Cottontail rabbits can be found throughout southern New England and often cause serious damage to young fruit trees. Damage usually includes extensive bark removal and severe clipping of lateral shoots. Rabbit feeding leaves larger and more regular gnaw marks than vole feeding.
Habitat control is an effective rabbit population control measure. Overgrown ditches, brushy fence rows, or stone walls provide the rabbits with food plants and protection from predators. Elimination of these areas may be all that is needed for adequate rabbit control.
Rabbit damage can be prevented by exclusion with 1/2 inch hardware cloth tree guards that extend 2 feet above the average snow depth. Taste repellents are another effective way to reduce rabbit damage (see following section on Trunk Painting).
On to Trunk Painting for Bark Protection
1996-1997 New England Apple Pest Management Guide