7 Sustainable Ways to Keep Rabbits Out of Your Garden

Preventive measures are key to keeping rabbits away from your garden.

Rabbit peering into a garden

Tammi Mild / Getty Images

Rabbits—no matter how cute they are and no matter how much you loved Peter Rabbit as a kid—can be a nuisance to farmers and gardeners alike. If you live in an area where rabbit populations run rampant, the tasks of protecting your garden and allowing this furry species to thrive without human intervention may seem at odds.

Fortunately, there are several sustainable ways to keep rabbits out of your garden.

Rabbits, Cottontails, and Hares

The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a separate genus from the cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus spp.) and hares and jackrabbits (Lepus spp.) that are native to North America. Most domestic rabbits descend from introduced European rabbits, but cottontails are the most common rabbit species in North America.

Identifying Rabbits in Your Garden

Uninvited diners in your garden may not necessarily be rabbits. Mice, squirrels, and other rodents are also opportunistic eaters. Here's how to tell who is eating your plants.

  • Rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk. Sit quietly in your garden during these times of day and see who arrives for a meal.
  • Ask at a local greenhouse, garden center, or university extension service if rabbits are known to live in your area.
  • Look for gnawing marks. Insects leave holes in plants. Rabbits nibble from the edge. They will leave your plants looking clean-cut rather than ragged.
  • Rabbits leave round or oval brown-colored fecal pellets as they move around the garden. You might also find rabbit hair or fur caught on branches.

Keeping Rabbits Out of Your Garden

If you've identified your problem as rabbits, there are multiple ways of keeping rabbits at bay. The first principle is to stay ahead of the problem by creating a rabbit-deterrent garden before you even see the first signs of damage.

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Place a Rabbit Fence

Cottontail rabbit by fence
Chris McNeill / Getty Images

A rabbit fence is the best long-term method of keeping rabbits out of your entire property. It should be made of a heavy-duty, galvanized steel mesh at least 4 feet in height, with the bottom foot sunk below ground level and the lowest 6 inches bent outwards to prevent rabbits from tunneling under it. The mesh should be narrower than 3 inches.

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Protect Garden Beds

Spinach in raised vegetable bed with bird netting secured over the top
Barbara Rich / Getty Images

To protect entire garden beds, place chicken netting over favorite rabbit foods. But remember that rabbits are consummate diggers. Bury hardware cloth around the base of your garden beds to prevent rabbits from burrowing under the chicken netting.

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Surround Young Trees and Shrubs

Blueberries growing under net in garden allotment
PhilDarby / Getty Images

You can protect your young trees and shrubs with a half-inch mesh hardware cloth or 1-inch chicken netting. Form the hardware cloth or chicken netting into a cylinder and force it into the ground to hold it upright.

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Set Up Repellents

Man Is Spraying Clean Water, Liquid Fertilizer On Plants In Flower Store Or Home Garden.home Garden.
Ekaterina Fedulyeva / EyeEm / Getty Images

Repellents with putrescent whole-egg solids can reduce browsing by rabbits. You might, however, end up attracting other pests to the decaying organic matter.

Alternatively, distribute a pouch or spray a liquid mix of any combination of garlic, red pepper, strong-smelling soap, or other strong odors around your garden's perimeter or at the base of trees and shrubs. Just keep in mind that you or your neighbors might smell the repellent as well.

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Remove Potential Hiding Places

Rabbit in the grass on my backyard
Leonid Korchenko / Getty Images

Rabbits don't like exposed spaces where they are vulnerable to predators. Remove potential nesting and hiding places by clearing brush piles, weed patches, rock piles, and other debris. An open area surrounding your garden will give your plants some limited protection.

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Create Disturbances

Outdoor lamp on yard lawn for garden lighting in summer park
Bilanol / Getty Images

Rabbits are creatures of habit, so any novelty is a threat. Create harmless disturbances with any unfamiliar sound or sight that is likely to keep them at bay. Try low-maintenance solar-powered LED lights flashing or blinking on a timer, or a motion-activated sprayer to startle rabbits away from your yard. Noise-making garden ornaments, wind chimes, spinning pinwheels, and a mobile of pie tins or aluminum cans can deter rabbits—if the wind is blowing, that is.

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Grow Food That Rabbits Don't Eat

Baby rabbit feeding.
DaveAlan / Getty Images

Rabbits are opportunistic feeders and especially enjoy the tender shoots of seedlings, including young trees and shrubs. The key is to grow what they don't eat. Once rabbits discover a great source of food, they will return again and again until they've exhausted the food supply.

Removing any temptations early in the spring can prevent their habits from setting in. Rabbits love beans, carrots, lettuce, parsley, peas, and spinach, but will likely avoid plants with fuzzy leaves, milky sap, thorns, and strong scents, as well as any member of nightshade family, due to their toxins. But when rabbits get hungry enough, they will eat just about anything.

Rabbit-Resistant Plants
 Vegetables Herbs and Spices Flowers Trees and Shrubs
Artichokes
Asparagus
Corn
Cucumbers
Garlic
Onions
Potatoes
Squash
Tomatoes
Basil
Catmint
Ginger
Lavender
Mint
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage
Sweet Alyssum
Thyme
Agastache
Artemisia
Bee balm
Begonia
Geranium
Globe Thistle
Marigold
Milkweed
Salvia
Sedum 
Azalea
Black walnut
Butterfly Bush
Fir
Juniper
Spirea
Spruce 
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can you humanely trap a rabbit?

    Trapping should be considered a last resort due to the risk of harming or traumatizing the rabbit. It is also less effective than other methods of keeping rabbits away from the garden; trapping merely removes single rabbits instead of the source of the problem.

  • Which smells keep rabbits away?

    Powerful odors will deter rabbits. Garlic, peppers, and strong herbs like ginger and mint tend to keep rabbits away from your yard. A light mixture of water and strong-smelling liquid soap should also do the trick.