Photo Eastern cottontail rabbit by Thomas Wright, UF

Rabbits are one of the cutest garden nuisances around. While a furry little cotton-tail hopping through your landscape may bring you joy initially, seeing the quick work they can make of your tender plantings will rain on that joy.

When enjoying the buffet your garden offers, rabbits usually prefer young, tender shoots. They enjoy vegetables like lettuce, beans, and broccoli as well as flowers including gazania, marigolds, pansies, and petunias. Young curious rabbits may even take a nibble of any and all plants, even ones that have been said to be “rabbit-resistant,” as they determine what they like and don’t like.

Identifying damage

Rabbit feeding generally occurs at night, so you may not be able to catch these cute critters in the act. You’ll have to look for the signs of their damage. Vanishing plants is one; plants that disappear overnight, particularly new shoots of plants like peas, Swiss chard, or pepper might be caused by a rabbit problem. Plant damage is usually easy to identify; their teeth leave a clean cut, almost as if the leaf has been trimmed with a tool. Other signs include evidence of digging, burrows, or tufts of fur that might get caught on a shrub or fence. Pea-sized droppings, either in small piles or scattered throughout the garden, are another way you can tell that rabbits have been around.

Protecting your plants

The simplest way to keep rabbits out of your garden is to make the area isn’t an ideal habitat. Rabbits like to have cover from predators; they like to hide in places like low-growing shrubs, tall grasses, and brush piles. Sheds, porches, and low decks are another favorite spot, for hiding and burrowing. Pets with run of the landscape can also be good for deterring rabbits.

If you’re looking to protect a particular section of your garden, you can use a chicken wire fence around the area. Look for chicken wire with one-inch mesh or smaller, and create a fence that is at least two feet tall and is buried six inches down into the ground. Bird netting can also be placed over seedlings or young plants to keep rabbits from nibbling away. Whatever protection method you choose, be sure to check it periodically to make sure an opening hasn’t been made.

Interplanting plants that rabbits like with ones they are less fond of may encourage them to avoid the area entirely. Rabbits tend to avoid some vegetables like asparagus, leeks, onions, potatoes, rhubarb, squash, and tomatoes. They also avoid some herbs like basil, mint, oregano, parsley, and tarragon, as well as flowers like cleomes, geraniums, vincas, and wax begonias.

UF/IFAS Publications