Preventing winter rabbit damage
I love rabbits and enjoy watching them. But that affection comes to a halt if I see them ravaging my plants. In the winter, they clip off branches at 45-degree angles -- and the bark of my young trees and shrubs are a sought-after bunny buffet.
Stephen Vantassel is a wildlife damage management expert at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He says hungry rabbits have a hard time finding food when there’s snow on the ground, and any woody plant sticking out of the snow is considered a meal. The best way to prevent rabbit damage is to simply exclude them. Surround your plants with a cylinder of hardware cloth or chicken wire.
"We suggest putting in something 18” tall," says Vantassel. "You want to have it at least several inches away from the plant itself because you don’t want the rabbit to bend it in to gnaw. It doesn’t need to be that sturdy, but it needs to be sturdy enough it can’t just simply bend it over."
Keep in mind you’ll have to make your fences 18" above your expected snowfall. If you have six-inches of snow, the rabbit won’t be starting at ground level, so the fence should be two-feet high.
Habitat modification is another tool.
"Rabbits rely on places that give them cover," says Vantassel. "So if you have brush piles, you’d want to eliminate your brush piles. Getting rid of wood piles, or at least having wood piles high enough off the ground so that there’s no shelter underneath them. Securing decks and porches that would provide cover. So any place where you think a rabbit would want to hide, make a nest, or run for cover away from enemies, that’s the type of thing you’d want to eliminate."
There are rabbit repellants on the market, but Vantassel isn’t a fan of them. He says the results are highly variable, and repellants aren’t effective if rabbit populations are high and the food supply is low.
Learn more about preventing rabbit damage to tree plantings
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