While they do look cute and fluffy, rabbits are a complete terror in the garden. It’s a good chance that if you’ve landed on this article, you have a big, fluffy problem.
While it’s good to know that they have their place in the ecosystem, hoovering up weeds and fertilizing the soil, they don’t exactly stop there.
Rabbits being helpful to the environment is not exactly a consolation prize when they’ve just eaten your plants.
Especially those that you’ve just raised from seed, and you were really proud of how healthy they were. You were looking forward to seeing them bloom, but no. Enter the rabbit.
While you can hope there’s a hungry fox, owl, eagle, badger, or something else that could take the problem out of your hands, it’s likely that if you’ve seen one rabbit, you’ll probably have a few in your garden.
Here’s everything you need to know when it comes to keeping rabbits off your plants, including some basic defenses for those plants they will eat, and a list of plants which are resistant to rabbits.
How to Reduce the Chances of Rabbits Devastating Your Garden
It doesn’t take long for rabbits to cause a lot of damage. It’s worth knowing that rabbits love young plants, and when some plants get to a certain age, they will avoid them completely.
You can protect your plants to a certain degree with netting, making sure that there’s never any rips, gaps, or loose parts.
This will buy your plants time until they are bigger, when they are a less attractive snack.
One of the best ways is to use chicken or rabbit-proof wire with points below the soil line. Because rabbits are great diggers, they will dig their way under fences with no problem.
With this type of netting, once they start digging, they’ll soon stop when they feel something pointy digging into their paws.
Crucially, it doesn’t hurt them, but it does discourage them from trying to get at your plants, meaning they’ll settle for grass, wildflowers, or something else they can get at without the trouble.
You can place this around the plants that you’re most worried about, or around your entire garden boundary.
The second option is the best, but it will be costly, and not to mention complicated, as you’ll have to run it under hedges, trees, and protect existing fences.
If you have raised garden beds, you can make your own rabbit guard with chicken wire and planks which will sit on the top, making sure that the rabbits can’t get in.
You can then remove it every time you go to work on your raised beds.
For protecting single plants, such as young lupins, cosmos, anemones, or anything else, you can use tree guards or spirals to make sure the rabbits can’t reach.
These defenses aren’t the only way of coping with rabbits. There are many plants which aren’t troubled by rabbits, which you can plant and enjoy without having to worry about them becoming a snack.
Rabbit Resistant Plants to Grow
Acanthus spinosus ‘Spiny Bear’s Breech’
One of the best defenses a plant can have against a rabbit is to have spiny leaves. You might find it more difficult to find a spinier Acanthus than Acanthus spinosus, or ‘Spiny Bear’s Breech’.
It’s a lovely perennial plant, which features large foliage with spines on the tips. You’ll also see it labeled armed bear’s breech, and as defensive images go, you can’t really do better.
It really comes into its own during the late spring and summer months, when it produces towers of white blooms, featuring deep purple bracts.
It’ll take a couple of years before it reaches its maximum height of 5 feet, if you provide it with well-draining soil in either full sunlight or partial shade.
It helps that this plant isn’t fussy about the pH of the soil, or whether you put it somewhere exposed to wind, or somewhere more sheltered. Not only that, but it’s a very drought resistant plant, and rabbits will not go near the spiky leaves.
Aconitum ‘Bressingham Spire’
While monk’s hood, or Aconitum, isn’t suitable for gardens with pets or children as it is highly poisonous, it’s perfect for gardens with rabbit problems.
Not because the plant will poison the rabbits, but because they will avoid it entirely.
Aconite is a herbaceous perennial (see also Aconite Grow Guide) which can get to a maximum height of 90cm, producing glossy foliage in a rich green.
In the later weeks of summer and into the first few weeks of autumn, this plant flowers in spectacular deep blue to purple flowers, in a strange hooded shape.
It will survive in any soil type, as long as the soil stays moderately moist, but it drains well. It does perfectly well in partial shade, but full sunlight is best.
Make sure to position the monk’s hood in a sheltered spot, to protect the delicate flowers from the wind.
Allium stipitatum ‘White Giant’
Hated by snails, slugs, and rabbits alike, Alliums are perfect for protecting surrounding plants with their garlic-like scent, which we cannot detect. The flower shape, size, and color ranges from type to type, some being bright purple, blue, white, or even red.
No matter what type you go for, the flowers are arranged in tight clusters, usually in a globe shape.
Allium stipitatum, the white giant, is particularly striking, featuring huge globes of star-like, beautifully bright white flowers in the early weeks of summer.
It can reach a maximum of 5 feet high, adding height and architectural value to any border, bed or container you choose to grow it in.
It’s the perfect low-maintenance plant, needing pretty much no care once it has established itself within your garden.
It’s perfect for a range of garden planting schemes, such as a gravel, drought tolerant garden, and a wildlife haven, among others.
Buddleja davidii ‘Lonplum’
Another plant that rabbits ignore is the butterfly bush, or Buddleji davidii (see also Buddleia Grow Guide And Uses). There are many types to choose from, including standard and dwarf varieties, and ones which flower in different colors.
Butterfly bushes are known for attracting butterflies like a magnet, producing spear-like clusters of tiny, richly perfumed flowers.
Buddleja davidii ‘Lonplum’ produces these fantastic flowers in a deep reddish purple. This striking perennial plant can reach a maximum height of 8 feet tall in the right conditions, but you can readily prune it back to keep it more compact if you prefer.
Butterfly bushes will grow in any soil type, provided that it drains well. You can place it in partial shade, but it will produce more flowers in full sunlight. It also helps that the butterfly bush has a high drought tolerance.
Kniphofia ‘Shining Sceptre’
One plant that rabbits will not touch completely is the Kniphofia, otherwise known as the red-hot poker. When it’s not in flower, you can recognize it by its narrow, elongated leaves, some of which are quite spiky to the touch.
It really comes into its own during the early summer, where it produces huge flower spikes in warm shades, which look like they are on fire. ‘Shining Sceptre’ produces light yellow flowers which start off as orange buds, making the flower spike bi-colored.
While the plant can flower into the first few weeks of autumn, it usually lasts a little less, as it’s a great source of food for small birds.
This particular cultivar can get to 5 feet tall, perfect for adding varying height and texture to any border or garden bed. It prefers acidic or neutral soil, somewhere where the soil retains some moisture, but it still drains well.
It needs full sun in order to thrive, preferably south-facing.
Lupins are beautiful plants that are rabbit resistant, but you do need to make sure that you protect young leaves and foliage, as rabbits will try to nibble them before they are mature.
The good news is that rabbits will avoid the plant entirely once the leaves are mature.
Lupins are easy to grow, reaching about 75cm tall, but you do get smaller varieties. They are instantly recognizable for their towering flower spikes, reaching far above the foliage, in a range of color.
‘Masterpiece’ produces reddish-purple flowers, each featuring a hint of orange on the standard petals. This beautiful plant flowers from early summer, and can have a second flush if you deadhead the first flower head.
The soil needs to drain well, in either an acidic or neutral pH, for lupins to thrive. Lupins will do well in both partial and full sunlight, as long as the area you put them in is sheltered.
During the autumn, the foliage will die back, allowing for other plants to shine, before emerging again in the spring.
Paeonia lactiflora ‘Raspberry Sundae’
As a rule, rabbits avoid plants with huge flowers, but there are of course exceptions. Take the peony, for example.
While it is on this list, as the herbaceous peony is rabbit-resistant, they will take great delight in snacking on tree peonies, so avoid putting tree peonies anywhere rabbits might get at them.
‘Raspberry Sundae’ can reach 90cm tall, producing fantastic, bowl shaped flowers in the first few weeks of summer.
These gorgeous blooms start off as an ivory white, the heart of the peony touched with a soft, raspberry pink. As the flower ages, it changes to a lovely baby pink.
Herbaceous peonies will survive in any soil type, as long as it drains well, and remains evenly moist. They need a sheltered position so that the flowers will last for as long as possible, in either full sunlight or partial shade.
Pulmonaria ‘Ice Ballet’
Also known as lungwort, Pulmonaria is a lovely perennial which remains evergreen all through the year. Some cultivars, like ‘Ice Ballet’, have leaves that are instantly recognizable, for their silvery spots.
In the late winter, through until the middle of spring, ‘Ice Ballet’ produces bright white flowers in large clusters, providing pollinators with much-needed nectar during the leaner period of winter into spring.
While this plant may look delicate with its trumpet-shaped flowers and spotty, velvety foliage, rabbits will avoid it.
It will reach a maximum height of 1.5 feet, as long as you provide it with moist but well-draining soil, and either full or partial shade.
Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’
If you’d prefer a carpeting perennial which is very resistant to rabbits, Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’ is a good option.
It only reaches 20 cm in height, making it ideal for the front of borders, or a silvery focal point in pots or beds. It will spread quickly, which is something to keep in mind, as it can take over a bed.
It’s very easy to divide, however, so you can keep on top of its vigorous growth habit. You can also plant it in front of more rabbit-vulnerable plants to help keep the adorable menaces away.
It will happily survive in any soil type, provided that it drains well. It does need full sunlight in order to grow properly.
It’s worth noting that plants under the Stachys genus can have an unpleasant smell, so avoid placing it near seating areas, or anywhere that you pass regularly.
It will survive in pretty much any type of garden, whether that’s somewhere coastal with a lot of wind, on banks or slopes, or container gardens.
As it is mat-forming, slugs can become a problem, so it is worth growing these silvery plants on rockeries, raised beds, or in pots.
Give them plenty of room to expand, but make sure there is plenty of air flow around the plants, as they are susceptible to powdery mildew.
Verbena plants are fantastic for adding color and scent into your garden. While rabbit resistant, verbenas are a last resort for rabbits that have no other food source like grass or wildflowers, so do keep this in mind.
Verbena ‘Polaris’ has a clumping habit, producing clusters of tiny pale purple flowers from the beginning of summer, right until the first frost hits.
This plant will reach just over 1.5 feet tall, as long as you situate it in well-draining, moist soil, somewhere where it can get as much sunlight as possible.
It does need to be somewhere sheltered, where the wind can’t get to the wiry flower stems. Verbena is very drought tolerant, and it will attract plenty of pollinators into your garden once it flowers.
The list above is just a snapshot of the many plants which are rabbit resistant, but there are also others, including sunflowers, hellebores, and dahlias.
It’s worth mentioning again that rabbits will always go for fresh, young leaves rather than mature leaves.
They tend to have more flavor, and more nutrients, so young plants are what you should prioritize protecting before you can get your hands on a rabbit-proof fence.
Rabbits can be picky eaters, but like any animal, the list of what they’ll eat will grow if they are desperate enough. You can also buy commercial ‘rabbit deterrent’ spray, to help protect some of the most vulnerable plants, too.
If you do have rabbit problems, it’s worth asking your neighbors what plants the rabbits have avoided, to get a better idea of what will survive.
Not one technique at deterring rabbits is fully effective, so you’ll need to use a mixture of protective measures like fencing, careful planting choices, and tree guards for young plants to stop them from decimating your garden.