Issue: Septe1ber 8, 2001

Garden Rabbit Control


We are having a problem which I hope you might give us some help with. We have a new home in the boonies and are trying to landscape. However, the rabbits eat virtually anything we plant from cactus to flowers. Is there anything we can spray on the plants to discourage the rabbits? My wife is particularly concerned about her flowers which are mostly desert type. Thanks -Chuck S. (via internet)


You, and many other people, have problems with rabbits causing landscape damage. I called Dr. Jon Boren, NMSU Extension Wildlife Specialist, who sent me the following information:

"I often get the question 'How do I protect my garden and ornamental trees from rabbits?' New Mexico is the home for the black-tailed jackrabbit and desert cottontail, which occur primarily in lowland and desert habitats. However, 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 spring and summer on succulent green plants. In fact, rabbits prefer green vegetation throughout the year when it is available. However, rabbits also will feed on buds, twigs, and bark of trees and shrubs, particularly during the fall and winter. For the homeowner, rabbits will occasionally eat the growing plants in gardens and landscaped yards. In winter they can destroy or injure ornamental shrubs, fruit trees, or berry bushes around the home.

"Rabbit repellents are often unsatisfactory for protecting plants from rabbits, especially in the long term. However, chemical repellent may provide some temporary protection from rabbit damage to trees, shrubs, vines, or garden crops. The purpose of the repellent is to make the protected plants less desirable by treating with a material distasteful to the rabbit. There have been a considerable variety of repellents recommended in the form of paints, smears, or sprays. Care must be taken when selecting the type of repellent you may chose for garden crops because many of the repellents are not designed or recommended for use on plants grown for human consumption. In addition, many repellents offer only temporary protection and must be renewed too often to justify their use. Repellents also must be used according to label instructions.

"The best insurance against rabbit damage to gardens is a tight poultry wire fence. One-inch-mesh wire 18- to 24- inches high for cottontails and 30- to 36- inches high for jackrabbits is adequate if held firmly in position by stakes. The bottom edge of the wire should be staked to the ground or buried several inches deep to prevent rabbits from burrowing under the fence. 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.

"Reusable fence panels also may easily be constructed to protect gardens. These 18- to 36-inch high panels (depending if excluding jackrabbits or cottontails) exclude foraging rabbits while allowing gardeners easy access. Panel frames can be constructed with 2- by 2-inch lumber. A 1-inch mesh galvanized wire, such as poultry netting (18 to 36 inches high), is fastened to one side of the frame. Panels can be made in various lengths to match the size of the garden. Lightweight posts, such as electric fence posts, are sufficient for support. One post should be place in each corner and at each junction of the panels. They can be fastened to the posts using malleable wire.

"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 for rabbits.

"The use of individual protectors to guard the trunks of young trees or vines is another form of exclusion. The best are cylinders made from woven wire netting. Poultry netting of -inch mesh, 20 gauge strips 12- to 18- inches wide can be formed into cylinders around trees. For adequate protection, these cylinders should be braced away from the trunk to prevent rabbits from pressing them against the trees and gnawing through them.

"Types of tree protectors commercially available include aluminum, nylon mesh wrapping, and polypropylene plastic. Aluminum foil, even ordinary plastic wraps, also has been wrapped around the trunks of small trees with effective results."

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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!