Questions on: Rabbits

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: I have someone in my office who has some shrubs that have had the bark eaten off by rabbits. The bark has been eaten off from the ground up about 8 inches. Will the shrubs die? (Ellendale, N.D.)

A: If the bark has been completely removed around the stems, the wood above that point is dead. The shrubs often will send out a flush of new growth as they would if they were cut back heavily, so don't dig them out just yet. Cut off the damaged stems to the crown and see what happens.

Q: A rabbit has sampled my boulevard tree above the snowline, but not all the way around the trunk. It appears the tree may be splitting where the rabbit removed the bark. Anything I can put on the tree where the bark is missing to protect the tree and keep it alive? (e-mail reference)

A: Cut off any loose bark and allow the tree to heal on its own. Next fall, wrap the trunk as far up as possible.

Q: I have a large caliper crabapple tree that I planted last summer. Rabbits have removed the bark from approximately two-thirds of the height of the trunk. What are the chances the tree will survive? What can I do to save the tree? Should I graft or paint? (e-mail reference)

A: Start a national campaign on the health benefits of eating rabbit meat! From your description, the tree is a goner. You can attempt what is known as bridge grafting, but from the damage you describe, I sincerely think it would be a waste of time and effort. Rabbits can be controlled a number of ways. Wrap the trunk as high as possible and spray the remaining bare branches with Hinder, Liquid Fence or a hot pepper spray.

Q: Rabbits ate much of the bark off my sandcherry bushes. Are the bushes toast or will they come back? I know new shoots will come up, but are the mature stems gone? The rabbits didnít eat the bark very deeply. The rabbits paid the supreme sacrifice for their actions. (e-mail reference)

A: If there is even a thin strip of bark connecting the top of the shrubs to the base, the bushes likely will releaf and survive. If the bark is denuded a great deal, you are better off cutting them back heavily this March or April and allowing the plants to sucker. Next fall, be a little wiser by applying a rabbit repellent, such as Plantskydd, before the snow arrives. Even though you've taken care of the current offenders, others will arrive soon to take their place.

Q: I am having trouble keeping rabbits from my shrubs and flowers. I have used liquid fence in the past. It seems to help, but it is so darned expensive. I read about using hot pepper spray on your Web site. Could you please e-mail your recipe for this spray? (e-mail reference)

A: Red cayenne, Jalapeno or habanera fresh peppers can be used in the preparation, but be careful if you use habanera because the capsaicin concentration is high enough to cause serious damage to the preparer! Jalapenos should be hot enough to keep the bunnies away. The quickest way to come up with a concoction is to take three fresh peppers and run them through a food processor with enough water added to create a liquid. Pour the liquid through a cheesecloth mesh into a glass quart jar. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive or other vegetable oil, a squirt of Elmerís glue and a drop or two of liquid dishwashing detergent. Use one part of the concentration to 10 parts water. Shake well just before application. This should discourage the bunnies without hurting them. If not, then make the concentration stronger, to 30 percent, or just go up to the cayenne pepper for extra heat. Be sure to reapply after new growth appears or after a good rain.

Q: My husband was listening to you on the radio the other day. His ears perked up when you mentioned some products for keeping rabbits at bay. However, he couldnít write them down at the time because he was in the car. Could you please give me the names of these products? The rabbits ate all three of my bridal wreath bushes. Iíve been cutting Irish Spring soap and sprinkling it over the ground; however, the smell is enough to drive the entire neighborhood indoors. After the sun shines on the soap, it turns white and looks like mold. Therefore, Iím out to find something else. (Fargo, N.D.)

A: Thanks for being a listener! The products you want to look for are Hinder or Plantskydd. Go to for specific information on field trial results.

Q: We recently planted some flowers in our front yard. The bunnies love the petunias and some of the other flowers. Our local hardware store told me to sprinkle moth balls in the flower bed to keep the bunnies away. So far, it doesn't seem to be working. Also, we saw a grackle pick a moth ball and rub its feathers with it. Have you ever heard of this before and will the moth balls harm the grackle? What do you recommend to keep rabbits from devouring our flowers? I don't believe that trapping them will be effective because the neighborhood seems to be overrun with the fluffy critters! (e-mail reference)

A: Welcome to the club; rabbits are the biggest domestic horticulturist's problem. The grackle is a smart bird. It recognizes that moth balls are an effective de-bugger, so it uses them as part of its grooming and cleaning routine. Don't worry, the grackle will survive and thrive. We have found that moth balls are totally ineffective at controlling bunnies or mice, but great at controlling moths. What I have found that works is Scat, a hot pepper (capsaicin) spray. They taste it once and never come back. If the local hardware store doesn't have it, most local and national garden centers do.

Q: I have a rose bush that I planted this spring. I noticed earlier that something was eating the leaves and used some Bug B' Gone spray on it. It helped for a while, but this week I noticed that the leaves are almost completely eaten. What is eating the leaves? The roses themselves are gorgeous and abundant. Should I continue using the Bug B' Gone or is there something better? There are lots of rabbits in our neighborhood. Could they be the culprits? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Absolutely it could be the rabbits! Spray some hot pepper spray on the plants and that will keep the little bounders from eating your roses.

Q: I have three Colorado blue spruce that I planted about three years ago. They are doing great but I have a problem with rabbits. They ate a lot of the needles and branches. That was two winters ago. Last year I put up a fence to stop the rabbits. Is there any way to trim the trees to shape them? The rabbits ate out of the middle to about three feet up the tree. (Fargo, N.D.)

A:  I have never heard of rabbits eating spruce needles, especially three feet up the tree! Yes, you can prune to help reshape the tree. Spruce have buds along their stems where the needles are attached. Using an electric hedge shear is the easiest way to do it.

Q: I have a problem with rabbits eating my petunias. I have used a spray and that slows them down a bit. I also bought a live animal trap but they never go in there. Any suggestions on bait and placement of the trap would be appreciated. (Brentwood, Tenn.)

A: We have the same problem up here as well. We call them "urban livestock!" We use a live trap and lead a food trail right into it (lettuce, rabbit food, carrots, etc).. Ours are dumb enough to take the bait. We then take them about five miles away and drop them off in a non-agricultural field. Sprinkling dried blood around the perimeter of the plantings will also help, to a point.

Q: I just noticed that the rabbits stripped off about a 4-inch piece of bark around the trunk of my best 5-year-old ash tree. This is the first time they have bothered it. We had plastic wrapping around it, but I noticed that the way the snow has drifted this year the snow is now higher than the wrap. Would it be best to dig out around the tree so that they can't get any higher? Is there anything we should do to repair the tree later? Will the rabbits continue to eat further into the tree, or do they just want the bark? I have no experience with tree problems and don't know what to do. (E-mail reference)

A: As long as the tree was not girdled it will most likely be all right. The rabbits are desperate now, with the thick snow cover, in their search for food. Digging out around the tree would help; wrapping the tree with aluminum foil at the current snow height would also help; spraying a pepper spray on the branches and trunk would also help; using a material such as Ropel, which has a bitter taste, would help as well. Notice that I am using the words "would help," not stop or cure. They are persistent animals at foraging for food, and quite frankly, if you would feed them sunflower or corn, they would much rather eat that than the bark off your trees. I know this is like "feeding the enemy," but if your objective is to keep your plant material from being damaged, rabbits are smart enough to go the path of least resistance, eat what you put out for them, and pretty much leave your plant material alone. By the way, live trapping also helps. Just transport them a minimum of three miles away.

Q: We have a problem that is very frustrating. What can we do with rabbits that eat and chew on our flowers and other plants? We have tried blood meal and red pepper, but to no avail. (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: I have something new for you to try to keep the rabbits away! Craig Armstrong, the city forester in Dickinson, swears this works. Try placing a couple of motion detector statue frogs in some strategic locations on your property. I was told that when these things croak, the cottontail goes running!

Q. I have read your garden tips in the Forum for many years, and find them very helpful and informative.

My problem is with rabbits chewing off my flower and vegetable plants.

Thank you for any help you can give. (Moorhead, Minn.)

A.A number of approaches can be used in controlling rabbit damage.

1.Exclusion fencing. My wife and I find this to be very effective.

2.An easier source of food. Sunflower seeds, cracked corn, etc., may work to limit their damage to vegetables.

3.Store-bought or homemade repellents. Cayenne pepper works quite well.

Q: The rabbits ate all the buds off the tulips so they didn't bloom and also debarked the honeysuckle bushes. What can I do to get rid of them? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Probably the best answer is to write a book titled "100 Favorite Rabbit Recipes." We have had problems with them as well. We trap them in a live
trap and transport them to the country. Ro-pel (a commercial product), deodorant soap, human hair and predator urine (fox, wolf or dog) are all the
other usual control measures.

Q: I read in your column about rabbits eating tulip buds and other flowers, and I would like to tell you what I do to keep them away. I sprinkle blood meal around
my plants. (Warren, Minn.)

A: Thank you for this time-tested tip. I find that blood meal needs continuous reapplication. We have tried many tricks to keep the rabbits away,
including but not limited to human hair, deodorant soap, Ropell, dog urine, noise makers responding to movement, pepper spray, live trapping and
exclusion fencing. To date, the last two seem most effective.

Q: Here’s a tip to keep rabbits out of flower gardens. I take branches off of my Russian sage bush and lay them around my flowers, and the rabbits leave them
alone. (Oldham, S.D.)

A: Thank you for a new tip on controlling rabbit damage! I had never heard of Russian sage being used for this, but it is logical, given the strong aroma
that sage has.

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