Rabbits in the Garden
Featured Animal August 2015
Protecting your Garden from Rabbits
Damage from rabbits has been a plague for gardeners since we started agriculture, I think. So, there is a lot of information out there -- some information better than others. Given that you are from Iron County, I'm going to assume that you are having problems with cottontails, not jackrabbits, although the possible solutions would be similar.
Control of rabbits can come in several forms: Habitat Modification, Exclusion, Repellants, and Frightening.
Habitat modification means changing your garden environment, usually to be less appealing to rabbits. You should try to remove anything that can create a shelter for rabbits. This would include debris and brush piles in the back of the yard, low level decks that can have a small area between the deck and the ground, a storage shed that is seldom entered by you, a fallow field with high grass; basically anything that could make a suitable place for a small rabbit to hide. By removing "rabbit friendly" habitat, you will reduce the ability of a rabbit to spend time in your yard.
Exclusion methods are those that attempt to keep rabbits out of a distinct area, in this case your garden. How you do this will depend mostly on the size of your garden and whether or not you have garden boxes or simply till the land. The best method for excluding rabbits is to build a woven wire (1-in mesh) fence about 2 ft. high. Unlike European rabbits, cottontails do not dig extensively. However, they can still dig; so if you have a smaller garden, I would suggest burying the wire mesh a couple inches into the ground. Otherwise, just make sure to have the fence very snug against the ground. If you already have a wire fence around your garden, simply attach the smaller mesh fence along the bottom, making sure it is snug to the ground and about 2 feet high.
If exclusion isn't working you may also try repellants. Repellants require more frequent attention than fences, but if used correctly they may work. The downside to many commercial repellants is that they are often not something you would like to spray on your food. However, they may be a consideration prior to your vegetables producing edible products. Some people have reported that sprinkling mothballs around the garden will repel rabbits. However, if you have a larger garden, or small children in the area, this may not be a good option.
There is a commercial market for frightening devices for most animals. To be useful, they need to be unpredictable yet constantly applied. For example, a playback of a cottontail in trouble that is attached to a motion sensor might work for you. There are also a few new devices that squirt water when activated by motion. However, it is important to remember that a hungry rabbit will conquer his/her fears in order to get food.