IDENTIFICATION — Most of us know a rabbit when we see it — long ears, fuzzy tail and a piece of your favorite plant dangling from its mouth! Eastern cottontails, the most common, are found across North America.
DAMAGE — These pests do eat annuals and perennials, but the damage is usually cosmetic, although they can ruin a vegetable garden or your favorite spring bulbs. But worse yet, they can girdle and kill shrubs and small trees, often the most expensive plants in a garden. Damage to trees is more severe during the winter when there aren’t green plants for rabbits to munch. If you look closely at the trunk, you’ll see characteristic small, paired tooth marks. The damage usually starts a couple of inches from the ground and goes above the highest snow line.
CONTROL — First, make the area less attractive by removing hiding places like brush piles. There are hundreds of home recipes for keeping rabbits away. Some people swear by them; others may find that they simply don’t work. In any case, they probably won’t keep really hungry rabbits at bay for long.
Chemical repellents, like Ro-Pel®, are effective, but most of them need to be reapplied after rain and several times during the winter. A cylinder of 1/4-in. hardware cloth will keep rabbits away from shrubs and young trees. The bottom of the cylinder needs to be 3 in. below the soil’s surface to prevent digging, and the top needs to be 24 in. above the anticipated snow line. Or you can use rigid plastic tree guards, although in extreme cases, rabbits can chew through them.
You can fence off an entire bed with chicken wire or hardware cloth, but make sure there are no rabbits hiding inside when you’re fencing. Check the bed periodically during the winter to make sure that no rabbits have managed to move in.