The Iowa State University Extension published an article entitled, "Rabbit Damage to Tree Plantings." The article concentrates specifically on the potential damage done by cottontails and jackrabbits to trees. Both can "severely damage trees by girdling the trunks or major branches or by completely severing the growing points of terminal leaders on small trees." The article also claims a correlation between big snow years and heavy tree damage, apparently because the rabbits can reach more tender stems from atop the snow. Trees that are most vulnerable to rabbit nibbling are ones with thin bark. This would include young willow saplings, poplars, cottonwoods, various fruit trees saplings, including apple, pear, peach and nectarine. For the evergreens, rabbits apparently enjoy pine tree saplings over other conifers.
There are some flowers and vegetables in your garden that might be safe from rabbit nibbling, but it depends upon what else is close by to eat and how many rabbits you have hopping around. If your rabbits have access to an abundance of carrots, tender lettuces, cabbage, green beans, lima beans, beets, peas, radishes, spinach, collard greens, kale, strawberries, then your tomatoes, squash, eggplant, potatoes, garlic, cucumbers and asparagus might get by without much nibbling. But remember, rabbits, if left to themselves without natural predators about, will multiply rapidly, and the more rabbits, the more vulnerable your plants become.
To protect your plants from rabbits, fencing is very effective. For a wire mesh fence you will want to bury the fence about a foot beneath the surface while maintaining an above ground height of around two feet. A rabbit proof fence will help keep other critters away, too, such as deer, squirrels, skunks, chipmunks and raccoons. If you want to guard against voles and moles, be sure to bury the fence about two feet deep.
If a surrounding fence isn't a solution, individual trees can be wrapped with wire mesh. If the mesh isn't fine enough to keep the rabbits from chewing between the wire, be sure to brace the wire wrapping so that it stands away from the branches and trunks of your plants by a couple inches, and be sure to wrap your trunks and branches high enough that the rabbits can't reach above the mesh when there's snow on the ground in winter. You'll also want to keep close watch so that the wire mesh doesn't begin to grow into the tree or otherwise hinder its growth.
Another good way to control rabbits and squirrels is to catch them with Havahart Live Traps. We've used the two-door cage trap for catching ground squirrels. This design allows the rabbit or squirrel to enter from either end. There's a handle guard, too, which protects your hand while carrying the trapped bunny. It's basically a trap and release strategy. Simply bait the trap with some yummy fresh vegetables like carrots and lettuce, place the trap close to where the rabbit likes to munch. Once the rabbit has been trapped, promptly take it to a park or rural piece of open land and release it.
Some gardeners use Fox Urine Granules
that are spread around the yard using a shaker. The rabbits smell the dried urine which triggers their fear and defense mechanisms thereby scaring the rabbits away. You can also buy Granulated Coyote Urine
to repel visiting deer and it's supposed to work on neighborhood cats that like to use your yard and garden soil as their own private cat box.
People also try putting large glass jars of water in the yard; the reflections can scare the rabbits. Others set up a fake owls, a rubber snake or a garden hose placed in the grass like a snake.
This spring, the Havahart Live Trap will be our first strategy to rid the yard of our Lagomorphic visitor.