Protecting Shrubs/Trees from Rabbits

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends!  As I looked into my backyard this weekend, I realized I needed to protect the new shrubs I planted from rabbit damage this winter.  Kelly Feehan, Extension Educator in Platte County shares some good information on how to do this.  She says trees are at particular risk when they are young and the bark is thin. Feeding by rabbits on tree trunks can girdle and kill a tree; or stress a tree and increase susceptibility to insect borers, disease and decay.  Ideally, place at least a two foot tall cylinder of one inch mesh poultry netting (chicken wire) or hardware cloth around tree trunks. A cylinder of black plastic drain tile, cut to length and slit down one side also works well.

Most multi-stemmed shrubs will survive having the majority of their stems removed. However, desirable bud, flower and/or fruit development may be harmed. While rabbits will nibble the tips of shrub stems growing through poultry netting or above snow, a two foot high cylinder still provides helpful protection. 

Taste and odor repellants are another method used on landscape trees and shrubs. They can be effective if rabbit populations are not too high and when rabbits have another source of food to turn to.  The effectiveness of any repellent will be reduced by time, wind and moisture. Repellants need to be reapplied according to label directions.

Taste repellents make plants less tasty for rabbits and are typically applied directly to plants. Examples are those containing capsaicin or hot pepper extract such as Get Away™ or Scoot™. Their effectiveness tends to be short-lived and requires reapplication.  Odor repellents keep rabbits away from an area by fear or foul smell. They are typically applied to soil in the perimeter area and/or on plant foliage to repel rabbits. Check the label for proper application rate, method and site before applying any repellent. Most cannot be used on plants used for human consumption.  A wide variety of active ingredients are used for odor repellants, including: ammonium or potassium salts of soaps (M-pede™; RoPel™), eggs (DeFence®), zinc dimethyldithiocarbamate (Earl May® Rabbit Scat), predator urine (Shake-Away™), or garlic (Sweeny’s® Deer & Rabbit Repellent ).  Naphthalene is another ingredient in commercial repellents (Dr. T’s™, Enoz Skat™) but the alternative chemical, paradichlorobenzene (found in many moth balls) is illegal for use outdoors. Some concern also exists over the safety of napthalene products. There are no toxicants (poisons) registered for rabbits in Nebraska. 

It is not recommended to provide an alternate source of food for rabbits to try and reduce damage to desirable plants. Providing other food, such as clover or alfalfa, may simply attract more rabbits and lead to increased damage.  Rabbit numbers may be reduced by removing brush piles and tall weeds, particularly those located near new windbreaks. Mow to remove vegetation within three to four feet of recently planted trees and shrubs.  Although rabbits eat most plants, especially when food is in short supply; a partial list of plants most often eaten by rabbits can be found in the Managing Rabbit Damage Nebguide available at local Extension offices or at

If a plant is killed by rabbit feeding, consider replacing it with a plant on this list. Keep this in mind though; rabbits do not read our lists!

About jenreesources

I'm the Crops and Water Extension Educator for York and Seward counties in Nebraska with a focus in irrigated crop production and plant pathology.

Posted on November 28, 2011, in Horticulture, Trees and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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