We have been getting calls in our office lately about nuisance rabbits. Rabbit populations fluctuate year to year and during the season, depending on food availability and predator populations. They can have several litters a year, but the largest number of litters occurs in the spring. Rabbits are most active at dawn and at dusk. They consume lawn grasses, ornamental plants and vegetable gardens in spring and summer, and bark and twigs of trees and other ornamental plantings in fall and winter. Three species of rabbit live in our area: cottontail rabbit, white-tailed jackrabbit and black-tailed jackrabbit.
Rabbits feeding on lawns can be a real problem. They continually graze new growth, causing bald patches to persist throughout the growing season. The new growth in theses patches is more tender and nutritious, so if you look at it from the rabbit’s point of view, it makes perfect sense. If you want to a beautiful lawn, it can be a real irritation.
Rabbits will consume vegetable garden plantings, especially leafy greens. They will also consume tender new growth on woody plants. Rabbit damage usually consists of a very clean cut at a 45 degree angle. Plants browsed by deer look more raged and torn.
So, how can you control them? There several control methods, but any plan MUST include exclusion. You can remove the rabbits presently in your yard, but if you don’t fix the hole in the fence, more rabbits will come into your yard.
Many people want to shoot rabbits in their yard. This is a valid control method provided you live in an area that permits discharge of firearms. There is another problem with shooting rabbits in your yard: cottontail rabbits and white-tailed jackrabbits are protected species in Nevada. You must have a hunting license to shoot them. The hunting season is October 8, 2016 to February 28, 2017, and there are limits. For more information, go to the Nevada Department of Wildlife at http://www.ndow.org.
Trapping is not a very good method for rabbit control. Kill traps run the risk of unintended damage to wildlife and pets. Jackrabbits are less likely to enter a confining space like a live trap. Live traps may work with cottontails, but then what do you do with the rabbit?
What about poison baits? There are no products labeled for rabbit control in Nevada. There are repellants that have been reported to be effective, but they must be reapplied on a regular basis. Some of these products are not labelled for use in vegetable gardens, and to be perfectly frank, if the rabbits are hungry, the repellants won’t deter them much.
So, we’re back to exclusion! Fencing is the best method of exclusion. The fence will need to be buried 6 inches into the ground, as rabbits will dig under a fence. Most rabbits won’t jump a 3-foot fence. Electrical fencing is also effective. If fencing your whole property is not practical, consider trunk guards for trees and large shrubs, and poultry netting cylinders for individual plants you wish to protect. Modify the habitat in your yard by removing brush piles, and block access under sheds and outbuildings where rabbits may hide and nest.
Melody Hefner is the Urban IPM and Pesticide Safety Education Program Assistant for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have a gardening question? Ask a Master Gardener at firstname.lastname@example.org.