Damage Caused 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, Honeylocust, Baldcypress, Russian olive and several nut trees in addition to Cotoneaster, Sumac, Japanese barberry, Euonymus, Autumn olive, Pyracantha and Roses. 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 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 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.
Repellents can provide seasonal control of rabbit damage. However, if no alternative foods are available, repellents may fail to provide protection. They are most effective when applied before the rabbits develop their eating habits on the trees. Thiram provides one of the safest and most effective contact repellents. Since thiram is water soluble, a sticker like Wilt-proof available from Hummert International must be added. Normally, one application of Thiram with a sticker will last the entire dormant season. During the growing season, Thiram needs to be reapplied as the plant grows. Thiram, known commercially as GUSTAFSON 42S, is available from Terra International (816-233-5944), a subsidiary of Terra Industries, or Helena Chemical (316-275-9531).
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 for about $20. 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.