Rabbits have been active again this winter, as evidenced by plentiful tracks and other evidence. It’s easy to ignore them until our shrubs and trees turn up dead in spring. Rabbits often work inside shrubbery, gnawing away the bark of branches and twigs near the base.
If branches are completely “girdled,” to use the gardening term, the portion above the damage is usually killed. When rabbits gnaw the bark at the base of evergreens like arborvitae, the shrubs can be permanently ruined. Deciduous (leafy) shrubs can often rebound from the base below the injury, but it might require a total cutback.
The surest way to prevent rabbit damage is to exclude them by circling susceptible plants with chicken wire, wire mesh hardware cloth or tightly-woven fencing. Remedies like mothballs, Irish Spring soap, fox urine, vodka, pepper and blood meal have widely mixed results, working well for some people in some situations, but not for others. Maybe rabbits have differing tastes. Blood meal and other dried blood products generally repel better than the others listed.
Commercial repellents like Liquid Fence are more widely successful for rabbit and deer control, but they’re expensive. Here’s a homemade recipe using similar ingredients found in the expensive products: Break a dozen eggs, minus shells, into a gallon jug. Add two cups of milk, shake, and place in a warm spot for 5-7 days. Empty into a five gallon bucket. Add one container each of inexpensive garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Add one-half cup of Dawn dishwashing soap plus water to make 5 gallons. Mix well and apply with watering can on and around non-food plants.
Using a watering can, apply liberally to bark, twigs and evergreen foliage of susceptible shrubs and trees. It’s not fool-proof, but many of us have used this with success in summer also.