Rabbits Eating Bark Off Trees – Preventing Rabbit Damage To Trees

Rabbits Eating Bark Off Trees – Preventing Rabbit Damage To Trees

By: Jackie Carroll

The sight of a bunny on the lawn may warm your heart, but not if it’s eating the bark off your trees. It’s best to take action to prevent damage as soon as you see rabbits on your property.

When rabbits eating bark off trees leave bare wood all the way around the tree, the damage is called girdling. The sap can’t flow past the damaged area, so the top part of the tree gradually dies. There is no way to repair this type of rabbit tree damage, so it’s best to remove and replace the tree.

How to Protect Trees from Rabbits

The only sure way of preventing rabbit damage is to surround the base of the tree with a cylinder made of hardware cloth. Use wire with holes no more than 1/4 inch (6.4 mm.) in diameter and as tall as the rabbit can reach, which is about 18 inches (45 cm.) off the ground. You should also factor in the expected snowfall because rabbits can stand on top of snow to reach the tree. Allow 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm.) of space between the tree and the wire. Fasten the hardware cloth securely to the ground so that the rabbit can’t get under it, or better yet, bury the lower portion of the cylinder underground.

Habitat modification can also play a role in preventing rabbit damage. Remove stacks of rocks or firewood, tangled brush and tall weeds from your property, leaving rabbits no place to hide. Habitat modification is most effective in urban areas where there is no other cover nearby.

There are no toxic agents approved for use against rabbits, but some commercial repellents are effective. Read the label carefully before using a repellent and apply it according to the package instructions. Most repellents make the tree taste bad, but in lean times, a starving rabbit will chew on the tree regardless of the taste.

Trapping is a good way to get rid of rabbits on your property, but you should first check with your cooperative extension office about regulations concerning the trapping of rabbits. In some areas, you need a permit or license. Most local regulations require that you either release the rabbit unharmed on the same property or kill it immediately. Taking the rabbit out to the country for release isn’t usually an option.

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How To Protect Small Trees And Shrubs From Rabbits

When tiny pawprints in the snow lead you to a chiseled tree or shrub in your yard, you know you’ve got a hungry rabbit on your hands.

In their quest for a quick bite to eat, rabbits can leave the bottom of plants totally bark-less. Recently this happened to one of our blog readers. She reached out saying, “the resident rabbits have chewed all the bark off the lower branches of my burning bushes. Is there anything that can be done to prevent further damage? And what about the current damage—can I use pruning paint?”

Below, read about how to prevent rabbit feeding, and learn how to help an injured plant recoup.

Kansas Forest Service

Kansas Forest Service
2610 Claflin Road
Manhattan, KS 66502

Controlling Rabbits

Damage Cause By Rabbits

Rabbit damage to newly planted trees and shrubs may be a serious problem. Cottontail rabbits and jackrabbits damage trees and shrubs by clipping stems, buds and small branches and by girdling larger trees. Damage occurs primarily during the fall and winter, especially when snow cover is present. Young trees are susceptible to rabbit damage until their smooth, thin bark becomes thick and rough with age. Rabbits prefer Apple, Plum, Cherry, Pine, Maple, Baldcypress and several nut trees in addition to Cotoneaster, Sumac, Euonymus, Autumn olive. Juniper and Redcedar trees are least susceptible to rabbit damage, but damage can occur to these plants as well. Evergreens do not resprout from the base. Therefore, if evergreens are nipped of below the lowest branch, the plant will not recover and the plant must be replaced.

Methods of controlling rabbit damage include use of fences, rabbit protective tubes, tree tubes, habitat alteration, repellents, and rabbit removal through hunting or trapping.

Cottontail rabbits can be excluded from small plantings by erecting a 2-foot-tall, 1-inch-mesh, galvanized poultry wire fence. The bottom portion of the fence should be secured to the ground or buried a few inches to prevent rabbits from crawling under.

Tree Protectors
Tree protectors are one of the best long-term solutions for rabbit damage. Various types of plastic, wire, paper and tin foil protectors can be purchased or made at home. The protectors should be tall enough to protect trees 12 to 18 inches above expected snow depths.

Rabbit protective tubes, offered through the Kansas Conservation Tree Planting Program, made of rigid 1/2 inch mesh, 3 1/4 inch diameter and 18 inches in height, give excellent protection. Bamboo stakes are included to support the tubes. Side branches of evergreen and deciduous trees grow through the mesh while the leader grows through the top of the cylinder. These tubes will last about 3 years.

Galvanized poultry wire in 1-inch mesh and 30 gauge can be used to construct 4 to 6 inch diameter cylinders to protect young trees. Cylinders also can be constructed of heavier 1 x 3 inch mesh welded wire. Cylinders constructed of 1/4 inch hardware cloth will also prevent small rodent (mouse) damage to trees. The larger mesh cylinders should be large enough in diameter to prevent rabbits from reaching through the damaging trees. Wire cylinders should be supported with stakes. They generally are more expensive than the plastic tubes and require some labor in construction.

Various types of paper and plastic wraps can be placed directly around the trunk of small trees to prevent rabbit damage. Tin foil also can be wrapped around the trunk of seedlings to protect them from cottontails, but it is not effective against jackrabbits.

Habitat Alteration
Habitat modifications can provide long-term, non-lethal control of rabbit damage. Removing brush piles, weed patches, junk piles and other dense cover adjacent to tree plantings where rabbits live and hide can provide excellent control. Since rabbits tend to avoid open areas to escape natural predators, damage can be reduced by mowing or cultivating grass and weeds in tree plantings.

Rabbit Removal
Rabbits can be removed by hunting and trapping. Hunting in the early morning and late evening may effectively reduce the rabbit population and lessen the damage. Hunting generally is least effective where there is ample hiding cover.

Trapping is one of the best ways to reduce rabbit problems in urban areas. Several types of wooden and wire live traps are available from garden centers, hardware stores and seed catalogs. Wire traps are more effective when the sides are covered with canvas. Traps should be placed close to cover where rabbits feed and rest. During the winter, the trap door should be placed away from prevailing winds to prevent leaves and snow from entering. Traps can be baited with ear corn, dried apples, or dried leafy alfalfa or clover during winter. Apples, carrots, and cabbage work well during the summer but become mushy during winter. Traps should be checked daily to replenish bait and remove rabbits. Captured rabbits should be released several miles from the plantings. Jackrabbits usually do not enter wire box traps. They can be captured using large funnel traps placed in travel lanes.

How to Keep Rabbits Out of Your Garden Without Harming Them

Fed up with bunnies eating your plants? Follow these tips to prevent rabbit damage in your yard.

Related To:

Marsh Rabbit

Rabbits can wipe out plantings overnight with their incessant munching. This bunny is a marsh rabbit, native to the East Coast. It’s not likely to cause garden damage unless you garden near bodies of water, the types of areas it prefers to nest.

Photo by: Mark Danaher for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at

Mark Danaher for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at

Cuddly and cute, rabbits are perfect characters for children’s stories. But when it comes to your garden and landscape, they’re more of a terrorist, working under cover of darkness to destroy entire crops.

Rabbit Eating Container Plant

Just because a plant is in a tall pot doesn’t mean it’s out of the reach of hungry bunnies. Rabbits stand, lean and stretch to reach tasty flowers, like this Campfire Fireburst Bidens.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Given a choice, rabbits prefer munching young, tender growth on plants. Seedlings are a favorite target, including peas, beans, lettuce and other cool-season crops. But they’ll also chomp on everything from pansy to petunia and clematis to sunflowers. They also have a taste for fresh berries and other fruits.

Adult rabbits can stand on their hind feet to get to plants that might seem out of reach. Young rabbits are especially troublesome, as they discover the world through their taste buds and nibble even plants that are traditionally rabbit-resistant.

Cage Over Strawberries

Protect plants and young seedlings from hungry rabbits by covering them with a barrier. This strawberry patch outsmarts rabbits with a pvc-and-hardware-cloth cage that’s lightweight and easy to remove for berry picking. The top of the cage is bird netting, which rabbits can bite through—a feat they can’t achieve with the hardware cloth sides.

Yard and Garden: Protect Trees and Shrubs From Rabbits

How do I prevent rabbits from damaging trees and shrubs in winter?

The most effective way to prevent rabbit damage to trees and shrubs in the home landscape is to place chicken wire or hardware cloth fencing around vulnerable plants. To adequately protect plants, the fencing material needs to be high enough that rabbits won’t be able to climb or reach over the fence after a heavy snow. In most cases, a fence that stands 24 to 36 inches tall should be sufficient. To prevent rabbits from crawling underneath the fencing, pin the fencing to the soil with U-shaped anchor pins. Small trees can also be protected by placing white corrugated or spiral tree guards around their trunks. Since the weather in Iowa in fall is unpredictable, it’s best to have the protective materials in place by early to mid-November. After a heavy snow, check protected plants to make sure rabbits aren’t able to reach or climb over the fencing or tree guards. If necessary, remove some of the snow to keep rabbits from reaching the trees or shrubs.

Besides fencing, are there other ways to prevent rabbit damage to trees and shrubs?

Damage to landscape plants can be reduced by making the habitat less attractive to rabbits. This can be accomplished by removing brush, junk piles and other places where rabbits hide and live. Repellents are another option. Repellents discourage rabbit browsing because of their unpleasant taste or smell. Unfortunately, repellents aren’t always effective and often need to be reapplied after a heavy rain or snow.

Which trees and shrubs are most susceptible to rabbit damage in winter?

Trees and shrubs that are often damaged by rabbits in winter include crabapple, apple, pear, redbud, honey locust, serviceberry, burning bush, flowering quince, barberry, roses and raspberries. Small evergreens (especially pines) are also vulnerable. However, nearly all small trees and shrubs are susceptible to damage when food is scarce and the rabbit population is high.

What type of damage occurs when rabbits feed on trees and shrubs in winter?

Rabbits feed on the tissue between the bark and the wood of trees. If rabbits remove the tissue down to the wood and go completely around a tree’s trunk, the damaged tree is effectively girdled. Girdling destroys the tree as it disrupts the downward flow of food from the tree’s foliage to the root system. Rabbits damage shrubs by chewing off small branches and girdling large stems. Most deciduous shrubs have the ability to produce new shoots or suckers at their base. Because of this ability, many severely damaged deciduous shrubs eventually recover.

How to Protect Your Trees and Garden from Rabbits

Luckily, there are ways to protect your garden and the trees in your yard from these adorable fluffy nightmares. This article will show you several of those ways .

Rabbit repellent can be used to deter rabbits from your trees and shrubs. This repellent, a mix of chemicals that rabbits find unpleasant enough to avoid, can be sprayed on your trees and shrubs in the fall, before winter sets in. Rabbits like to eat tree bark and shrubs in the winter when other vegetation is unavailable. After a heavy rain fall, you may want to spray the repellent again, as it can wash off. You can find rabbit repellent at the hardware store.

You can also protect trees and bushes by fastening a guard around the base of the trunk at rabbit height. You can use hardware cloth or a plastic guard. Set the guard a few inches into the soil. The guard should reach a couple of feet above the snow drift level as well.

Trapping and releasing the rabbits is another option. Use foods rabbits like, such as carrots or apple pieces for your bait. You can also sprinkle rabbit droppings around your trap, if you can find any. This will attract rabbits too. Ask an animal control expert for guidelines on trapping and releasing wild animals for your safety as well as the animal’s.

Pet cats and dogs are also useful in controlling rabbits. Rabbits are a relatively timid animal, and your favorite pet can go a long way in keeping rabbits at bay.

There are several ways to protect your vegetable garden from rabbit damage. Plant at least a double row of onions around the perimeter of the garden. They hate the smell of onions, and it may be enough to keep them away. You can also fence your vegetable garden in. Chicken wire is good enough to keep rabbits out of your garden. Set the wire at least six or seven inches beneath the top of the soil, so they can’t reach the vegetables by digging under the fence. The chicken wire should be at least 30 inches high off the ground.

Try using these methods separately, or a combination of methods to protect your garden and trees from rabbit damage.

How to Keep Rabbits Out of Your Garden

Rabbits love to munch on everything from broccoli and beans to pansies and petunias. Even bushes and trees such as forsythia and flowering crabapple are fair game to these fluffy-tailed herbivores. But aside from occasionally nibbling on your nasturtiums, the varmints don't do any real damage, according to Mike McGrath, host of the nationally syndicated radio program You Bet Your Garden—and they're surprisingly easy to vanquish.

"Let's face it," McGrath says, "rabbits have no reason to exist other than to be prey for hawks and stuff. And there's no reason to actually hurt rabbits."

"American rabbits [namely the common Eastern cottontail, pictured] can't dig . That's why you find their nests on the surface," McGrath continues, adding that the image of rabbits that can burrow enormous distances underground, like Bugs Bunny, is that of European hares—never mind Bugs's Brooklyn accent! Regardless, here are some natural and humane ways to keep rabbits out of your garden:

Build a fence. Since native rabbits can't dig, and they also can't jump ("They can't do much, actually," as McGrath says), they can be easily contained with fencing. It needn't even be that tall: "Put up a one-foot-high fence around your garden area and they're helpless!"

Put up plant cages. Like fencing, individual cages can also help prevent bunnies from eating your prized plants.

Use rabbit repellents. You can also pour products with scents rabbits don't like, including predator urine and blood meal, around and throughout your garden. Some even sprinkle their dogs' hair on their beds.

Opt for raised beds. Nikki Tilley, senior editor of Gardening Know How, recommends raised-bed gardening, "which they don't seem to bother quite as much."

Go along and get along. Or, you can take a more relaxed approach, Tilley adds. "While not all gardeners would agree, I have found that creating a spot just for rabbits, like a patch of clover, away from the garden—this works well for those near wooded areas—helps keep them happy."