Garden challenges - Rabbits

I've been going to write a blog about rabbits and gardens for a while, but now more than ever it has become very topical as we have had a rabbit problem in the nursery and gardens over summer and ongoing. It is also one of the most common garden and plant issues I find myself discussing with customers in the nursery. Being where we and a lot of our customers are in the country; surrounded by rabbit habitat it's inevitable we will have to deal with this cute but destructive problem at some time. Not only will rabbits eat the leaves, flowers and stems of veg, annuals and perennials, they will also eat bark of shrubs and trees if desperate enough in cold winters.

Damn wabbits

As with any garden problem prevention is better than cure if possible. Sometimes it can be too costly or impractical to do this as fencing is expensive and it's a big job to do. In my last garden the first job I did, (knowing I was going to be creating a big garden) was to put in rabbit fencing as soon as the fencers had finished putting up the stock fence around the property. This involved attaching chicken wire to the stock fence right around the perimeter and burying it six inches or so into the ground. Here in the nursery our big winter job this year is to finally get the fencing up around this nursery, so we will be incorporating rabbit fencing as we go, again using chicken wire, stapled to the wooden fence and buried below.

The rabbit fencing on the new fence in the nursery

Attaching the rabbit fencing before the slats go on

It is possible to fence off smaller areas of the garden, say the veg plot or a particular area of plants you have that rabbits love. This can be done with smaller fence posts and chicken wire stapled to them around the smaller area. Locally you can put upturned wire hanging baskets over plants if there are only a certain few being nibbled. This will protect the crown of the plant so you don't lose it all together, but anything above the protection may be eaten. You can also put spiral tree guards round the trunks of young trees to give them some protection.

Up turned hanging baskets to protect plants from rabbits

If you don't want to go to all the work and expense of fencing then we need to think of what plants we can put in the garden that rabbits won’t eat. Of course, it’s not that easy as there is always that one animal that will go against the norm and eat these rabbit resistant plants. There have been many books and leaflets written about this subject which you can source in a good book shop or online.

Generally speaking, plants with scented, hairy or succulent type leaves and those with toxic sap are unappealing to rabbits but that doesn’t mean that they won’t have a go at them when they first appear as a new course on the menu! It is worth trying surrounding borders and more vulnerable plants with strongly scented plants such as herbs which can help as the smell may throw rabbits off. Try the following herbs to deter rabbits, and you can use them too! Many of them are available for sale in the nursery and you can see them growing in our new herb garden.


Chives, Mint, Oregano, Sage, Thyme

There are many plants that should be rabbit resistant but I am going to list the ones that are tough, hardy and will cope with our Scottish gardens, starting with trees and shrubs.

Alnus, Bamboo, Berberis, Betula, Buxus, Buddleja davidii, Choisya ternata, Clematis, Cornus sanguinea, Cryptomeria japonica, Cytisus, Escallonia, Eucalyptus, Euonymus europaeus, Gaultheria Hippophae, Hydrangea, Hypericum, Laburnum, Ligustrum, Lonicera,  Philadelphus, Prunus, Rhododendron, Ribes, Rosa, Sambucus, Sarcococca, Skimmia, Syringa, Vinca , Viburnum, Weigela

Perennials are particularly vulnerable to rabbits, being soft and tasty but at least they have a better chance of recovery. Here are a selection suitable for our Scottish gardens.

Aconitum, Alchemila, Anemone, Anthriscus, Aquilegia, Artemisia, Arum, Aster, Astilbe, Brunnera, Bergenia, Campanula lactiflora, Chaeaemerion 'Album', Colchicum, Corydalis, Crocosmia, Cyclamen, Digitalis, Epimedium, Eupatorium, Euphorbia, Geranium macrorrhizum, Helenium, Helianthus, Hellebores, Hemerocallis, Iris, Knautia arvensis, Lamium, Lysimachia, Melissa, Nepeta, Omphaloides, Paeonia, Papaver, Polygonatum, Persicaria, Phlomis, Pulmonaria, Rheum, Salvia, Saxifrage, Sedum, Stachys, Tellima

Some grasses are also unattractive to rabbits:

Calamagrostis, Cortaderia, Deschampsia, Juncus, Luzula (but not L.nivea which the rabbits have ravaged in the nursery), Miscanthus

As well as experimenting with rabbit resistant plants the following deterrents are also worth trying:

As their twitching noses indicate, rabbits sniff a lot. Try sprinkling talcum powder or powdered red pepper around or on your plants. Rabbits also dislike the smell of onions, so try planting these around your garden to further deter the furry creatures.

Make a bad-tasting rabbit cocktail by grinding together three hot peppers, three large onions, and one whole bunch of garlic. Add water to cover, and place into a covered container overnight. Strain, and then add enough additional water to make a gallon of the mixture. Spray onto plants, repeating after rainfall. Commercial products using pungent garlic oil are also worth a try.

Some people protect plants with individual “collars” of tin cans or screening so that the plants may reach a less vulnerable size. Put the collar around each stem for protection.

Some of the deer techniques related to smell are also said to work against rabbits. You can read my deer blog here 

Legend has it that rabbits are terrified of their own reflection, so try an old-time rabbit remedy and place large, clear glass jars of water throughout the garden. Garden centres sell ready-made reflectors, as well as other devices—crouching cats, fake snakes, menacing owls—designed to frighten bunnies away from your plants.

Sometimes, humane traps are the best solution. If you don’t want to buy a trap, consider building one. Place the trap where you’ve seen the rabbits feeding or resting, and cover it with a piece of canvas. Apples, carrots and cabbage and other fresh green veggies make excellent bait. Check it often, and release bunnies in rural areas several miles away.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas to help protect your garden and plants from rabbits. We have many of the plants available in the nursery.

Do you have a problem with rabbits in your garden and what do you do to deter them?

Humane rabbit trap (image google)

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