The sight of a bunny on the lawn may warm your heart, but not if it’s eating the bark off your trees. Rabbit damage to trees can cause serious injury or even the death of the tree. 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 mm.) in diameter and as tall as the rabbit can reach, which is about 18 inches (46 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 (5-10 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.