Part of the Leporidae family, the Oryctolagus cuniculus, known as the European rabbit, is one of the most encountered genera of this family, and the best known one. Rabbits usually live in groups, in underground burrows and feed on grass, forbs, and leafy weeds. Their most common habitats include meadows, woods, forests, grasslands, deserts and wetlands. The European rabbit has been largely domesticated and bred for food and as a pet, and along the history, rabbits have also been used for their pelts, as scarves and hats are often made out their fur. However, when they reach a yard or garden and make a shelter out of it, rabbits are known to become pests, as they start feeding on the vegetables they find. Whether it’s a domesticated specie or a wild one, as a result of their appetites, and the rate at which they breed, especially wild ones, rabbits can become problematic for the agriculture industry. Rabbits in Australia and New Zealand are considered to be such a pest that land owners are legally obliged to control them, which is why many methods of control exist when it comes to these mammals.
Signs of infestation
Although cute and fluffy, rabbits can pose great threats to crops, so keeping them in check is very important. Knowing when you are dealing with a rabbit infestation is the key to a quick and effective control of the situation.
In addition to seeing the damage they cause to plants, as they eat anything from broad-leafed weeds, clover, grasses, leaves, roots, to fruits like berries or vegetables, you can also recognise their presence by their droppings. You need to carefully observe the leaves and stalks that have been left behind, as quite often, rabbits eat everything from a plant, down to the ground. The leaves that remain, will seem clearly cut as though trimmed with scissors, as opposed to ragged edges. In the winter, they will most likely eat the bark and twigs off of trees and shrubs, attacking especially younger trees, with softer bark. You will find the most damage done at the bottom of the tree, as they can only reach up to about 50 cm. They do their most damage in the spring, as the plants are all fresh, young and juicy, and easier to eat.
When it comes to recognising their droppings, know that rabbit pellets are about the same size and shape as a pea and they may appear scattered or in small piles. They pass two distinct types of faeces: hard droppings and soft black viscous pellets, which are immediately eaten. Rabbits reingest their own droppings to help them to digest their food further and extract sufficient nutrients.
Getting rid of rabbits through natural methods
The most important step in deterring rabbits from your property is altering their environment. As they love tall grass and excessive plant growth, mowing the lawn will make your property less attractive. Landscaping your yard in order to make it less hospitable to these pests is the first step to getting rid of them. Besides from mowing the grass, you also need to rake any fallen leaves or fruits, trim back excessive vegetation from bushes and shrubs, make sure your garden is not full of weeds and clear up any other type of debris, such as wood piles. Remove fallen branches and trim your shrubbery so that the rabbits cannot hide behind it. And if you have willow, oak, and maple trees on your property, be advised that these trees are very appealing to rabbits.
Also, when encountering an abandoned burrow, fill it with gravel in order to make it inhospitable. Rabbits often take over such burrows, and make them their own, especially in cold or wet weather. They are also attracted to places that offer water and safe hiding spots, so keeping the area around your hose clear of such opportunities will make the property inhospitable.
Depending on the season, a rabbit’s behaviour and habits change, so you need to adapt your control methods accordingly.
In the summer, you can fight of rabbits by fencing the area you want to protect. They can barely jump higher than 1 m, so you won’t need to install a very high fence. However, as rabbits are very good diggers, it is best to make the fence deep into the ground. This will prevent them from getting through and attacking your garden. You can also fence just some plants, shrubs or flower beds, by using a net border around them, and you can also protect your trees by wrapping aluminium foil or some other protective cover around their trunks. Poultry netting with a 3-cm mesh and that is up to 60-cm wide is ideal for cutting into strips and forming into cylinders for placement around the trunks of young trees, shrubs, or vines. Wrap hardware cloth around the bases of shrubs and trees that are susceptible to damage. Rabbits cannot gnaw through hardware cloth and it will effectively protect shrubs and trees.
Repellents for Rabbits control:
Repellents rely heavily on creating unpleasant sensations strictly for which animals or insect they are addressed to. However, it can be difficult to design a repellent method that drives away only undesirable animals, while having no effect on people or other creatures.
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Using repellents is another way of keeping the rabbits at bay. As they sniff a lot, they have a very sensitive smell, so you can use odour repellents to make your property less desirable. Planting onions around the garden or dusting your plants with plain talcum powder or peppermint powder can keep them away. For a homemade rabbit repellent, you can use hot peppers, onions and garlic, keep them in water overnight and then spray the mixture over the targeted plants. Cayenne pepper, human hair, dog hair, or manure on the ground can help deter rabbits. You can also spray vegetables with a mixture of vinegar and water with a small amount of hot sauce mixed in as well.
Blood or bone meal fertilizer repels rabbits because they are natural herbivores, and these fertilizers are great for your garden as well. Putrefied fish and fermented eggs are also natural things that can be used to repel rabbits, as well as predator urine. Coyote and fox urine has said to be effective for scaring away rabbits, but it does wear off quickly and needs to be reapplied, especially after rain.
Plants that rabbits avoid are goatweed, impatiens, and verbena, perennials like echinacea and honeysuckle, and groundcover such as big periwinkle and bougainvillea. They also avoid shrubs like rhododendrons and camellias, so try to incorporate these into your yard or garden.
Traps for Rabbits control:
Traps are used to monitor or reduce the population of insects or other pests. They can be used against crawling, flying insects, mice, rats, cats, dogs, snakes or other pests. Mechanical traps are ideal for catching these pests, as they can be used repetitively.
Trapping rabbits is another way of getting rid of them. There are those that are meant to kill it, but before using those, you need to check the legislation of your area to make sure killing the rabbits is legal. You can also choose humane live traps, whit which you only bait and catch the rabbit, and you can relocate it afterwards. Again, checking the legislation is important, as it may be illegal to relocate rabbits in certain areas, as you are just moving the problem on someone else’s property.
Make sure to place your trap in a spot where you have noticed rabbit activity or damage. The ideal locations for trap placement are hedges, shrubs, fence lines, brush piles, tall grass, woodpiles, bushes, tree lines. Placing it in open land will not be as effective, as rabbits rarely venture into open territory. If you manage to locate the entrance to a rabbit den, you can also place the trap in close to the entrance.
Baiting the trap is also important, depending on the season. In summer, rabbits prefer fruits and veggies like apples and carrots. In the winter, it’s easier to bait rabbits with things that contain little water, because they are prone to freezing. Dried or dehydrated fruits are best to use. After baiting the trap, check if often to see if you managed to catch anything, as a rabbit can quickly grow hungry when it’s deprived of nourishment. Wear gloves when dealing with your catch and if the local laws allow it, find a faraway place where you can release the rabbit into the wild.
Motion activated sprinklers are also often used to keep rabbits away. This is an eco-friendly way of scaring rabbits from your property. By spraying water every time a rabbit moves in the sensor’s range, or by emitting annoying sounds, the electronic device manages to keep your property secure through its sudden movements. You can install them in almost any area, such as the ones shown below:
- vegetable patches
- pool areas
- brush cover
Hunting rabbits is officially permitted in most regions. Be sure to follow licensing and hunting season laws in your area, as this activity can take place only at certain times during the year, and great fines can be applied if acting outside the season.
Getting rid of rabbits through chemical methods
Alongside the natural repellents stated above, some chemical ones can also be used when it comes to fighting off invasive rabbits. Ammonium soap repels them, but it should only be used near non-edible plants. Fungicides containing Thiram are also often used as a chemical solution against rabbits. Such fungicide sprays are repulsive to rabbits, but they are also toxic to humans, so they should not be used in on plants that you are going to eat, only on trees, shrubs or other ornamental plants. A solution containing the bitter Bitrex can also be sprayed to deter rabbits, but generally only if the garden is made up of flowers because Bitrex will alter the taste of vegetables. Chemical repellents used against rabbits are mostly toxic to humans too, and should not be used on fruits and vegetables. They often work only for a short time and need to be reapplied frequently, so they are not very effective all over your property.
There are non-toxic repellents however, in granular or liquid form, that are more often used, but these too, need to be applied more than once per season. Granular repellents last for 1-1,5 months and are harmless to people, pets and do not affect the soil if placed near irrigation systems. Sprinkling it around the plants you want to protect as uniformly as possible is the way to apply it. It will not harm the plants, but it will render them undesirable for rabbits. Granular repellents are the optimal solution for repelling rabbits in cold weather, since liquids cannot be sprayed on plants in damp, cold conditions.
Liquid repellents are also efficient, and they can be applied by spraying it over the affected territory or by watering the plants you want to protect with it. It comes in different concentrations, and you need to check the label of each type of product for its specific instructions, but it is more effective that the granular repellents, because you do not need to apply it all over the property, but you can rather make a barrier along the perimeter you want to protect. However, as with the granular repellents, this too will need to be reapplied after rain. To deter rabbits from eating vegetation, focus application 2-3 feet from ground level – this area is most vulnerable to rabbit damage.
Pellet repellents work the same way as the granular ones, and as they are non-toxic for children and pets, they are mostly based on essential oils of cedar, cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass and rosemary. Some of these type of granular, liquid or pellet repellents produce the scent of blood, decaying meat or another odour that repels rabbits, but being too faint for you to smell, it will not cause your yard to smell appalling.
Repellents can target multiple rabbits at once, so they are likely to be more efficient than trapping in areas with moderate to heavy rabbit density.
As rabbits’ natural food reserves are substantially reduced in winter, they get drawn to human accommodations in the hope of finding food and shelter. Show also helps in washing away or covering any repellents applied that would normally keep the rabbits away, so these become less effective in winter. Fencing and trapping remain the two main options when it comes to fighting a rabbit infestation in the cold season.
No matter what type of deterring method you chose to apply all year round, make sure to sustain it with preventive actions as well. By making sure your property is not appealing to rabbits and they do not have access to further food and shelter sources, you will be able to avoid future infestations, as these pests will relocate on their own, in search of better conditions. For more details on how to ‘Prevent infestation with Rabbits’, visit or related article.