Rabbits and Rabbit Proof Plants

rabbit damage shrubWinter feeding damage by rabbits


Rabbits and Rabbit proof plants


By Howard Drury


Rabbits feed on a wide range of plants, including vegetables and ornamental plants. These are often grazed close to the ground and growth can be severely stunted. They dig small holes in lawns and flower beds, giving the garden an untidy appearance. Rabbits will also gnaw bark from young trees and shrubs, and if the trunk is completely girdled in this way, the plant will die. Gnawed trunks should be wrapped in a black polythene bandage to encourage the damaged area to callus over; bridge grafting will be necessary if the trunk has been severely damaged.

Rabbits typically live together in colonies known as warrens, and these consist of a series of interconnecting burrows. Warrens are found mainly in embankments, hedgerows and in areas with a dense shrub cover. Isolated burrows also occur, and some rabbits spend all their lives above ground.

Under ideal conditions, rabbits are prolific breeders. The main breeding season is between January and July, but liners can be produced throughout the year. The young are born in nests constructed in special short tunnels known as stops. The nests are made of dry grass and fur from the mother's body. The gestation period lasts 28-30 days, and an average liner contains 3-6 young. Females often become pregnant again just one day after giving birth, and they may produce 2-5 litters a year. The young are born blind and naked, but after about 3-4 weeks they are capable of leaving the nest and finding their own food. They are ready to start breeding when about 4 months old.

Control and prevention

Various natural enemies, such as foxes, stoats, cats, badgers and some of the larger birds of prey, kill and eat rabbits, but they are unlikely to have any appreciable effect on rabbit populations in gardens. Control has been attempted by introducing a virus which causes epidemics of myxomatosis disease, but this has failed to give adequate long-term control of rabbits. After the first introductions of the disease in 1953 there was high mortality in wild rabbit populations in Britain, but less virulent strains of the virus have developed and rabbits are now less susceptible to the disease.

Rabbit control

Rabbits can be killed by shooting or gassing, but this is generally impracticable in gardens and is in any case best carried out by professionals. The same applies to traps and snares to some extent, but they may be used by amateurs providing the relevant legal requirements are observed. It is illegal to set spring traps in the open, and they must therefore be placed within the mouth of rabbit burrows. Traps and snares are a hazard to domestic animals, and they should not be used if cats or dogs are likely to have access to them.

There are several types of humane trap, and these may be obtained from some gun shops and horticultural sundries men or by going online. Traps and snares should be set carefully and examined regularly every day, preferably in the early morning and at dusk.


Rabbits usually enter gardens from adjoining common land, farms or woods. Where this is the case, the erection of rabbit-proof fences and gates could be considered. Fences should 2.5 cm (1-1 'A in) wire mesh and 120-140 cm (48-54in) in height. The bottom 30 cm (in) is sunk below ground level, with the lower 15 cm (6in) bent outwards to stop rabbits tunnelling underneath. Gates to the garden must also be rabbit-proof and kept closed when not in use.

An electric fence designed to keep out rabbits may be practicable in some gardens. Where complete fencing is impracticable, it may be possible to protect venerable areas, such as kitchen gardens, or particularly susceptible plants, such as lilies, by putting less elaborate wire-netting barriers around them. Plastic tree guards can be used to protect the trunks of young trees and shrubs.


Various substances can be used to keep rabbits away from plants. Rags tied on sticks and soaked in a commercial preparation, such as Armillatox (if you live outside the EU) can be placed around flower beds or near vulnerable groups of plants. A repellent suitable for spraying on plants is Vitax 'Stay-Off'. Repellents seldom give complete protection, particularly during wet seasons or when plants are making active growth.

Rabbit-proof Plants

In areas where rabbits are particularly troublesome, it is advisable to grow plants which are relatively resistant. The following lists indicate plants that are less attractive to rabbits, possibly because of taste, texture of leaves, prickliness, etc. There is no absolute guarantee that any of these plants will remain free from damage in all conditions. Recent plantings and soft growth in the spring can sometimes be eaten, even if the plants are not susceptible at other times. Suggestions from gardeners with a rabbit problem regarding additions to or deletions from these lists would be most welcome.

Young plants eaten by rabbits
Stem completely barked by rabbits
In 1859 Australia suffered badly from a rabbit infestation, hungary rabbits will make every effort to reach food

Rabbit-Proof Plants

Herbaceous or Soft Wooded

Acanthus spp. (Bear's Breeches)
Aconitum spp. (Monkshood)
Alchernilia mollis (Lady's Mantle)
Anaphalis spp.
Anemone coronaria
Aquilegia spp. (Columbine)
Artichoke, Globe and Jerusalem
Aster novae-angliae
Aster novi-belgii
Astilbe spp.
Bergenia spp. (Elephant's Ears)
Brunnera macrophylla
Chionodoxa luciliae (Glory of the Snow)
Colchicum spp. (Autumn Crocus)
Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley)
Cortaderia solloana (Pampas Grass)
Corydalis lutea
Crinum spp.
Crocosmia spp.
Curtonus paniculatus
Cyclamen spp.
Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove)
Doronicum spp. (Leopard's Bane)
Epimedium spp.
Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite)
Eryngium spp. (Sea Holly)
Erythronium dens-canis (Dog's Tooth Violet)
Eupatorium cannabinum (Hemp Agrimony)
Euphorbia spp. (Spurges)
Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
Gentiana asclepiadea (Willow Gentian)
Helenium autumnale
Helianthus spp. (Sunflowers)
Helleborus spp. (not niger)
Hemerocallis (Day Lily)
Hyacinthoides non-scripta (Bluebell)
ImpatiensIris spp. (Irises)
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)
Lamium spp. (Dead Nettles)
Lavatera trimestris
Leucojum spp. (Snowflakes)
Lilium giganteum
Linum perenne (Flax)
Liriope muscari
Lupinus spp. (Lupins)
Lysimachia clethroides
Macleaya cordata
Malva moschata (Musk Mallow)
Melissa officinalis (Bee Balm)
Miscanthus sinensis
Myosotis (Forget-me-Not)
Narcissus (Daffodil)
Nepeta faassenii (Catmint)
Nicotiana affinis
Orchis, hardy spp. (Orchids)
Papaver spp. (Poppies)
Petasites fragrans (Winter Heliotrope)
Phornium tenax (New Zealand Flax)
Phytolacca americana (Poke Weed)
Polemonium coeruleum (Jacob's Ladder)
Schizostylis coccin ea
Sedum spectabile (Ice Plant)
Senecio cineraria (Sea Ragwort)
Stachys tanata (Lamb's Ears)
Tagetes erecta (African Marigold)
Tagetes patula (French Marigold)
Trillium grandiflorum (Wake Robin)
Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon's Seal)
Polygonum spp.
Primula vulgaris (Primrose)
Pulmonaria spp. (Lungwort)
Salvia x superba
Saxifraga umbrosa (London Pride)
Tritonia crocata
Trollius europaeus (Globe Flower)
Verbascum thapsus (Mullein)
Verbena spp.
Viola odoratn (Violet)
Zinnia elegans

Tree guards of some form are necessary in many areas of the Uk to prevent rabbit damage. There are environmental concerns for plastic guards
Grazers offer a non pesticide spray to promote healthy grow and deter various pests from feeding on plants
Sonic pests deterents are vailable to put off pests by emitting an unpleasant sound to them that is unheard by us and most other wildlife.

Rabbit-Proof Plants - Trees and Shrubs

Alnus spp. (Alder)
Araucaria araucana (Monkey Puzzle Tree)
Arbutus menziesii
Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree)
Arundinaria spp. (Bamboo)
Aucuba japonica
Azalea spp.
Berberis spp. (Barberry)
Betula spp. (Birch)
Buddleja davidii (Butterfly Bush)
Buxus sempervirens (Box)
Ceanothus spp.
Chimonanthus praecox (Winter Sweet)
Choisya ternata (Mexican Orange)
Cistus hybrids
Clematis spp.
Cornus san guinea (Dogwood)
Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar)
Daphne laureola (Spurge Laurel)
Daphne mezereum (Mezereum)
Deutzia scabra
Elaeagnus pungens 'Maculata'
Eucalyptus spp.
Euonymus europaeus (Spindle Tree)
Euonymus latifolius
Fatsia japonica
Gaultheria shallon
Thppophae rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn)
Hydrangea spp.
Hypericum calycinum (Rose of Sharon)
Kalmia laflfoha (Calico Bush)
Laburnum spp.
Laurus nobilis (Bay Tree)
Lavatern thuringiaca (Tree Mallow)
Ligustrum ovahfohum (Privet)
Lonicera spp. (Honeysuckle)
Olearia x haastii
Paeonia spp. (Paeonies - 'tree' types)
Pernettya mucronata
Philadelphus spp. (Mock Orange)
Pinus nigra (Corsican Pine)
Prunus laurocerasus (Laurel)
Prunus spinosa (Sloe)
Rhododendron spp.
Rhus Typhina (Sumach)
Ribes spp. (Currant - fruiting and ornamental types)
Rosa spp. (spiny species Rose, not hybrid teas)
Rosmarinum offidnalis (Rosemary)
Ruscus aculeatus (Butcher's Broom)
Ruta grnveoThns (Rue)
Sambucus spp. (Elder)
Skirnmia japonica
Synq;honcarpos aibus (Snowberry)
Syringa vulgaris (Lilac)
Viburnum opulus (Snowball Bush, Guelder Rose)
Viburnum tin us (Laurustinus)
Vinca spp. (Periwinkle)
Yucca spp.

The information given in this Fact Sheet is provided in good faith. It is however of necessity general information and advice on the topic. Howard Drury will not be under any liability in respect of the provision of such advice and information, and you are strongly advised to seek independent advice on any particular gardening problems or queries you may have, preferably from experts who can (when appropriate) inspect the problem before providing advice.

© 2022. This material has been produced by Howard Drury and must not be reproduced in part or full without the written consent of Howard Drury, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B13 0SJ.


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