Baby rabbit in a garden
Rabbit damage on hosta
Rabbit caught in the act of eating a hosta
Typical rabbit damage- nibbling an entire row of soybeans (Glycine)
Rabbit damage on bromeliad
The eastern cottontail rabbit, Sylvilagus floridanus, has been a long-time foe of gardeners in the eastern United States. They may damage flowers, shrubs, trees, and vegetables any time of the year. They can be especially troublesome in spring, when young, tender plant material becomes widely available. Their depredations are enhanced by the presence of suitable habitats adjacent to sources of food: brushy areas, field edges, junk piles, thickets, brush piles, burrows of other animals, and landscaped backyards. Extremely high reproductive rates combined with mild, snow-free winters can result in burgeoning populations in some years. Cottontails have the potential of four litters a year, with the first arriving in March, and as many as six young per litter. In normal years, up to 35% of young die in the first month, and 65% of the remaining animals will die in the first winter. Mild weather and available food have obvious consequences. Although rabbits are among the favorite prey of coyotes, foxes, hawks, and owls, the absence of these predators exacerbates, in the long run, other factors favorable to large rabbit populations.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Rabbits are our most frequently seen wild mammal. They often are observed browsing in residential areas. Signs of rabbit presence are distinct round droppings, gnawing on stems of older woody plants, clean-cut clipping of young stems and leaves, and in winter, tracks.
Integrated Pest Management Strategies
Control is often necessary, but complete eradication is difficult or even undesirable. Eradication may even be impossible because rabbits often are mobile and numerous enough to fill any "empty" niche created when other rabbits are removed.
1. Alter the habitat. Eliminate all brush and brush piles, stone piles, and weed patches near plantings, and establish plantings as far away as possible from the edges of thickets and woods and from areas where rabbits are known to be. Rabbits will eat a wide variety of plants when under environmental pressure; however, it is possible to minimize damage by using plants considered to be less desirable for food. Following is a list of plants that are heavily or moderately damaged by rabbits as well as those which are thought to be seldom damaged.
2. Scare devices. A dog can be a good deterrent, but comes with its own care and containment problems. Containing a dog with an "invisible fence" device often provides an adequate solution if the area to be managed is not too large. Under any circumstances, a dog is a sensitive, living creature and deserves the care and attention necessary to its welfare. Any other scare devices should be considered temporary—a rabbit may run, but will return when the immediate threat is gone and soon learns that such devices are not harmful.
3. Repel the rabbits. Repellents do not eliminate rabbit problems—they can serve only as containment measures. They usually are water-soluble, so are labor-intensive. Further, they may not work when food is scarce. However, new materials are constantly being introduced, so it is prudent to stay aware of changing circumstances and to share knowledge with others who find themselves in similar circumstances. No fumigants or toxicants are labeled for use against rabbits. Mothballs and moth crystals are not labeled for control of rabbits. All repellents have one characteristic in common: they work for some gardeners in some circumstances but are not 100 percent effective in all circumstances.
(a) The following are some commercially available products that have proven to be more or less effective. When using chemicals, read labels carefully and follow directions completely.
Deer-Away (37% putrescent whole-egg solids) As the name implies, this product is a contact repellent that smells and tastes like rotten eggs. It is labeled for use on fruit trees before flowering, ornamental shrubs, and trees. The product is a relatively long-lasting, effective repellent.
Hinder (Ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids) This is one of the few repellents labeled for use on edible crops. However, it washes off and must be reapplied as necessary.
Thiram (11% to 42% tetramethylthiuram disulfide) This is a fungicide that acts as a contact repellent. It is used most often on dormant trees and shrubs. Some trade names are Bonide Rabbit-Deer Repellent, Nott’s Chew-Nott, Gustafson 42-S, and Magic Circle Rabbit Repellent.
Capsaicin This is a contact repellent. It washes off, so must be reapplied after irrigation or rain. One product is Bonide Shotgun Animal Repellent. Identical or similar products may be sold under other names.
Dragon Rabbit and Dog Chaser (15% Dried blood, 15% napthalene, 0.35% nicotine) This is a contact repellent that washes off, necessitating reapplication as necessary. Identical products are sold under other names: Bonide Shotgun Rabbit & Dog Repellent, Frank’s Rabbit and Dog Repellent, F & B Rabbit and Dog Chaser, Repel Animal Repellent, and Repel Pet and Stray Repellent.
(b) The following are some non-commercial repellents that rely for their effectiveness on scents or tastes not found in nature. Often, they have been found to be inconsistently effective.
Ground Hot Pepper, Chili Powder, Talcum Powder, Blood Meal, or Human Hair placed around plants make them less inviting. Garlic spray directly on plants also is effective. All of these repellents must be reapplied after rain or irrigation.
4. Exclude the rabbits. Exclusion of rabbits is the only consistently effective control measure available. Chicken wire made of one inch or smaller mesh may be used around the perimeter of garden areas as a fence or around individual plants as 18 to 24 inch cylinders. (The latter barriers often may be removed after plants have matured and are no longer appealing.) Such material must be at least 2 feet in height, and the bottom should be buried at least 3 inches. Burying may not be necessary if rabbit pressure is not intense, but the bottom of fencing must be secured between support posts so that the animals cannot get under the barrier.
5. Remove the rabbits. Live traps are commercially available. They are especially effective in winter. They can be baited with such material as apple slices, corn (on cobs), dried apples, or rabbit droppings. Rabbits can be very hard to catch— using a cover over the trap to simulate a hiding place and placing it in known resting or feeding places is helpful. Be mindful that rabbits are territorial; removing them to a location that forces them to compete for resources with other animals is likely to result in the death of one inhabitant or the other. Also, check any traps at least twice a day so that any rabbits caught can be released immediately, and so that other animals such as birds can be released immediately. It is inhumane in the extreme to allow an animal to remain in a trap without food or water for any length of time.
6. Choose plants less susceptible to rabbit damage. There are virtually no plants that may be "guaranteed" against rabbit damage. However, plants in the following lists are based on some amount of observed behavior and deserve consideration for habitat alteration.
Special Note. Rabbits are managed and protected as game animals. Speak with local authorities or game officials before undertaking control measures involving trapping.