List of the Best Rabbit-Resistant Plants For Repelling Rabbits 2021 [Updated]
Don’t be fooled by their meek appearance – a cluster of rabbits can graze through small gardens, leaving them bereft of blooms overnight! Patches of ornamental flowering plants, especially those with petunias, tulips, pansies, and baby’s breath, can fall to a rabbit’s hunger. If these furry creatures regularly visit your garden (telltale signs are clean-cut plant damage, small paw prints, and round droppings), you may find that these plants are consumed before they even have a chance to bloom.
As temperatures warm in spring and plants begin to sprout new shoots, rabbits come out of hiding in search of fresh greens. A sturdy, fine-mesh fence may keep them out of your property, but some do find ways to navigate past this barrier. Rabbits can dig underneath or jump over fences, and not everyone has the time or resources for fence reinforcement. Instead, a smart way to repel them would be to use some carefully selected plants.
When strategically placed, a handful of highly textured or fragrant plants can effectively keep rabbits away from your precious flowerbeds. Many of these species are readily available throughout temperate zones and have various growth forms. Some are flowering perennials that would undoubtedly look great next to vulnerable vegetable and herb patches. Others are tall shrubs that can be cultivated along your garden’s points of entry. There’s a rabbit-deterrent plant to meet every type of need!
1) English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Though incredibly appealing to us, the scent of lavender can be described as pungent to many wild animals. Rabbits will generally keep away from fragrant patches of lavender, even though the plant itself is non-toxic, tender, and can safely be consumed. Also known as garden lavender or common lavender, L. angustifolia can be grown as shrubs that reach a mature height of up to 2 meters (6 feet)! To effectively deter potential grazers, these can be situated along the perimeter of your garden.
Several L. angustifolia hybrids are recipients of the RHS Award of Garden Merit due to their durability and ease of care. As there are dwarf and giant cultivars as well, it is a versatile landscape favorite. For best results, lavender should be grown in well-draining, neutral to alkaline soil. It can persist through wet cold periods and notably dry summers.
This natural rabbit repellent is great for adding muted color to the garden all year round. Its leaves are evergreen and are able to tolerate low winter temperatures. In summer, lovely purple blooms arise on the tips of slender spikes, perfectly complementing the late sunsets!
2) Purple rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense)
Rarely damaged by rabbits, rhododendrons are perennial shrubs that produce fragrant and leathery leaves. R. catawbiense is one of the most popular ornamental species due to its many cultivars and its stunning display of flowers each spring. The purple blooms look incredibly delicate and can attract honey bees and birds to the garden. Its mature shoots can be hard to miss as they grow to a height of 3 meters (9.8 feet)!
Like those of lavender plants, rhododendron leaves are evergreen and maintain excellent winter interest. R. catawbiense should be cultivated in partially shaded and consistently moist parts of the garden. Its best features are brought out when grown in mass plantings or well-maintained hedges. A location that is fairly protected from winds will also benefit the plant, maximizing its potential to keep curious cottontails away.
3) Common sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is known for warding off just about all potential grazers. Even hungry herbivores find its fragrant and slightly bitter leaves extremely unappetizing. To top it off, the fine trichomes covering both upper and lower leaf surfaces are a known adaptation for deterring animals. This is one plant that has definitely evolved the means to protect itself from rabbits with the use of relatively harmless features.
Sage isn’t just great at repelling rabbits; it has ornamental and medicinal properties too. The plant can be pruned each year to maintain a desirable height and spread. Its blue to lavender flowers make a distinctly lush appearance in early summer each year. They attract a wealth of pollinators – from native bees and butterflies to hoverflies and hummingbirds. Sage is also fairly drought-tolerant, which means it can persist through dry summers.
Sage can be planted around vegetable patches and flowers that are especially susceptible to rabbits. Its strong scent can serve as a protective barrier. Simply make sure that nearby plants have similar substrate and exposure requirements for ease of care.
4) Bigleaf periwinkle (Vinca major)
Vinca major is commonly known as greater, blue, or bigleaf periwinkle. It is an evergreen perennial with a penchant for spreading extensively and indefinitely. Due to this growth habit, it is often used as a groundcover plant or trained to grow like a vine. In areas where it is allowed to spread freely, it can, unfortunately, become a noxious weed and can quickly outgrow or smother less aggressive species. Its potential to repel rabbits must be highlighted, however, as its leaves and shoots are considered tough and unpalatable.
If you intend to grow this rabbit-proof flowering plant, consider restricting its spread to within pots or large containers. Note that vegetative fragments or garden waste can spread colonies of this species to natural areas, where they can quickly form dense mats. A single year of cultivation can achieve complete coverage for a spread of more than 2 meters (6 feet). If you have a serious rabbit problem, this plant may just be worth the maintenance challenge.
5) Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
Columbines are a group of flowering perennials that typically occur in areas where rabbits are abundant. They are found in alpine meadows and cool woodlands, where their delicate flowers stand out in partly shaded to fully exposed areas. Rabbits and other mammalian grazers likely avoid these plants due to their toxic contents. Aquilegia roots, leaves, and seeds contain cyanogenic compounds that can cause heart palpitations and gastroenteritis. If you have pets that frequently roam your garden, this may not be the safest option.
There are around 60 columbine species to choose from. Hardy to USDA zone 3, they are fairly cold and drought-tolerant. Many cultivars produce attractive flowers that are surprisingly edible, though caution is still advised. The blooms and foliage are known for attracting butterflies and noctuid moths, which can feed on the toxic plant without consequence. A patch dedicated to various columbines would be an attractive way to show off variety and color in this genus.
6) Ornamental onion (Allium giganteum)
The ornamental onion is a true multi-purpose plant. It can repel rabbits and other grazers due to its highly pungent scent and strong taste. Dense stands can be planted around patches with tender bulbs. It’s amusing to think that this could create the scent-equivalent of a force field around susceptible species. A. giganteum is also an attractive flowering species that can add a dash of whimsy to your garden. Its tall bloom stalks, topped with globe-shaped flower clusters, may appear to defy gravity.
Hardy to USDA zones 5 – 8, this giant onion favors medium to well-draining soil and full sun exposure. Its 2 to 3-inch (5 – 7.6 cm) bulbs initially produce basal rosettes with lengthy leaves. Flower stems begin to grow in spring and produce blooms in summer, after which the leaves slowly die back. The vegetative parts of this plant produce the typical onion-garlic scent, yet they are not used in the kitchen. Instead, bulbs are only dug out of the ground for either transplantation or propagation purposes.
Though this species is generally unsusceptible to grazing, pests, or diseases, it could easily suffer due to bulb rot or root-related problems. Its lengthy stalks may also be destroyed by harsh outdoor elements, so it may be necessary to stake plants or locate them in protected zones of the garden.
7) Daffodils (Narcissus spp.)
Daffodils are bulbous perennials that are known across the globe for their attractive flowers. Considering their similarity to tulips, an absolute treat for rabbits, one would think that they would easily fall to grazers as well. Unlike tulips, daffodils have an unappealing fragrance and harbor toxins. Lycorine, most concentrated in the bulb but present throughout the plant, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Even dogs, horses, and cats are known for being highly sensitive to this toxin.
As they have similar growth requirements, a wall of daffodils can actually be used to protect your tulip patches! This wouldn’t be a surefire way to keep rabbits out, but it may at least dissuade them from feeding on the tulips. To grow daffodils, plant good quality bulbs in mid to late fall. They should be situated in an area that receives full sun and has well-draining soil. Do keep in mind that daffodil foliage will die back after the plant has bloomed, so they cannot be expected to deter rabbits all year round.
8) Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)
The Madagascar periwinkle is also known as vinca as it was formerly classified under a genus of this same name. It is frequently cultivated as an ornamental and medicinal plant because it produces elegant blooms and contains compounds used in cancer drugs. The endemic population of this herbaceous evergreen plant is now endangered in the wild. Nonetheless, it has become naturalized in many other parts of the world.
A recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, the Madagascar periwinkle has tough stems and leathery leaves. The presence of several alkaloids in all of its organs has rendered the plant wholly toxic. Ingestion can lead to digestive problems, heart complications, paralysis, and even death! It’s no wonder why rabbits know better than to graze on its leaves and flowers, which come in all sorts of colors!
Despite its toxicity, this species is now a common garden plant. Do be wary about curious pets and children that may attempt to consume its parts. Moreover, this highly adaptable plant has the potential to become invasive in optimal conditions. Regularly prune its shoots, deadhead flowers, or restrict its growth to within pots to prevent its spread.
9) Wolfsbane (Aconitum napellus)
The toxic potential of this flowering herb is definitely not one to take lightly. Its common name, coupled with its lethal effects, seem to have been pulled straight out of a morbid tale. Wolfsbane contains aconitine, a neurotoxin that can quickly result in death when consumed in large quantities. Even handling leaves or scarred plant tissues without gloves can cause tingling and numbness, as the toxin makes its way through the skin. This plant is definitely not for the faint of heart, let alone hungry rabbits!
Worrisome facts aside, wolfsbane is actually an attractive species and is widely cultivated for its foliage and colorful blooms. It performs best in consistently moist, yet well-draining substrates, and may struggle through notably hot summers. Wolfsbane should be planted close to water sources, such as ponds, bog gardens, or streams. Though it would be a great repellent to protect vegetable patches, avoid growing it next to tubers that must be harvested by hand.
10) West Indian lantana (Lantana camara)
If your rabbit-resistant garden is in need of pops of color and a few more friendly pollinators, this flowering plant may just be the missing ingredient. The West Indian Lantana is a tropical species that produces multicolored inflorescences. A single flower cluster can have as many as 4 colors, ranging from deep red to light yellow and white.
Lantana is notable for its fragrance, which some may describe as rank (though, much like an acquired taste, others may approve of it)! The Malaysian name for this species is ‘Bunga Tahi Ayam’, which translates to ‘chicken dung flower’. Rabbits, with their aversion to strong scents, will understandably want to stay away!
Though this tropical plant is often cultivated indoors in temperate zones, it can survive without issues when provided with protection outdoors. It is highly sensitive to frost, however, and will have to be overwintered properly. In some warm parts of the world, lantana has become an invasive species. Unsurprisingly, it contains pharmacological compounds (i.e. pentacyclic triterpenoids) that may harm grazers as well.
Additional Tips & Tricks to Deter Rabbits
There are no truly rabbit-resistant plants as these furry animals will give almost anything a try. They may occasionally nibble on toxic plants before determining them unfit for consumption! Keep in mind that even strong fragrances may fail at deterring rabbits. If you have a serious pest problem, the plants listed above may not be 100% effective at repelling them. Consider protecting your garden by using some of the tips and tricks below.
- A light dusting of talcum powder or dried sulfur on vulnerable plants will likely keep curious rabbits away.
- Hang pouches of Irish Spring soap (or any other highly fragrant bar soap) around the garden.
- Make a garlic and pepper spray by placing a few peppers, garlic cloves, and sliced onion in a food processor. Generously dilute the solution with water. Let the solution stand overnight, and then spray on a few hardy plants to start. Avoid using a high concentration and try to limit application to whenever rainfalls occur.
- Coffee grounds are usually used to repel snails, slugs, and ants, but they may work on rabbits and deer as well. Keep in mind that coffee is acidic, and the grounds may change the soil pH. Restrict application to areas with plants that prefer a slightly acidic substrate.
- A mesh barrier or plant screen placed around young shoots will help ensure that they mature without the risk of herbivory.
- Rabbits can be shocked by their own reflections! Reflectors or shallow containers of water may scare them away.
- Plant tulips and other rabbit favorites in tall pots or containers. This won’t keep determined rabbits away, but it may certainly encourage them to feed on ground level plants as they would be less of a challenge to get to.
- Consider using humane cages, with the intention of releasing any trapped rabbits in suitable areas (e.g. forests, rural areas with access to clean water and abundant food sources). Do not release rabbits into other privately-owned properties.