How to Keep Rabbits Out of the Garden

I read “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” just like everyone else, and loved the drawings, the live action movie, and the series of stuffed animals that came out many decades later.

While reading the book, I sympathize with Peter and Flopsy and Mopsy. But when it comes to cottontails making free with my home garden, I am strictly Team Mr. McGregor.

It can be discouraging to plant a flat of flower seedlings and have them disappear overnight, nothing but nubs in the morning.

As a veteran vegetable gardener, I find it just as disheartening to have row upon row of bush beans sprout, grow an inch or two, and then get consumed in the space of a day.

A vertical picture of a small rabbit underneath a perennial shrub with purple flowers to the top of the frame and foliage at the bottom. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

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What’s a gardener to do with these cute little pests?

I’m happy to report that there are solutions. You don’t have to resort to hunting these critters, either. (Sorry, Elmer Fudd.)

Instead, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with rabbit behavior. That will help you to understand and provide ways to thwart their “all the garden’s my salad bar” habits without violence.

Careful plant selection and neatening up your yard and garden are right up there, too. Live and let live? I’ve got a couple of suggestions for ways to have a flourishing garden and coexist with the occasional bunny intruder, too.

Here’s what I’ll share for those on a mission to keep rabbits out of the garden:

Is That Really Rabbit Damage?

There’s a slim chance that the damage you’re observing on your young flower seedlings or vegetable sprouts was done by another pest.

A vertical picture of greens eaten by bugs, with small holes in the foliage, pictured on a soft focus background.
Photo by Rose Kennedy.

I had that happen to me when I assumed rabbits were chomping away huge bites of my springtime greens (pictured above).

But ragged bites and holes in greens or other plants, that’s just not a rabbit’s style. That type of plant damage comes from slugs or snails.

Rabbits are much more precise. They cut completely through the main stem of a seedling, and the results look like they used scissors, not their sharp teeth.

If you’ve got nothing but nubs, that is probably rabbit damage.

A close up of plants eaten by rabbits, leaving just the stems, pictured in bright sunshine, surrounded by a straw mulch.

Cottontails will also gnaw at the bark of young trees. You can tell that it’s them, not deer, because their marks only go up a couple of feet at the most.

You can confirm that they’re doing the damage by looking for their small, rounded droppings around the scene of the crime.

A close up of rabbit droppings on dead grass, pictured in light sunshine.

Once you’ve established which garden pest you’re coping with, you can come up with a strategy for protecting your plants and flowers.

Don’t Shoot!

If you’re already a hunter or have a gun in the house, it may occur to you to try to eliminate your rabbit infestation with fire power. I would strongly discourage that approach.

A vertical close up picture of a rabbit eating plants in the garden, pictured in light sunshine with pink flowers in soft focus to the right of the frame.

For one thing, if you live within city limits, in most places there are restrictions on shooting a firearm. Also, you run the risk of hurting other wildlife or scaring the neighbors.

In more rural areas, there are also complications with disposing of the carcass, and no guarantee that you’ll hit your mark.

And on a practical note, unless you plan to spend a lot of time waiting for your prey to appear, you probably won’t be able to keep up with the burgeoning rabbit population once they go after your garden.

According to experts at the Penn State Extension Service, mature cottontail does can have as many as 40 offspring in just one season. And they start being able to reproduce when they’re one year old.

Since the numbers are against your potential for success in eliminating these garden pests by shooting them one by one, I’d encourage you to focus on the following prevention methods, which will work for any rabbits that might be trying to establish your garden as their family buffet.

Why Raised Beds Work

While you might think of rabbits as being jumpy animals, they can’t really achieve much height.

Cottontails can jump two feet at the most, while jackrabbits might go a little higher than that, but usually only if they’re being pursued by a neighborhood dog.

A small rabbit sitting on its hindlegs on the lawn, pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

That means a first line of defense is a raised bed garden with sides at least two feet tall. If that’s not practical for a vast vegetable garden, or the bunnies are after your landscape plants, you’ll need to try other tactics.

Or, you can triage, and only plant the flowers and vegetables that are most appealing to rabbits in raised beds, saving your in-ground patches for plants that are less tasty to Peter, Flopsy, and Mopsy.

Fence Them Out

If the raised bed route isn’t viable, or would only work in part of your growing spaces, consider some fencing, too.

Since most rabbits can’t hop more than two feet off the ground, fencing only needs to be about 26 inches tall.

A close up of a small rabbit looking through a metal chicken wire fence at all the delicious vegetables growing on the other side.

That’s a relief for flower gardeners, because it’s easier to find an attractive or elegant fence option when it’s only a couple feet tall.

You do need to make sure the openings in the mesh or fence rails are no wider than a couple of inches, though.

Rabbits can squeeze through anything more wide, although they won’t do that if they can find what they like to eat handily outside this barrier.

Also dig a furrow and place the fence so it plunges at least 10 inches below the soil. Cottontails aren’t powerful diggers, but they can uproot a bit of earth to get under a fence if you let them.

Keep in mind, flowering plants and seedlings are particularly appealing when they’re young and tender.

So if you’re not willing to mess with a fence, try to at least put some netting over the plants you buy when you first bring them home from the nursery and put them in the ground. That’s when they’re most susceptible.

Landscape and Tidy Up to Discourage Rabbits

As gardeners, it’s easy to feel like invasive pests are the problem and we’re forced to deal with them.

A gardener raking autumn leaves off the lawn in the fall garden, pictured in light sunshine.

But in this instance, we can actually help to create a place that provides an inviting alternative for the bunnies to dine on without destroying our precious edible seedlings and carefully cultivated ornamentals.

As prey animals, rabbits are looking for safe places to shelter with food nearby. Who can blame them if they settle on a garden spot that’s close to piles of brush or leaves?

A garden scene with a white picket fence, flowers and lawn in the foreground, and various flowering shrubs in soft focus in the background.

Discouraging them is a two-part process. First, eliminate all the untidy spots in the yard where they’d love to hide or nest.

This includes brush piles, weedy patches, and undergrowth around landscape bushes.

Second, make sure they have a more appealing spot available on the far edges of your property, or at least several yards away from the plants and blooms you’d like to preserve.

That alternative bunny oasis could be pretty simple, leaving a patch of clover in the yard unmowed, for example.

Or you could go so far as to plant a patch of something easy to grow that’s tasty to the little hoppers. Think of it as a trap crop, only not for insects.

Plant these tasty tidbits in a place they can reach far more easily than, say, your prized petunias or newly sprouted cucumbers.

Because they’re constantly on the run to avoid hawks, owls, neighborhood dogs, and the like, trust me: they’ll go for the stuff you plant that’s located somewhere accessible first.

Bunnies are the original fans of “low lying fruit.”

Some gardeners might think this is taking “live and let live” a little too far. But I like to think I’m being both practical and tenderhearted when I grow a few extra green bean plants in the ground so my harvest doesn’t suffer.

If rabbits eat those, I’ve still got my “real crop” in a distant raised bed.

Grow Plants They Don’t Like

Unlike humans, who are sticklers in terms of which flowers they consider edible, our rabbit friends will eat zinnias, mustard blooms, dahlias, and thousands of others with equal abandon.

They’ll also nosh on greens, stems if they’re soft, fruits (including tomatoes), vegetables ranging from corn to cucumbers to hot peppers, and many others.

If you’ve noticed your garden is appealing, you may want to opt for a few plants that rabbits won’t eat.

Just a few of the flowers on that list include Mexican marigolds, dusty miller, lavender, yarrow, butterfly weed, Russian sage, and Stylophorum (celandine poppy).

A close up top down picture of garlic chives growing in the garden in light sunshine.
Photo by Rose Kennedy.

On the vegetable side, they steer clear of all the alliums. If you haven’t ever grown onions, chives, leeks, or garlic, this could be your chance!

Of course, you wouldn’t be willing to grow nothing but Russian sage and chives if your passion is gladioli and winter squash.

But you can opt to put the plants rabbits love most into raised beds or fenced areas, and grow the ones that they ignore in the gardens you can’t protect as easily.

Use Scents Against Them

If you’ve tried all these tactics and still feel like you’re the unwilling host of a 24-hour salad bar, consider the rabbits’ sense of smell.

Sprinkling bone meal around your most desirable plants is a natural deterrent, for example, although it smells terrible to humans as well.

A close up of a brown and white dog sitting beside a wooden raised bed garden containing foliage and yellow flowers.

You can also have your dog leave his scent, and create a ruckus while he’s doing it.

Let Fido romp near the garden in the evenings, and the cute little furry critters might cross your garden off their list of safe harbors.

Don’t fall for the mothball myth, though. While they might be a deterrent for a time, they only work in small spaces.

They contain chemicals that are not safe to use around vegetables or any edible plants.

And they’ve got insecticides (hence the name mothball) that kill many bugs and could harm other types of wildlife or young humans.

Nothing to See Here, Peter Rabbit

Even if you don’t have an impressionable youngster about the place, it’s always simplest to try to take all the measures you can to prevent rabbit damage without doing away with the cute little critters.

No one likes Mr. McGregor and that doggone pitchfork, you know.

The less appealing your garden and yard are, the fewer bunnies you’ll have. Because they’re constantly hunted, they’ll go for the easiest shelter and food sources they come across.

A close up of a small rabbit with autumn foliage in the foreground, and grass in soft focus in the background.

Don’t make your garden that Foo Foo’s bed-and-breakfast, and you can probably avoid the bulk of issues they can create.

Have a suggestion that’s worked for you? Or an opinion about the “live and let live” approach to garden wildlife? We’d love to hear your remarks, so post away in the comments below.

And if you liked these handy tips for rabbits, here are a few other guides to garden wildlife to read next:

Photo of author


An avid raised bed vegetable gardener and former “Dirt to Fork” columnist for an alt-weekly newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, Rose Kennedy is dedicated to sharing tips that increase yields and minimize work. But she’s also open to garden magic, like the red-veined sorrel that took up residence in several square yards of what used to be her back lawn. She champions all pollinators, even carpenter bees. Her other enthusiasms include newbie gardeners, open-pollinated sunflowers, 15-foot-tall Italian climbing tomatoes, and the arbor her husband repurposed from a bread vendor’s display arch. More importantly, Rose loves a garden’s ability to make a well-kept manicure virtually impossible and revive the spirits, especially in tough times.
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Jeddie (@guest_2253)
5 years ago

A well written article! Unfortunately, the buns in our area seem to like the marigolds and dusty miller. We have been successful with 1 tsp hot sauce to one quart of water sprayed on the “No Munch” zone.

T Renner
T Renner (@guest_2819)
5 years ago

Thanks for the tips. However, rabbits are not rodents. They are lagomorphs!

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  T Renner
5 years ago

You are absolutely correct! This article’s on our list for an update. 🙂

Pam (@guest_4462)
4 years ago

I have had success using bamboo sticks and fishing line. I arrange the bamboo sticks around lilies and other rabbit desirables. I tie the fishing line around the sticks in a ladder fashion leaving trailing ends that reach to the ground. I also tie fishing line on the “ladder” in between the sticks and let it wind to the ground. The fishing line moves with the slightest breeze which deters the skittish rabbits and deer. Plus I don’t see it. I live on an acreage and enjoy the wildlife but I enjoy my plants more.

Lelia (@guest_11454)
Reply to  Pam
2 years ago

I would like a line drawing of that – it might be worth trying

Joanne McCudden
Joanne McCudden (@guest_11258)
3 years ago

easy way to dispose of carcasses is in a pie ;). Lucky for our bunnies, I’ll try to chicken wire around my roses first lol.

Sad (@guest_13245)
2 years ago

Dog does not help. Rabbits come at night when dog inside. Also rabbits have fleas, so I do not want my dog catching them. Bunnies love to sit opposite side of fence nibbling on grass in neighbors yard — seem to tease dog! Sadly neighbors with poor or no lattice around deck and have no flowers or garden, do not care that they are providing lovely homes for the rabbits.

Lisa (@guest_17816)
1 year ago

Have made natural bunny repellant with moderate success. Ingredients include 5 mashed garlic cloves, one tbsp red peppers, 1 tbsp dish soap, 1 gallon water. Let steep in sun for a few days and then use with sprayer. Seems to work till it rains. Downside: neighbors think I’m a crazy lady!

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Lisa
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing, Lisa! I find working hard in the garden and experimenting with new things often serves as an excellent form of neighbor repellent as well… to each their own, right? 😉

Nina (@guest_29536)
9 months ago

Rabbits are eating my dusty Miller 🤬

Lynn M
Lynn M (@guest_30016)
8 months ago

Thanks for the article! I found you because (what I’m guessing are) bunnies ate the tops of my Yarrow right off! t because something ate them and our Black-eyed Susans year before. I’m not sure if it is rabbits though, because everything I read says they usually don’t like Yarrow and we even sprayed with rabbit repellent. We have deer fencing, so it’s not them. Any ideas of another animal that would eat them in the garden? I’m scared for my Black-eyed Susan’s, cone flowers and the rest (I live in Greenwich, CT) I appreciate any advise you may have,… Read more »

Lynn M
Lynn M (@guest_30020)
Reply to  Lynn M
8 months ago

***EDIT: I just went out and looked at the Yarrow again and the tops of the flowers are actually still laying on the ground around the plant, so it seems they just ate the stem. Also, no bunny pellets!

Betz Golon
Betz Golon (@guest_34087)
5 months ago

Don’t forget Mr Skunk, he can also reck havoc on tender young plants and I’ve actually seen one enjoying my marigolds