Will Rabbits Eat My Black-Eyed Susans? How Can I Prevent it?

If you want to plant some Black-Eyed Susans this year, but are nervous that rabbits may come and eat them up, you aren't alone! Many rudbeckia enthusiasts face this question after a move, or putting their flowers in a new location. In this article, cut flower farm owner and gardening expert Taylor Sievers walks through exactly what to expect.

Rabbit Smelling Black Eyed Susan

Critters. Depending on your outlook, they can be an unfortunate blight to your garden or a cute and cuddly bonus to your backyard paradise. Amongst the most popular animal pests to invade your garden, the most prolific are the hopping, nibbling Peter Cottontails. Yes, I’m talking about rabbits if you haven’t caught my drift yet.

Rabbits are particularly fond of living and feeding in areas that provide thick cover for protection and abundant stems and foliage to browse through. Unfortunately, wildflower or pollinator gardens usually provide this type of habitat for rabbits.

And what’s one of the most popular plants that are planted in wildflower or pollinator gardens? The black-eyed susan! So–the question remains–will rabbits eat black-eyed susans in the garden? Read on to learn more!

The Short Answer

Yes. According to sources like the Missouri Botanical Garden and University of Nebraska Extension, black-eyed susans (also known as Rudbeckia species) are plants that can be moderately to heavily damaged by rabbit feeding. Due to high reproductive rates of rabbits, lack of predators, and snow-free winters, you may notice more rabbit damage in the garden if you haven’t already.

About Black-Eyed Susans

BES in Flower Garden
Although there are different varieties, most black-eyed susans have a dark center disk with bright yellow petals.

Black-eyed susans are members of the Asteraceae family, along with sunflowers, asters, and zinnias. They can often be found growing wild in roadside ditches, meadows, and prairies across the United States. There are many different species and varieties of black-eyed susans with varying characteristics. However, most black-eyed susans are yellow colored flowers. They have a dark center disk with bright golden or yellow ray florets (petals). These petals are arranged in a single row of petals around the center disk.

The leaves and stems are often dark green and rough due to the many hairs covering the leaves and stem. Some are biennial or perennial in nature. This means they will produce a basal rosette of leafy growth the first year followed by tall stems bearing the flowers the following year (or later in the season). Considered a native plant across most of the United States, they are often a great addition to wildflower, pollinator, or native plant gardens because of their beauty and resiliency.

How to Spot Rabbit Damage

How to Spot Damage

Rabbit damage to plants can look differently depending on the type of plants that are being affected. Damage on plants with woody growth usually has an appearance of gnawing on the stem or trunk. However, tender plant growth will have a clean, clipped appearance of the stem. Usually the stem is cut at a sharp 45 degree angle rather than a flat or frayed cut.

You will likely notice distinct pea-sized, round droppings near the damage. Once you notice damage, pay attention. You may even see the rabbits feeding on the actual plants in question or near the area during the day. Rabbits are active year-round. Noticeable tracks in the snow or soft earth will display elongated hind feet with offset or slightly staggered tracks for the front feet.

How to Deter Rabbits

Rabbit in Garden
Deterrence is the first step to protecting any garden space from rabbits.

In many states, rabbits are game animals and protected as such. This means it’s illegal to shoot or trap them when it is not the normal hunting season for rabbits. However, there are usually exceptions for nuisance reasons.

Deterrence should usually be the first step if rabbit damage is heavily affecting your garden. Iowa State University Extension has some excellent advice when it comes to protecting gardens from rabbit damage.

Tidy Up Your Gardening Space

Weeding Garden
Tidy up your gardening space by removing weeds and debris, and spacing your plants.

The first step when trying to deter rabbits is to modify the habitat around them. Rabbits love places to hide, and thus a weedy, debris-filled garden will only encourage rabbit habitation. Unfortunately, many wildflower or native plant gardens where black-eyed susans are planted are naturally this way. Tidying up the garden by removing weeds and old garden debris that could provide good cover will help reduce rabbit habitation.

Use Repellants

Repellant Spray
Be sure to spray your store-bought or homemade repellant after each rainfall.

Repellents with a strong odor or horrible taste that are either store-bought or homemade can be an additional option for deterring rabbits. Hinder and Deer-Off are just two of the many commercially available repellents. Hinder contains ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids and is an odor repellent. Deer-Off contains garlic oil, capsaicin, and whole egg solids. It is an odor and taste repellent. Capsaicin comes from the chili pepper and is the heat source in hot sauce. This naturally-occurring alkaloid produces a warming sensation in the throat of the animal.

Non-commercial repellents can include ground hot peppers, chili powder, talcum powder, blood meal, and even human hair that is placed around plants to make them less inviting. Sometimes a homemade garlic spray may also be effective. Of course, applying these repellents again after a rain or watering your plants is a must for them to be even remotely effective.

Problems that may occur with using repellents is that rabbits may become used to the odor or may ignore the horrible taste. Again, you will have to make sure you reapply the repellent after a heavy rain.

Install Fencing

Install fencing at least two feet tall to keep your plants safe from hungry visitors.

You may also choose to fence around plants to prevent rabbit damage. This is often done with new plantings so that the plant or tree may have time to establish before it succumbs to any damage by potential predators.

Using chicken wire fencing or hardware cloth to fence around susceptible plants with the mesh size at least 1 inch or smaller should help prevent rabbit damage. Pin the fence tightly to the ground or bury the fence at least 1 to 2 inches into the ground to prevent rabbits from crawling underneath the fence. Make sure that the fencing is at least 2 feet high.

Relocate Using Live Traps

Live Trap in Yard
Live traps are a humane way of catching garden nibblers and giving them a new home a few miles away.

Another non-lethal way of rabbit control is to use live traps. Sometimes a few rabbits will make a home in your landscaping. Because rabbits can bear 2 to 6 litters per year and females can breed immediately after giving birth, you may go from 2 rabbits to more than you can count in just a few years (or less). Live trapping will allow you to collect the rabbits and release them at least a few miles away.

Live traps can be purchased at any hardware store or garden center. Place the traps in an area where rabbits are frequently seen or close to protective cover in your garden. Bait the trap with apple slices, carrots, cabbage, or lettuce. Make sure to release the rabbits where they won’t be problems for others as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it deer damage or rabbit damage?

First of all, damage by rabbits is usually no more than two and half feet off the ground. If you are noticing damage on taller plants, shrubs, and trees in the area that is higher than this, then it is likely you are not witnessing rabbit feeding. It’s likely deer, although they usually do not seek it out.

Secondly, rabbit damage to tender plants with pencil-sized stems is usually a clean clip to the stem and appears to be cut at a 45 degree angle. In contrast, deer feeding tends to leave a jagged torn edge on stems.

There is also obviously a difference in tracks and droppings left by the animals. Rabbit tracks will have larger elongated hind feet prints with offset smaller front feet tracks. Deer have hooves so you will notice two distinct clefts in the ground for each hoof print. Rabbit droppings are round and pea-sized, while deer droppings are more irregularly round and larger.

Will plants grow back after rabbit damage?

Plant damage by any predator may or may not permanently damage a plant, and it all has to do with where the main growing point is on a plant and how much damage the plant received. If rabbits only nibbled on a few leaves and clipped off a few stems, the good news is that more than likely your black-eyed susans will recover.

Black-eyed susans will push out new flower stems as other flower stems fade or are cut off. Severe feeding to the point where no leaves are left on the plant at all before Winter sets in may be a problem, because the plant was unable to photosynthesize properly and store up nutrients in its root system for the Winter.

Young trees may even be killed by girdling as rabbits gnaw on the smooth bark. More than likely though, your black-eyed susan plants will recover if you’ve taken steps to prevent future damage and if your garden is large enough that feeding is more spread throughout the garden.

Final Thoughts

Rabbits fill an important ecological role in the food chain as prey for coyotes, bobcats, foxes, badgers, mountain lions, eagles, and hawks. However, much to our dismay as gardeners, they do like to feed on some popular and treasured garden plants. Many casualties can include cabbage, carrots, lettuce, asters, hostas, coneflowers, lilies, impatiens, phlox, tulips, and black-eyed susans.

Reducing weedy or brushy areas in the garden to discourage habitation, utilizing repellents, installing fencing, and using live traps are some ways you can control rabbits if they’re severely damaging your garden. And if you’ve found you enjoy their furry cottontail existence, then that’s okay, too. Sometimes the joys of being a gardener are the critters that come along with it!

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