There are more rats around than most people know about. They are secretive and artful. They can also do a lot of damage if we allow them to flourish unhindered.
The bad news is, deterring rats from your garden is an almost impossible task. There are so many ways in and when they arrive, their first target of interest is going to be your compost bin. Attention is better direct at catching rats rather than trying to deter them.
Don’t waste money on any of those sonic devices that send out a noise that animals can hear but humans can’t. They will work but only for a little while. It appears that they get used to the noise and can live with it.
You may wonder if it’s possible to secure a rat-proof garden. This we have looked into and we have a post that offers ideas but generally explains what a struggle it is to keep rats out. You can see it at ‘Rat proof garden. Is it possible?’ to find out more.
The only sure-fire way to tackle rats is either trapping or poisoning. If you aren’t happy about using poison then you are left with trapping. Care has to be taken whichever system you use. Traps must be placed where no pets can get access and you must check them daily. There is a third way. If you know how to use a gun, then, shooting could be an option. We look at this option later in this post.
Keeping rats out of the garden
If you feel confident enough to use poison you can get rat poison. But be careful, this is poison. Don’t just throw it around. It’s much safer to use a special rat poison station. These are made for the purpose of providing a constant supply of poison to rats and nothing else. (See more about killing rats here)
If you ask anyone do you have rats in your garden, it’s quite likely that the answer will be “no I don’t think so, I’ve never seen one”. Well think again because rats are everywhere. They have much more intelligence than we give them credit for. They are experts in the art of concealment. You may not have seen them but they will have certainly seen you. They know what time you go to bed at night and when you get up in the morning. They know when they can go out from their burrows.
Should you be worried about all this? Well, don’t get paranoid about it. Unless you have a massive influx from a swarm that has just turned up that needs the services of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. If a swarm does turn up they don’t tend to stay very long. If there isn’t enough food around , they usually move on.
The odd rat prowling around on a regular basis every night is not a cause for panic. This night-time behaviour has been going on for centuries. The time to take action is when there are obvious signs that there are a number of rats turning up and the evidence for this becomes clear.
If you see rat droppings (they are much bigger than mouse droppings) in odd places or there is clear evidence of wooden doors or floor-boards being chewed. Rats tend to gnaw a lot. It’s possible that you may hear a rat trying to gnaw its way through a wooden door at night making a rasping noise. I’ve experienced this, it’s quite unsettling and a definite call for action.
Why do you get rats in your garden?
If you have absolutely nothing in your garden and the area is a completely empty, you will have no rats at all because there’s nothing there for them. There’s nowhere for them to hide. Rats love clutter they like heaps of rubbish and plenty of places to hide. An ideal place for a rat to hide is underneath a wooden shed in the garden. They know enough to know that you are not going to look there because there’s no way you can get in under a wooden shed.
We all know the garden cannot be an empty place, if it is then it’s not a garden. It doesn’t matter what we do there’s always going to be stuff in the garden. The bigger the garden is the more stuff there will be, so having an empty space for garden is an impossibility.
Having somewhere to hide isn’t enough on its own. They do appreciate a good food supply and all too often we are very obliging when it comes to inadvertently feeding rats. We do this by leaving food waste where they can get at it. If we do everything we can to make sure that food waste is in a composting bin that’s difficult for rats to get at, this would reduce the problem.
So the reason why a rat or a number of rats turn up in your garden is because the conditions are favourable with food and somewhere to hide. They don’t necessarily have to take up residence. They can be living somewhere locally and visit you on a regular basis as well as all the other gardens in your area.
About deterring rats from the garden
Rats in garden problem
The first thing is to recognise when or if there is a problem with rats in the garden. If you don’t know where to look and what to look for you won’t even know if you got a problem. If the evidence is clear then you have to accept that there is a rat problem. If you see small holes that are about 3 inches in diameter were something has clearly dug it out.You can assume that something has moved in and taken up residence.
If this is a recent development then it will probably be a female rat that’s looking for somewhere to nest and it will be the early stages of a new rat colony. If you do nothing about this then the population in the locality of your garden will expand and the problem will escalate.
The success of this colony would of course rely upon the food supply nearby. This may not be your responsibility, it may be that one of your neighbours is unwittingly providing a food supply that is feeding the rats that are living in your garden. There is a need therefore to make rat control a community project because if everybody knows about the problem there is a much better chance of doing something positive about it.
What rats eat in the garden
Rats aren’t fussy, if it smells nice and they can get their teeth into it they will eat it and this covers all the food that we eat ourselves and everything that we throw out as waste food. If they are around and they can get at it they will. The thickness of a plastic bag will provide no barrier to them but if they have to get into a compost bin this may involve chewing through a thick wall of plastic or wood.
This is something they will do if they know there is a good supply within. But with the nature of composting being what it is the food waste in a compost bin will very often rot faster than the rats can get out at it. So if you have a compost bin don’t allow excessive amounts of food waste to build-up in it that doesn’t rot down quickly.
One of the reasons why a rat may want to chew its way into a compost bin is because it’s static. The compost bin never moves around and so every time they visit it’s always in the same place. Because of this they feel safe if they go inside.
They don’t necessarily have to chew through the wall of the compost bin. They are very effective at tunnelling and it’s quite possible that they can dig down on one side in the ground and then tunnel their way up from in under.
They can do this very successfully and with no evident holes in the side of the compost bin you won’t even know what they’re doing it.
The Rolypig composter has a bit of an advantage because of the nature of the RolyPig. This is a tumbler-style compost bin which has to be moved regularly to stir the contents of the compost bin which rapidly accelerates decomposition. So with the Rolypig the decomposition is a little faster and because it’s a tumbler it is moving around on the ground.
Rats will be very suspicious of this. They like the certainty of routine and if things change and move around they don’t feel safe. Unless a Rolypig is left in one place for a long time it’s unlikely that a rat will find its way in.
Another area which needs to be considered is bird tables. If you have a bird table and you put too much bird seed out for the birds they very often spread it around while they are feeding. Some of this seed falls to the ground. The birds themselves don’t realise that it’s on the ground and most of it gets left there around the base of a bird-seed stand.
Some bird’s will find it but there will be plenty left for the rats who will find it as well. Because birds seed tables are supplied regularly the rats, being creatures of habit, will get to know about this and they will become regular visitors.
The problem here is that people who have a bird seed table won’t know that the rats are feeding on the ground around it because rats are so tidy that they will clear everything away and you won’t realise that it was ever there. The thing to do here is to adopt a design of bird seed table that doesn’t allow for excessive spilling of bird seed onto the ground.
Do rats burrow in the garden?
Rats will Burrow anywhere if the ground is easy enough to do dig. Including in your garden. They prefer ground that has been disturbed because it’s easier for them to dig. They won’t dig through concrete so where there is a solid yard area it’s unlikely that there will be any rats underneath it.
If a rat does dig a burrow in the garden the entrance to the burrow will usually be concealed. They are clever enough to find somewhere out of sight to set up what they want to be their new home because they want to be somewhere where they can’t be disturbed.
So if you inspect your garden very carefully you need to look out for holes or maybe just one hole that measures about 3 inches in diameter. You will probably see a small heap of material outside the hole which has been excavated from within. If you look around the whole on the ground you will see evidence of regular visits to the hole and possibly regular track paths. This will give an indication of how busy a colony of rats that may be there.
If you see a small hole that measures not much more of than an inch in diameter, this will be a mouse.
If you do find anything that looks suspiciously like a rat hole, do not touch anything because you need to be aware that rats have a habit of carrying all sorts of unpleasant diseases. So if you find you need to handle anything in the area be sure to wear rubber gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards with disinfectant.
How deep do rats Burrow?
Rats only Burrow down as far as they need to which is usually no further than 18 to 24 inches but they are capable of digging much deeper. This will depend on how easy the material is to dig through. The length of the burrow usually reaches no further than four feet.
Depending on the ambitions of the rats and whether they think they may prosper from digging further it is unusual for them to go any further than this. But it mustn’t be forgotten that they have the capability to dig their way down underneath the foundations of a house to gain access to a building.
How to fill a rat burrow
Before you can fill a rat burrow you need to know if the barrel is occupied or not. One way, and probably the best way, to find out if a burrow is actively being used is to partially block the entrance. If you do this it will probably be during the day time when the rats are in the burrow and then, in the night if they are there, they will dig their way out past the obstruction.
If the obstruction hasn’t been cleared within a couple of days you can safely assume that the burrow is dormant. The best thing to do then is to fill it in. It’s wise to do this because if you don’t an investigating rat, passing through, will seize upon the opportunity to take up residence of what would be a ready-made home.
Having established that at the burrow has no occupants you need to, as quickly as possible, start filling in the hole. You just need soil with perhaps, a few stones and push this into the hole, ramming it in tight. Remember that rats like loose soil to dig into. If you make it difficult for the rat to dig they will find it hard to open up the burrow and get in. As a precaution, splash some strong disinfectant around the immediate area. This will drown out any remaining smells of rat which may attract new visitors to try digging again.
How to get rid of rats naturally
Depending on the level of infestation there are things you can do to drive rats away. There are claims that the smell of mothballs will deter rats. This should be no surprise as the smell of mothballs is enough to drive most things away. So if you place these in places where rats are likely to frequent there’s a chance it’ll make a difference. Unless, of course, you are unlucky enough to have an infestation of rats who have a fetish about old clothes in a pre 1950s wardrobe.
The same effect can be achieved using camphor balls,this is something that most rodents find quite intolerable. Another suggestion is to use peppermint oil. Rub it around on surfaces where rodents may appear and also dried mint leaves have an adverse effect. It’s also suggested that if you grow a lot of mint in your garden this will keep rats away as well.
These are just suggestions taken from the perceived wisdom of those who I’ve asked. They can’t be a permanent solution because you wouldn’t want mothballs and peppermint everywhere all the time. You can only hope that this approach will do something to upset the rat’s day.
It also makes a lot of sense to clear away materials where rats can hide and if there are items, for example a pile of firewood, try to arrange it so that it’s off the ground leaving an open space in underneath where the light can get in. It’s areas like this that can be made to feel insecure to the visiting rat.
In addition avoid having plants or vegetation of any kind growing against the wall of your house because this provides cover for the rat. If there is an open space there’s nowhere for them to hide and start digging, as they do.
One of the most effective natural ways of getting rid of rats is to have an active cat on duty or possibly a number of cats. A cat will tackle a rat especially the young ones. Even if your cat is not effective at killing rats, just having a cat around, the smell will be enough to deter rats but only up to a point. One cat will only tackle one or two rats in a week. If the rat population is expanding then it will become more than a cat can cope with.
Another lively useful agent for the garden would be a dog. This particular approach could quite easily provide an element of entertainment. The ideal dog for tackling rats is the Jack Russell terrier. There are other dogs that are effective when dealing with rats but the Jack Russell is probably the best there is.
If there are any rats around the Jack Russell terrier will smell them. They can be described as being small but very determined and if they get a sense of a rat they will very often start digging where they find a rat hole. This may or may not be a good idea because, if left to dig unattended, they are quite capable of excavating quite a large hole leading to collateral damage.
A more organised way of making use of a Jack Russell terrier for rat control would be to go out at night with a torch and just take a look around to see if there are any rats. It’s at night that the rats are likely to be around on the surface and out of their burrows. A keen terrier will quickly identify a rat and go after it. Terriers are quick on their feet. A rat stands little chance of surviving when a terrier gets hold of it. The kill is quick because this is something that Jack Russell Terriers are particularly good at.
How do I kill a rat?
There’s a number of ways you can kill a rat. It’s important to remember that whatever method you choose you have to do everything you can to be humane. A quick kill is always the best.
We already looked at cats and dogs to keep the population of rats down and tackle them whenever they turn up. This is a regular option if you have an effective cat or dog but there are other things you can do.
If you can use a gun, rats are relatively easy target to shoot because they don’t run particularly fast. They are also creatures of habit; you can predict where and when they are going to run.
As for what type of gun do you need to shoot rats, it largely depends on what do you feel comfortable with. You can use an air rifle if you are a really good shot. With an air rifle you have only got one pallet that has to hit the target. These are best used when the target is motionless which may happen on occasions when trying to shoot a rat.
The most effective type of gun for shooting a rat is the shotgun. This doesn’t have to be a very powerful shotgun. With any shotgun there is a much better chance of hitting the target because a shotgun cartridge has many pellets and it will only take one pellet to hit the target to secure a kill.
Firearms of any type are potentially extremely dangerous but, in the right hands, they are extremely effective. Whenever firearms are used extreme caution must be exercised. If you haven’t had any experience of using a firearm it may be wise to call someone in who knows what to do.
Depending on where in the world you live you may find that you will need a licence to possess either a shotgun or air rifle. If you are thinking of acquiring a weapon of this type go to a reputable shop where you can talk face-to-face with an experienced assistant who will advise you on the power capacity that you will need for shooting rats.
When handling guns always put safety first!
As discussed earlier, another way of killing rats is to use poison. this is another area where you may need to have a licence to poison rats if you need to use large quantities poison. This is because you have to be very careful about how and where you place any poison. You can’t just scatter it around. It has to be put in special containers that rats will go to but other wildlife won’t.
When you use rat poison you just have to hope that the rats will die out of sight and out of mind. In practice this is what usually happens as on most occasions they die in their burrows and you don’t have to do anything more to them. You have to be aware that they may be the odd occasion when you will find a dead rat that has succumbed to the poison and the question then is what do I do with it.
I suppose the ultra correct thing to do would be to contact the local relevant authority and ask them what they think you should do with a dead rat. But I’m guessing that no one will want to talk about this and so you would probably be wasting your time.
Given that this is likely to be the case I would suggest that, on the very rare occasions when this may happen, you have two choices. One is to put it in a plastic bag, making sure that you wear rubber gloves, and then put it in the trash can to be taken to the dump. The other option is to dig a small pit in the garden away from the vegetable patch and bury it.
Another option is to use rat traps. There are two types of rat trap. There is the type that traps them and kills them in one go and then there is the cage trap that catches them alive.
Whichever of these you use you present yourself with the problem of what do you do with the rat be it dead or alive. As we have already discussed, there is a choice of avenues for disposal of a dead rat. With trap-killed rats you will need to get used to disposing of dead rats possibly on a regular basis.
But what do we do with a live rat in a cage? The first thing that needs pointing out here is that a live rat in a cage is a very dangerous animal. You must be very careful how you handle it because it will want to bite you. If the prospect of this scares you then you are right to be scared.
So what are the options if you have a live rat in a cage? You won’t want to keep it as a pet so don’t even think about that. It will have to be disposed of either by shooting or drowning. It has to be pointed out that drowning a rat maybe illegal in some parts of the world. Therefore presented with the situation it has to be up to you to make a decision over what it is that you want to do.
Whatever method you use for controlling rats, always be mindful that good hygiene is of utmost importance. If you are handling rat poison, disposing of a dead rat or releasing a dead rat from a trap you must always wear rubber gloves. After this you must always wash your hands thoroughly especially before handling any food.
What kind of plants keep rats away?
There appears to be some conjecture on the subject but there are lots of suggestions flying around which may well be worth a try. There are plants which you can grow in the garden that appeared to have some success at deterring most rodents. This will only be effective in the spring and summer months when plants grow and mature.
Part of the success comes from the growing plant itself and further to that formulations can be generated from the extracts of these plants which can be used as a spray. Making the liquid solutions often involves soaking the relevant plant leaves in boiling water then allowing it to cool before straining out the liquid which you can then spray around areas where rats and other rodents may travel.
One example of this is mint. This is one of my favourite plants as it makes the delicious mint jelly and it goes very well with roast lamb and many other meats. Rats however, appear to dislike it which makes the growing of meant very convenient. If you can spare some mint leaves and chop them up to put in boiling water, this will make a solution which when strained out can be poured into a spray bottle.
You can then spray it everywhere where you think rats may visit. This is something you will have to do on a regular basis because the smell will disperse after a while.
Another plant that rats don’t like is garlic. You can grow garlic in the garden. We all know about the smell of garlic, most of us like it in our cooking but rats aren’t so keen. As with the mint you can make a spray solution by placing garlic cloves in boiling water and then strain out the liquid.
Just for a laugh you could mix up a solution and squirt it down a rat hole. this will make them think twice about whether they want to stay around or at least it will make them turn up there twitching-noses.
There are other plants that make a difference in the garden, among these are daffodils and marigolds. The smell of flowering lavender will also upset their day. This is before we get to the range of herbs that have an adverse effect on rats. Among these are sage, black pepper, oregano and Cayenne.
These are plants which are most likely going to be grown in your garden anyway. It’s most convenient to think that the plants that we like in the garden can provide us with a first line of defence against rats. The effect of plants grown in the garden are always going to be minimal so don’t have high expectations of this.
Also see: what not to put in your compost pile.
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