5 Ways to Protect Your Shrubs from Rabbits This Winter

Cottontail Rabbits are common in backyards across the Midwest. And while you may enjoy viewing them from the window of your home, you’ll find them less appealing if they make your plants and shrubs their dinner fare. As cute as they might be, they can cause serious damage to your plants in the winter.

Rabbits are herbivores, which means they eat plants. During warmer months they feed on grasses, clover, fresh leaves, flowers and shrubs. You may be able to keep them from your plantings in Summer by adding rows of Marigolds. Rabbits don’t like their smell and will avoid areas of Marigolds.

But what about in the winter when food sources are more scarce?

What Do Rabbits Eat in the Winter?

Rabbits don’t hibernate. When Winter arrives and snow covers the ground, greens are hard to find. When finding food becomes difficult, rabbits get creative in their menu choices.

They turn to nibbling on the bark of trees such as Birch, Crabapple, Mountain Ash, Honey Locust, Willow and Oak. Older trees with their thick rough bark aren’t as tempting as a young tree where the bark is smooth, thin. Green food material is just under the surface of young trees.

The rabbit’s menu may also include bushes, such as Roses, Sumac, Japanese Barberry and Maples, Viburnum, Fothergilla, Burning Bushes, Rose of Sharon, Arborvitae and other broadleaf evergreens. It’s all about survival and they won’t be picky.

If you already have established plants and shrubs you without-a-doubt want to protect them through the winter. You may be especially concerned about newly planted landscapes or expensive ornamental plants.

How to Get Rid of Rabbits in the Winter

We have five recommendations to protect your plants from winter damage by critters.


Adding fencing can be most effective. A simple chicken wire cylinder around a tree or shrub can keep them at bay.

The fencing has to be positioned at least two inches from the bark of the tree, since wrapping flatly against a tree wouldn’t serve as a barrier. It should extend 2 ½ feet above the snow line, as compacted snow can act as an on ramp to your plants and shrubs.

Make sure the fencing is secured to the ground because rabbits are able to dig and will often go under rather than over. Once the ground freezes this is less of an issue.


There are different kinds of tree wraps that can be used around trees, and are readily available at home improvement stores.

Tree wraps come in a variety of materials such as polypropylene fabric, corrugated cardboard and plastic shields that coil around a tree. These plastic shields can also deter damage from deer.

When applying flexible wraps start at the bottom of the tree, winding on an angle as you go up. Be careful not to apply the wrap too tightly. Typically a good rule of thumb is to apply these around Thanksgiving but remove them come Easter.

Wrap a little higher than shown here, otherwise rabbits will still be able to reach the tender bark.


Rabbits don’t like things that taste or smell bad. There are many kinds of repellents on the market that are friendly to pets and the environment. You can find them at home improvement stores.

A product called LIQUID FENCE is basically made of putrescent egg, predators’ urine and garlic. Repellants can be effective, but often must be reapplied after rain, dew or snow fall.

It is also important to check before using repellents on plants that might be used for human consumption such as vegetables and fruits. And if you have pets, make sure they are pet friendly.

Some people make their own repellents. Taking a bar of Irish Spring soap, chopping it up into pieces, then wrapping it in a cheesecloth and stapling it to a stake can be stinky enough to deter a rabbit.


If you are just starting to landscape your yard why not plant rabbit-resistant shrubs? These would include, but are not limited to:

  • Red Dogwood
  • Hydrangea
  • Bayberry
  • Holly
  • Azalea
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Juniper
  • Spruce
  • Black Walnut


Lure rabbits away from your prized landscaping by setting up a “Rabbit-friendly zone”. This can be particularly effective in rather large yards. Try setting out tree prunings, as they prefer twigs to tree bark. And if you’re especially committed, putting out some clover hay can be a tempting lure away from your manicured landscaping.

You may not be able to keep rabbits out of your yard completely. Implementing these suggestions can be a way to enjoy rabbits from your window while protecting your valuable planted trees and shrubs.