Will Cayenne Pepper Keep Rabbits Out of Your Garden?
Do you have rabbits in your garden but aren't sure what it will take to keep them away? Cayenne pepper is a home remedy that many gardeners use, but does it actually work? In this article, certified master gardener Liz Jaros takes a deeper look at what you can expect if you use this common household item to deter rabbits this season.
Rabbit damage is a major problem for gardeners in both rural and city landscapes. It can happen almost overnight and it can prove fatal to your plants if you don’t get on top of it immediately. So you talk to your neighbors and the folks at your local garden center.
You click around on the Internet and you plot your defense. And one of the recommended rabbit repellants that keeps coming up, again and again, is cayenne pepper.
At this point, you’re desperate and willing to give anything a shot, but will it actually work? And what’s the best way to apply it? You need answers and you’ve come to the right place. Let’s take a closer look at the use of cayenne pepper to keep rabbits out of the garden and explore some techniques for sending these cute, but menacing critters packing.
The Short Answer
In some cases, cayenne can deter rabbits from your garden, but it is not 100% effective. You can sprinkle it directly onto your plants or spray as a liquid solution.
Rabbits dislike the smell and taste of spicy peppers, so this spice is sure to deter them. However, rabbits can learn to eat around the pepper or build up a tolerance to its flavor.
Rain can also wash away the pepper, which means you have to reapply regularly. And even when you apply it regularly, it’s a natural product that breaks down very quickly in a garden, making it only useful for a day or two.
The Long Answer
You’ve toiled in the yard for weeks, cleaning out beds and readying them for spring. You’ve tested and amended the soil, calculated your fertilizer applications precisely, and spent countless hours researching your plant selections for the upcoming season. You may have even started seeds inside to get a jump on your flowers and veggies.
Once things get growing out there, all your hard work will pay off. It’s going to be glorious, and you can’t wait. But as soon as the fruits of your labor begin to blossom and grow, you notice them disappearing one by one.
A pot of trailing petunias that brought pink joy to your patio yesterday is now mostly green. The bottom third of your snow pea vine has mysteriously vanished. And now it looks like the canes on your knockout roses have been whittled down to stubs by something with large, sharp teeth.
Signs of Rabbit Damage
Before you go about maniacally peppering your plants with cayenne, let’s make sure the critter wreaking havoc in your yard is indeed a rabbit. The key signs of rabbit damage include:
- Clean-cut leaves (on vegetables)
- Sharp gnaw marks at a 45° angle (on trees)
- Damaged or missing fruit
- Nibbled (not shredded) leaf margins
- Missing flowers
- Rabbit poop (pellets are larger than a rodent’s and are more rounded than deer)
On trees and shrubs, look for clean, sharp gnaw marks at a 45-degree angle just a few inches above ground level (or snow level) to indicate the presence of rabbits. They will almost always pursue young stems to mature ones, as the green fleshy tissue beneath the bark is what they’re after.
As herbivores who gravitate toward things that are sweet, rabbits are particularly attracted to fruit trees and members of the rose family. Still, they will also eat tulip, pansy, and zinnia flowers as if they were candy. If your blooms start disappearing before your very eyes and rabbits are hopping around in your yard, you can be pretty sure that’s what’s doing the damage.
In the edible garden, look for dropped or missing fruits and lettuce leaves that have nibbled margins.
If you’re seeing burrows in the mulch or dirt, you might have a mole or vole problem rather than a rabbit. If stems and leaves are shredded rather than cleanly cut, you may be dealing with a deer, as they have no upper teeth and must tear away leaves and stems in a slightly messier process.
You should also check for waste pellets in the dirt or snow and know that rabbit poop is larger than rodent poop and more rounded than deer poop.
Once you’re confident you have a rabbit problem, deterring them becomes your top priority. But you probably don’t want to kill or poison the little guys. You’d just like to encourage them to graze elsewhere. That’s where cayenne pepper comes in!
Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which is the chemical component that makes chili peppers hot. Common reactions to capsaicin include stinging and watery eyes and irritations of the nose, throat, and mouth.
Rabbits have a highly advanced sense of smell and taste, so they find the chemical very unpleasant. If they start nibbling on a plant that’s been treated with cayenne pepper, they will typically move on to something else.
How to Apply
There are several methods for using cayenne pepper as a rabbit deterrent, and you may have to experiment a bit to find out which one works best for you. Consider:
- How much effort you’d like to put in (the shaker method is easiest, but costly)
- Children or pets in your yard (cayenne isn’t dangerous, but it could be irritating)
- Cost-effectiveness (a liquid dilution is cheapest)
- Aesthetic (red sprinkles on your plants are not very attractive and can damage blooms)
- Time constraints (liquid sprays can be quicker)
- Rainfall (water can wash away applications)
The first and arguably the easiest technique involves using a shaker to scatter dry, ground cayenne powder around the garden. If you’re planning to use this method, make sure you get some powder on the leaves and flowers, not just the dirt around your plants, as rabbits will need a direct taste encounter in order for this repellant to be effective.
One drawback to this application method is cost. Depending on how big your garden is and how many plants are being affected, you might find yourself going through a large spice jar fairly quickly. You will also have to reapply after it rains since surfaces will be washed clean.
There is also the matter of appearance, as cayenne pepper will leave red dust wherever it’s applied. And some gardeners will find this unsightly.
Aim for a thin coating on leaves and an extra thin coating on blooms since large quantities may damage and/or discolor your flower petals. Do not apply cayenne directly to fruit or vegetables since it might alter the taste or burn the flesh. Direct your application toward stems and leaves only. Repeat as needed throughout the growing season.
Try a liquid application for a slightly more cost-effective and less time-consuming approach. A gallon-sized milk jug with a screw-on cap is a good container for whipping up a large batch. Here’s how to make it:
- Mix 3-6 tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper into a jug of water.
- Add a few drops of castille soap.
- Shake vigorously.
- Allow the mixture to steep for three days.
- Pour mixture into a spray bottle and apply to all parts of at-risk plants.
The castille soap will help to keep the cayenne in the solution so it can be readily sprayed onto leaves, stems, and flowers, but you should still reapply after heavy rains. Use at least once or twice a week throughout the season or until you notice rabbits have vacated the garden.
Ultimately, cayenne pepper is somewhat effective at repelling rabbits from your garden. However, rabbits can have voracious appetites.
Unfortunately, they can develop a tolerance for even the most offensive repellants. If you suddenly find yourself with a critter that seems unaffected by your cayenne applications, try mixing some other scents.
Other materials that are reputed to repel rabbits include garlic, soy sauce, onion, vinegar, cloves, talcum powder, soap flakes, and Tabasco sauce. However, none of these methods (including cayenne pepper) are confirmed to be as effective as introducing predator urine into your garden, which will cause most rabbits to avoid the area to avoid the potential predator. Even that has its limitations, as it also degrades over time and fades away and must regularly be reapplied. Cayenne is the next best thing, but it’s no sure fix.
Fighting off rabbits in the garden can be frustrating, and there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Be patient as you experiment with repellants and determine the best way to address your specific situation. With a little persistence, you’ll find something that tells these hungry foragers that the backyard buffet is officially closed.