath to nest. I routinely seal the openings, but invariably they create new ones elsewhere, or my beagle creates new ones for them as he relentlessly but futilely tries to get at them.

 I’ve used various repellent products, which offer limited control and must be reapplied often. I’ve tried fake owls, which must be moved every day, and even then don’t seem to work more than a few weeks. I’ve tried blood meal with some success, but you can only apply so much pure nitrogen to plants. I’ve tried coyote urine, manure from zoo animals, dog hair from the groomer, shavings of Irish Spring soap, dustings of cayenne pepper and homemade garlic sprays, all with mixed results. I have had some success by planting white clover in my lawns as a trap crop. Rabbits love clover, but they also like a diverse diet, one that includes lettuce and spinach and just about everything else I grow (although they don’t like mustard greens – yippee!).

And that’s the way it is with nearly all rabbit controls, whether store bought or homemade: They definitely work, but they don’t work indefinitely.

(My wife says we need a cat to roam free in the backyard, but I’m allergic to cats, and my numerous raised beds would serve as nothing more than gigantic litter boxes.)

If you scour The Google for ideas, you’ll ultimately discover that the only tried and true way to keep rabbits out of the garden is to fence them out. But not just any fence will do. Ideally, it should be made of ¼-inch galvanized mesh screening, should be at least two-feet tall, and should be buried below ground at least six inches. Great. So how am I supposed to work in my garden beds when they’re wrapped in fencing?

I’ve spent decades giving advice to fellow gardeners. Now I need advice from you. If you’ve discovered a way to keep rabbits out of the garden (other than using products made by Winchester or Remington), please tell me about it. And hurry. My fall veggies are germinating, and the young seedlings are an enticing smorgasbord to all the wascally wabbits that call my home their home.



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18 responses to “Wascally Wabbits!”

  1. Kristen Wilson says:

    I have no suggestions as I have tried everything as well. I feel your pain and struggles. Although, my beagle has managed to catch a few, which surprises me being that she’s almost 11 years old.

    • Paul James says:

      Can I borrow your beagle, Kristen, maybe just for a few days? Mine is a male named Buster. He’s cute as can be, but he’s worthless when it comes to catching rabbits.

      • Kristen Wilson says:

        Sure can! Jazmin is a good critter catcher. Rabbits, squirrels, moles, gophers and occasional mouse.

  2. Gardener Dave says:

    This reminds me of a recent after-church conversation. I was talking with a very experienced gardener friend and a lady came up to us and said she was having a terrible problem with rabbits eating her flower beds. She asked what she should do. My friend said confidently, "there’s only one thing TO do." She is encouraged to know that she’s about to receive THE answer she’s been struggling to find. He says, "Lead." This answer does not compute for her. She replies, with her face all twisted up, "Lead?" She looks at me and I reply, "Bullets." Again, this does not compute. "Bullets?" she says, again with a scrunched up face. "Do you just scatter them around the plants?" We kill cows so we can eat steaks. We kill chickens so we can eat Momma’s fried chicken. We kill turkeys so we can eat Thanksgiving dinner. Why should we have a problem killing rabbits so we can eat carrots and peas and lettuce and beans?

    • Paul James says:

      Dave — I actually do have an excellent recipe for rabbit ragu served with soft polenta or pasta.

  3. Betty says:

    Hahaha…I share your pain! We’ve lived in our neighborhood for nine years, and the rabbits have been in charge since day one. My gardens contain flowers not vegetables. I’ve tried just about all the things you mentioned, but I have not found any permanent or even season long solution. Three years ago I bought a copy of Grandmother’s Critter Ridder (GCR) at a local book fair. Its section on rabbits includes some of the strategies you mentioned (i.e., bone meal, crushed and ground peppers, fencing, etc.), but it also offers these ideas:

    == Installing a rabbit trap – Some of my neighbors have tried this. Yes, they catch rabbits one at a time, but they’re prolific breeders! (The rabbits, not the neighbors.) Traps don’t solve the problem.
    ==Plant a radio – Well, not "plant" as in planting a seed but as in placing it in the garden where talk radio can play all day long and all night long. The goal is to trick the rabbits into thinking a human is nearby. Since my rabbits don’t even run from me anymore when I come face to face with them unexpectedly, I doubt this would faze my lagomorphs.
    ==Plant wormwood – GCR says "rabbits hate wormwood and will avoid it at all costs". It suggests surrounding the plants you want to keep rabbit free with a border of wormwood. I don’t know what wormwood looks like, and I’ve never tried it. says wormwood, an herb, is used to "increase sexual desire". Is that going to help my rabbit problem?
    ==Try snakes – GCR says rabbits are "deathly afraid" of snakes. The problem is that I am too. I did try rubber snakes (as well as plastic owls) but to no avail.

    Since I can’t get rid of the rabbits, I’ve tried to learn to live with them. I try to only put things in the ground I know they don’t eat (i.e., begonias, angelonia, sunpatiens, etc.). Sadly, the list of what they don’t eat is much shorter than the list of what they do eat. Since I want more color than what the short list allows me, I plant the rabbit delicacies in tall pots so they can’t get to the scaveola, calibrachoa, pansies and other rabbit favorites.

    I heard that a botanic garden once set up a motion triggered water cannon of sorts to blast them when they approach certain plantings. It sounds like a great idea, but I have no idea how to do that. Every year I threaten to set up an electric wire on the perimeter of my beds to try to shock the varmints out of my gardens, but my husband won’t let me do that. (Kudos to my husband for keeping me out of jail should a non-rabbit living being come in contact with my live wire.)

    Thanks for spotlighting a particularly annoying problem!

    • Paul James says:

      Betty — Congratulations on the longest comment ever, one that was more interesting and entertaining than my original post! I have tried the motion-triggered water canon, but I never could adjust the sensitivity such that it would fire a blast of water on rabbits. It seems to work better on larger critters, especially deer. I also tried the radio — and even tried various stations, from Opera to Oldies to Indie — but that only worked for a few nights. Alas, I think we just have to find a way to coexist with critters of all kinds.

  4. Susie says:

    Hey neighbor, we had bunnies living under the deck and the dog trying to get to them through the top decking. Not a good thing. My husband tried various methods for years until he finally gave in and we got two cats. The cats come in the house to visit but live outside with access to the garage. Now the only bunnies in our yard are the trophies the cats proudly present. Sad but effective.

    • Paul James says:

      Yeah, I knew someone was going to tell me what I already figured to be the solution. I guess I’ll just have to suffer through my allergies. Would you consider renting your cats?

  5. pam says:

    did you find something to keep them out! I am like you i tried everthing!!

  6. Sport says:

    I live in BA and have a healthy stand of St. Augustine grass on the east side of my house. The rabbits LOVE this grass and feast on it until full, leaving everything else alone. By the way, the St. Augustine winters over here very well.

    • Paul James says:

      I must say, Sport, that I’ve never seen a stand of St. Augustine in this area. I assume you planted it from seed, since I’ve never seen sod available around here either. I just might give it a try. Thanks.

  7. susan says:

    I share the same problem. But mine is mostly squirrels! I believe Smith and Wesson is the only cure

    • Paul James says:

      Susan, I was going to write an article about squirrels, but I could only conclude by saying there’s next to nothing you can do to control them, other than the cure you suggested.

  8. Jan says:

    We have rabbits and squirrels. And 2 dogs. One of the dogs is relentless in dispatching small creatures. (Not our cats, though!) so we do not keep them it of the garden. We have dog foot prints and may lose a few plants, but it’s better than losing them to rabbits.

  9. JenP says:

    I fought the same battle after moving here and found best solution is a good ‘ole trap with lettuce for bait. it worked, within a week I had safely relocated 3 rabbits to their new home (beautiful church grounds a few miles away). It’s a continuous process, but I think this is the easiest option.

    • Paul James says:

      Thanks. I’ll give it a try. I like the irony of using lettuce as a bait to preserve my lettuce.