Alternative name/s

European rabbit

Damage rating

Severe or fatal

Type of pest


Rabbits - Oryctolagus cuniculus

How to recognise it

You may spot the rabbits themselves (they are most active at night, in the early morning or late afternoon), find their small, black, pellet-like droppings or notice the openings to their burrows, which they often dig in hedge banks or under thickets of brambles.


Each female rabbit produces 2 to 4 litters a year, each litter consisting of 3 to 6 young. Most of the breeding takes place between January and June. The new generation of rabbits mature and are ready to breed within a year, so populations can increase rapidly.

Why it’s a problem

Rabbits, young and old, will graze on young shoots and leaves and sometimes strip bark from a wide range of plants. The damage will go up to a height of about 50cm. This can be particularly noticeable in severe winters when they will also feed on flowers, fruit and seeds.

Rabbit urine can also leave brown patches in lawns.

Where you are likely to find it

The worst damage tends to be done in spring and early summer. Lettuces, hostas, heathers, lilies and other herbaceous perennials are particularly at risk.

How to deter it

The only way to deter rabbits is to keep them out of the garden. 18 or 19 gauge wire mesh fencing, with mesh holes no bigger than 3cm, should be erected around the garden. This should be buried into the soil to a depth of 30cm, with a height of at least 1m above soil. The fence should be well supported with posts to keep it sturdy. Inspect fences regularly, and don’t forget to ensure that any gates into the garden are equally well protected. In extreme cases electric fencing can be used.

Where there are smaller rabbit populations, using tree protectors and wire mesh surrounds for individual plants should be sufficient.

Chemical repellents may help when applied to the bark of trees, although they must be re-applied assiduously according to the manufacturer’s instructions and even then the rabbits may not be so easily dissuaded!

If you own a dog, let them out into the garden at the times of day when the rabbits are most active; most breeds of dog will be enough to scare off rabbits, even if the dog isn’t all that interested in chasing them.

Some plants tend to be less susceptible to rabbit attacks than others, although the best way to find rabbit-proof plants is to look in your own, and neighbouring, gardens to find plants which haven’t been nibbled. Below is a list of some of the plants which are less attractive to rabbits, although none of them are guaranteed “rabbit proof”!

Herbaceous ornamental plants

  • Abutilon vitifolium
  • Acanthus (bear’s breeches)
  • Aconitum (monkshood)
  • Agapanthus (African lily)
  • Ajuga reptans (bugle)
  • Alcea (hollyhock)
  • Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle)
  • Allium (ornamental onions)
  • Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily)
  • Anaphalis
  • Anchusa azurea
  • Anemone blanda
  • Anemone coronaria
  • Anemone hupehensis & A. × hybrida (Japanese anemones)
  • Antirrhinum (snapdragon)
  • Aquilegia (columbine)
  • Aster novae-angliae (Michaelmas daisy)
  • Aster novi-belgii (Michaelmas daisy)
  • Astilbe
  • Athyrium (lady fern)
  • Bergenia (elephant’s ears)
  • Brunnera macrophylla
  • Chionodoxa luciliae (glory of the snow)
  • Colchicum (autumn crocus)
  • Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)
  • Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass)
  • Corydalis
  • Crinum
  • Crocosmia (montbretia)
  • Cyclamen (hardy cyclamen)
  • Dahlia (dahlias)
  • Dicentra (bleeding heart)
  • Digitalis (foxgloves)
  • Doronicum (leopard’s bane)
  • Echinops (globe thistle)
  • Epimedium
  • Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite)
  • Eremurus (foxtail lily)
  • Eryngium agavifolium (sea holly)
  • Erythronium dens-canis (dog’s tooth violet)
  • Eschscholzia californica (California poppy)
  • Eupatorium cannabinum (hemp agrimony)
  • Euphorbia (spurges)
  • Fritillaria (fritillaries)
  • Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop)
  • Gentiana asclepiadea (willow gentian)
  • Geum
  • Helenium autumnale
  • Helianthus (sunflowers)
  • Helleborus (not H. niger ) (hellebore)
  • Hemerocallis (day lily)
  • Heuchera sanguinea (coral flower)
  • Hyacinthoides non-scripta (bluebell)
  • Impatiens (busy Lizzie)
  • Iris (irises)
  • Kniphofia (red hot poker)
  • Lamium (dead nettles)
  • Lavatera trimestris
  • Leucojum (snowflakes)
  • Linum perenne (flax)
  • Liriope muscari
  • Lupinus (lupins)
  • Lychnis
  • Lysimachia clethroides
  • Macleaya cordata
  • Malva moschata (musk mallow)
  • Melissa officinalis (bee balm)
  • Miscanthus sinensis
  • Muscari (grape hyacinth)
  • Myosotis (forget-me-not)
  • Narcissus (daffodil)
  • Nepeta × faassenii (catmint)
  • Nicotiana alata
  • Hardy orchids
  • Paeonia (peonies)
  • Papaver somniferum (opium poppy)
  • Petasites fragrans (winter heliotrope)
  • Phormium tenax (New Zealand flax)
  • Phytolacca (poke weed)
  • Polemonium (Jacob’s ladder)
  • Polygonatum × hybridum (Solomon’s seal)
  • Polygonum
  • Primula vulgaris (primrose)
  • Pulmonaria (lungwort)
  • Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
  • Salvia × superba
  • Saxifraga × urbium (London pride)
  • Schizostylis coccinea
  • Sedum spectabile (ice plant)
  • Senecio cineraria (sea ragwort)
  • Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ears)
  • Tagetes erecta (African marigold)
  • Tagetes patula (French marigold)
  • Tradescantia virginiana
  • Trillium grandiflorum (wake robin)
  • Tritonia crocata
  • Trollius europaeus (globe flower)
  • Tulipa (tulips)
  • Verbascum thapsus (mullein)
  • Verbena
  • Vinca (periwinkle)
  • Viola odorata (violet)
  • Xerochrysum bracteatum (everlasting flower)
  • Zinnia elegans

Herbaceous herbs, fruit and veg

  • Artichoke, globe and Jerusalem
  • Fragaria (strawberries)
  • Mentha (mints)
  • Origanum vulgare (marjoram)
  • Potato
  • Rhubarb
  • Salvia (sage)

Trees and shrubs

  • Alnus (alder)
  • Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle tree)
  • Arbutus menziesii
  • Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree)
  • Arundinaria (bamboo)
  • Aucuba japonica (spotted laurel)
  • Berberis (barberry)
  • Betula (birch)
  • Buddleja davidii (butterfly bush)
  • Buxus sempervirens (box)
  • Ceanothus
  • Chimonanthus praecox (winter sweet)
  • Choisya ternata (Mexican orange)
  • Cistus
  • Clematis
  • Cornus sanguinea (dogwood)
  • Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedar)
  • Cytisus (broom)
  • Daphne laureola (spurge laurel)
  • Daphne mezereum (mezereum)
  • Deutzia scabra
  • Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’
  • Escallonia
  • Eucalyptus (gum tree)
  • Euonymus europaeus (spindle tree)
  • Euonymus latifolius
  • Fatsia japonica
  • Hardy Fuchsia
  • Gaultheria mucronata
  • Gaultheria shallon
  • Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn)
  • Hydrangea
  • Hypericum calycinum (rose of Sharon)
  • Kalmia latifolia (calico bush)
  • Laburnum
  • Laurus nobilis (bay tree)
  • Lavatera (tree mallow)
  • Ligustrum ovalifolium (privet)
  • Lonicera (honeysuckle)
  • Olearia × haastii
  • Paeonia (peonies – ‘tree’ types)
  • Philadelphus (mock orange)
  • Pinus nigra (Corsican pine)
  • Poncirus trifoliata (Japanese bitter orange)
  • Prunus laurocerasus (cherry laurel)
  • Prunus (cherries)
  • Rhododendron including azaleas
  • Rhus typhina (sumach)
  • Ribes (currant – fruiting and ornamental types)
  • Rosa (spiny species roses, not modern bush roses)
  • Rosmarinum officinalis (rosemary)
  • Ruscus aculeatus (butcher’s broom)
  • Ruta graveolens (rue)
  • Sambucus (elder)
  • Sarcococca (winter box)
  • Skimmia japonica
  • Symphoricarpos albus (snowberry)
  • Syringa vulgaris (lilac)
  • Viburnum opulus (snowball bush, guelder rose)
  • Viburnum tinus (laurus tinus)
  • Vinca (periwinkle)
  • Weigela hybrids
  • Yucca

How to get rid of it

Rabbits can be trapped and/or killed by shooting, snares/traps (ensure these are checked twice a day) or ferretting. However, these options aren’t usually practical for small domestic gardens. Snares or traps should be used if you have domestic animals (eg dogs or cats) using your garden.

Wrap the trunks of any damaged trees in black polythene to encourage them to callous over and heel the wound.

Is it good for anything?!

Rabbits are very cute…though you might not think so once they’ve devasted your borders! However, they will help to keep your lawns trim and are as happy to eat weeds as they are to eat your precious ornamentals.

Other useful information

In the middle of the 20th century the myxomatosis virus was introduced to many countries to reduce rabbit numbers. Initially this rapidly decreased rabbit populations, although a level of immunity has now built up and generally the disease is much less virulent. However, there is often a ‘flare up’ in late summer and early autumn.

Hares can cause the same problems are rabbits, but are much less numerous and therefore far less likely to be the cause of damage to gardens. If you do have a problem with hares, the same preventative measures will work on them as for rabbits.