When most people think about rat removal, they think of rat poisons and traps. It’s a legitimate train of thought. Both methods are effective. However, they are not the only options. They are also not the best options to use in a garden.
That’s because both rat poisons and traps (to some degree) affect other garden elements like desirable wildlife, soil and plants. Even pets and humans (especially children) are at risk.
Therefore, this article will introduce you to other methods of removing rats from your garden without side effects. Specifically, we will discuss how to successfully fight and prevent rat infestation by yourself, without professional help.
However, before discussing those rat control and prevention measures, we must first answer three questions. Trust us. Their answers will help you better understand, prevent and control rat infestations. So, let’s get into it.
What do rats want in your garden?
Like every other animal, rats need food, shelter and water. Here is a breakdown of how they find these resources in your garden.
- Food: Rats can feed on crops (both growing and stored), droppings of human and pet food, and organic matter in your garbage and compost bins. Rats prefer fruits, vegetables and nuts, but they eat almost any food.
- Shelter: All creatures need a nest to hide, dwell and sleep. Rats are not left out. They can find shelter in your roofs, sheds, decking, patios, overgrown lawns, and compost or garbage bins. Rats usually build their nest inside or under nearby structures.
- Water: Rats can get water from your sprinklers, sewers, leaks, water bowls, ponds, etc.
What are the consequences of having rats in your garden?
There are four major consequences.
- Risk of diseases: Rats carry and spread diseases that affect plants, pets, and humans. Examples include Lassa fever, monkey pox, rat-bite fever and salmonella. These diseases can spread through rat bites or scratches, contact with rat droppings and contaminated surfaces, and consumption of contaminated food.
- Plant Damage: Rats can destroy and feed on stored and growing crops. The biggest victims are peas, citrus fruits, berries, cabbages, sweet corns, apples, squashes and root crops.
- Property damage: Rats often nibble on (thus damaging) wooden, plastic and rubber materials. Your wooden structures, rubber hoses, pipelines and electrical cables are not safe.
- Landscape damage: Rats love burrowing. The holes and tunnels they dig can compromise plant roots and building foundations. These unsightly holes can also reduce the aesthetic value of your garden.
How do you know if there are rats in your garden?
The most obvious indicator is the sight of an actual rat, dead or alive. However, rats are nocturnal animals. They are primarily active at night. So, it may take a while before you actually see them. But here are some indicators that you have a rat problem.
- Rat droppings: They will mostly be around rat nests and food sources, but you may find them anywhere. Rat droppings are usually oval, like grains of rice. They are about 10-15mm long.
- Rat burrows: Rats love digging holes and tunnels in their search for food and shelter. So, watch out for those holes and tunnels. They can be of any depth, but the diameter is usually around 6-9cm.
- Bite marks: You may find bite marks on wood, electrical cables, hoses, pipes, etc. Anything chewable. You may also find bite marks on crops and other food items. When that happens, please throw those items out. Don’t eat anything that has been bitten or contaminated by rats. That’s one of the ways they spread diseases.
- Rat tracks and prints: You may see these on walls, floors and fences.
- Strange behaviour from your pets: Rats give off an ammonia smell that dogs and cats can pick up. The human nose can also pick it up if the odour is close or strong enough. Either way, once your pet(s) notice, it will try to find and attack those interlopers (rats). So, pay attention if your dog or cat starts digging and running around more than normal.
How to get rid of rats in your garden
We haven’t met anyone who likes having rats in their garden. However, you have to be strategic about rat removal to avoid endangering other elements and occupants of your garden. So here are our recommendations.
Tidy your garden
By doing this, you remove two of the things that attract rats, food and shelter. You need to tidy up every part of your garden. Mow your lawn; keep the grass short. Then clean and declutter your decking, patio and sheds. Arrange your furniture, tools, wood piles and other items properly.
You can also take things further by rearranging your patio and shed space. Despite how adventurous rats are, they are also neophobic animals. So, by rearranging your garden space, you can disorient and force them to leave.
Block hiding places and shelters
We have already mentioned places where rats can hide in your garden. Block access to those places, and you may fix the problem. As a matter of fact, if you suspect a rat infestation, it is a good idea to verify your suspicions by investigating those potential rat shelters.
Then secure them. Block openings and holes in the walls, doors, fences, and floors of your garden structures. You can use wood, metal plates, or meshes as appropriate.
Secure your crops
Remember – rats will eat anything, but they prefer your crops. So by securing your crops, you remove their most desirable food source.
Protect growing crops by adding nets under the soil and fencing them (the crops) with wire or chicken meshes. Protect stored crops by properly storing them. You should also declutter the storage area.
Remove other food sources
Rats will also feed on food droppings from when you eat or feed animals (birds or pets) in the garden. Reduce this risk by not eating or feeding animals in your garden area. Other options are; to always clean up after a meal and use elevated feeders for animals, especially birds.
Rats can also find food in garbage or compost bins. To reduce this risk, secure your bins properly by keeping the lid closed or adding a chicken mess. For compost bins, you can also moisten and turn your compost heap regularly, and avoid adding food scraps.
Remove water sources
We have talked about removing access to food and shelter. Now it is time to talk about water. Rats get water from sewers, leaks, ground-level bird baths, ponds and sprinklers. If you can reduce access to those water sources, you can chase rats away from your garden.
Do note that the point is to restrict accessibility, not remove water sources. So try to secure water sources in your garden. Reduce leaks and runoffs that rats can take advantage of.
Flood the rats’ holes and tunnels
Essentially, this removes shelter. Rats will have to leave or drown. However, be careful when using this technique. You don’t know how extensive the burrows are, or if they have compromised structural foundations and plant roots.
Use rat-repelling herbs, powders or oils
Garlic, catnip, peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender, onion, white vinegar, clover and used coffee grounds can repel rats. Plant these herbs and spices in strategic locations. You can also sprinkle powdered or oil forms of these herbs in strategic locations or the perimeter of your garden. When using powder or oil, you need to reapply once or twice a week.
Set rat traps
You will need to use baits and set the traps along rat trails or near their nests and food sources. There are two main types of rat traps based on the design intentions:
- Traps designed to catch the rat alive: AKA live traps, they capture the rat alive instead of killing it. Use this type of trap when dealing with endangered species or if you don’t want to kill the rat.
- Traps designed to kill: Examples include snap or electrocution traps. The former is mechanical, while the latter uses electricity. They are designed to kill, not catch. Therefore, they may also pose a danger to other wildlife, pets and children.
Use rat poison and chemical
As stated earlier, rat-killing poisons and chemicals are effective. So we can’t ignore them. Here are our tips for safely using rat poisons.
- Try other methods first
- Wear protective clothing
- Keep children and pets away from the area
- Only use in select areas. Target nests and trails
Get a pet
Cats are natural predators of rats. However, dogs will work too. These animals can detect the presence of rats before you do. Even better, they will make your garden uncomfortable and uninviting for rats.
By now, you may have noticed that most of the rat control measures in this article focus on removing shelter, food and water sources that could attract rats. You may also notice that most of these methods can serve as preventive measures. However, depending on the severity of the infestation, it could take a while to start seeing the effect. So be patient.
Be careful too. Wear protective clothing, get rid of contaminated food, and don’t use contaminated compost on crops you intend to eat. That being said, if you don’t want to or can’t take on the job yourself, consider hiring a professional exterminator.