Issue: May 26, 1997

Rabbits eating garden


I always thought bunnies were cute animals, but now they are destroying my garden and landscape. What can I do short of shooting every rabbit in the county?


This is a common problem in rural landscapes and even in gardens on the outer fringes of urban areas. Dr. Jon Boren, Extension Wildlife Specialist at New Mexico State University, wrote the following:

Various types of wildlife occasionally are undesirable near homes and in lawns or gardens because of the damage they do. For example, I often get the question "How do I protect my garden and ornamental trees from rabbits?" Landscaped yards provide excellent rabbit habitats, accounting for the prevalence of rabbits in most suburban and urban areas. They are active year round, feeding in the summer on succulent green plants and in the winter on buds, twigs, and bark of trees and shrubs. Occasionally, rabbits eat the growing plants in home gardens. In winter they can destroy or injure ornamental shrubs, fruit trees, or berry bushes around the home.

Various chemical repellents are available as a means of reducing or preventing rabbit damage to garden crops, trees, and shrubs. The purpose of the repellent is to make the protected plants less desirable by treating with a material distasteful to the rabbit. There has been a considerable variety of repellents recommended in the form of paints, smears, or sprays. However, many of these provide only temporary protection and must be renewed too often to warrant their use.

The best insurance against rabbit damage to gardens is a tight poultry wire fence. One-inch-mesh wire 30 to 36 inches high is adequate if held firmly in position by stakes. The bottom 6 inches of the wire should be turned outward and buried to minimize the chance of rabbits getting by. The initial cost of fencing a garden plot 25 by 50 feet is about fifteen dollars. In some gardens, this wire is still in good shape after six years. Where large areas of uncultivated field or shrubby areas adjoin the garden, this is the only permanent solution to the rabbit problem. Tall grass, weeds, and brush near the garden also should be cut frequently to reduce the protective cover they provide for rabbits.

Young trees and shrubs also may be protected by individual wire guards. These can be made using 1-inch-mesh poultry wire formed into cylinders and anchored in the ground at the base. These cylinders should be large enough for the wire to be several inches from the trunk or stems and supported to prevent rabbits from pressing them against the trees and gnawing through them and to prevent the wire from girdling the tree. The height of the guard depends upon the greatest depth of snowfall that may be expected, the age of the trees, and the manner and height of branching of the main trunk. The wire should reach 2 feet above accumulated snow, protecting trunk and lower branches. If it does not, add more wire. It may be necessary after heavy snowfall to tramp down the snow so that rabbits can't reach unprotected trunk or branches. Fall pruning also reduces rabbit damage if the pruned branches are left near the tree. This is because these animals often eat the bark and twigs from the pruned branches rather than the live growth.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!