Q: Our neighborhood is overrun with rabbits this year. How can I keep them from eating my plants? Do mothballs work?
A: There do seem to be a lot of rabbits in some neighborhoods this summer. In my yard, I think I’m seeing three generations: big bunnies, medium-sized bunnies, and tiny bunnies. We used to have a fox hanging around, but it seems to have moved on, and the rabbits are taking full advantage.
The best deterrent against rabbits is a fence made of hardware cloth (chicken wire). It needs to have small openings – no bigger than 1 inch – so rabbits can’t wiggle through, and it needs to be buried 3 to 6 inches deep so they can’t tunnel under. If you don’t want to fence your whole yard, you could consider putting a cylinder of fencing around a plant, shrub or tree you particularly care about.
If fencing isn’t practical, repellents can be effective. Commercial and some homemade repellents do help keep rabbits (and deer) from chewing on plants, but they aren’t foolproof. If the plant the critters are eating is a favorite, they may eat it no matter what you spray on it.
Most repellents need to be reapplied after it rains. It’s a good idea to change repellents periodically, in case the animals start to get used to the one you’re using. Remember that most repellents are meant for ornamental plants, not for anything you were planning to eat. Read the label before spraying anything.
If you want to make your own repellent, you can try whipping three eggs in water, adding enough water to make a gallon, straining the mixture, and putting it in a sprayer. Spray the leaves of your plant thoroughly. This mixture has been fairly effective against deer in studies, and it may work with rabbits, too. Interestingly, research also shows that adding other smelly ingredients to this concoction may make it less effective, not more effective, because other smells may mask the egg smell. If you don’t use the mixture up right away, it’s going to get stinky. You can still use it, but wear gloves, don’t get it on your clothes, and don’t spray it right before a garden party. Reapply every two weeks and after it rains.
There are a lot of other ideas floating around the Internet for various substances that will purportedly deter rabbits. You can experiment with things like human or animal hair, red pepper, blood meal, or marigolds, but don’t rely on these methods to protect a plant that has a lot of value for you. We do not recommend using mothballs or Epsom salt in the garden.
Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send your questions to email@example.com.