By Ralph E. Mitchell
The eastern cottontail rabbit is a natural part of both rural and urban environments in our area. When these rabbits become abundant in urban areas, things can get a bit ticklish when it comes to home gardens and landscapes. Cottontails know what is good to eat, and a rabbit-ravished garden can be heart-breaking! How can both rabbit and human live together in relative harmony? Is there a happy ending to this bunny tale?
The eastern cottontail rabbit is native throughout North America where this two to four pound gray/brown herbivore finds an abundance of food sources. Throw in an unprotected vegetable garden full of beans, peas and beets and the temptation is too much for them to pass by. Exclusion is perhaps the best way to protect this type of garden. Chicken wire fencing at least two-feet tall will keep out rabbits. If you have individual plants to protect, make a cylinder of hardware cloth as a barrier.
For gardens that cannot be fenced, try a repellent product. One of the more effective types contains the material capsaicin derived from hot peppers. Rabbits find this material both repellent and taste aversive thus protecting plants. As with any repellent make sure to read the label and apply as directed. A living repellent may also work. The simple fact of having a dog around can be enough of a deterrent to keep rabbits away. The smell of the urine alone may extent the dog’s discouraging nature.
While rabbits can be live-trapped, this is often a last resort, difficult at best, and may be best left to professional nuisance wildlife trappers if needed. Certainly, the encouragement and preservation of natural predators such as owls, foxes and bobcats that may also patrol urban and suburban landscapes, goes without saying, and should be part of your rabbit suppression program.
Things not to use include ultrasonic devices which have not been proven to be effective. Mothballs should also not be used as they are a registered pesticide specifically formulated to repel and kill clothes moths in tightly sealed indoor containers – this is not as a rabbit repellent!
I have had my fair share of rabbit run-ins that I do not want to repeat. Fencing – even temporary fencing – to act as a barrier and encourage the rabbit to keep moving – has offered the greatest success. I have also found that cottontail populations rise and fall over a period of time even in urban settings. Keep your eyes out for bunnies, have your fence in place or ready-to-go, and don’t get too stressed out about it. Both you and the neighborhood cottontails will likely settle on a barrier-rich truce agreeable to all! For more information on all types of nuisance wildlife issues, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/01/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf .
Ober, H. K. & Kane, A. (2015) How to Use Deterrents to Stop Damage Caused by Nuisance Wildlife in Your Yard. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Fishel, F. (2017) The Facts about Mothballs. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Vazquez, R. J., Koehler, P. G., & Pereira, R. M. (2017) Clothes Moths. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Craven, S. R. (2005) Cottontail Rabbits. Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.
Easter Cottontail Rabbit: Sylvilagus floridanus. (2018) Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission