Rats are an unwelcome visitor in countless gardens around the UK.
These problematic rodents can devastate vegetable patches and other domestic crops, damage furniture or decking, interfere with food intended for other recipients and – worst of all – bring disease into your home. It’s prudent to deal with them swiftly and decisively.
Given that rats are largely nocturnal creatures, it’s possible that you won’t even see them in your garden – but you’re bound to notice the signs of their presence. Tell-tale giveaways include tracks leading from their food sources to their dens, pellet-like droppings and gnaw marks on wood or plastic. If you do begin to spot these symptoms, it’s best to nip the problem in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue, since rats are notoriously fast breeders. In fact, they can produce an average of 12 offspring each month, meaning a minor annoyance could turn into a full-blown infestation before you know it.
With that in mind, it’s advisable to address the issue head-on as soon as you become aware of it. Thankfully, getting rid of these pesky rodents isn’t an insurmountable challenge. Since they rely on food, water and shelter to survive, removing any one of those three things from your garden should do the trick. Here are 12 pointers on how to go about banishing the vermin from your back yard – and ensuring they don’t come back.
Handy ways to handle a rat problem
1. Keep things neat and tidy
By their nature, rats have a fear of open spaces and prefer to secrete themselves in hidey-holes around the garden. How can you prevent that from happening? By minimising clutter and keeping everything as spick and span as possible.
In practical terms, that means mowing the lawn and trimming the borders regularly, cutting back overgrown bushes or shrubs, tidying away tools or materials when not in use and generally making sure that your garden is appealing to the human eye and unattractive to a rodent one. You should pay extra special attention to the areas near fences or walls, since these can create natural lean-to shelters that rats love to take advantage of.
2. Clear fallen fruit and other debris
If you have an orchard or even just one or two fruit trees, it’s likely that some of that fresh produce will fall from the branch once it has ripened. If neglected, it can soon become rotten and unfit for human consumption – but rats are not nearly so discerning when it comes to filling their bellies. Indeed, any kind of seeds, berries or other fruit will be interpreted as an invitation to dine with you by all rodents, so you need to ensure you don’t give them that opportunity.
Make a habit of a visual inspection of your garden, paying even more care to the areas underneath trees and bushes where produce may end up. Meanwhile, make sure that all refuse you leave outside is kept in a bin with a lid that isn’t propped open or damaged to prevent rats from gnawing through the bag to get at the goodies within.
3. Protect your crops
Rats just love to gorge themselves on the fruits (or vegetables!) of your labour and there’s nothing more frustrating than happening upon a patch that’s been contaminated by the teeth of these impertinent critters. How can you stop them? With the magic power of the onion, no less!
The strong smell given off by onions, leeks and garlic is enough to deter rodents from meddling among your crops, so planting any of these plants at the border of your plot should ensure they are kept at bay. In fact, onions are such a powerful weapon that you don’t even need to plant them – just pop an onion in among your crops and let the pungency do the work for you! Just remember that you’ll need to replace them once rotten, and that they’re poisonous to dogs so should never be placed in an area where pets can get at them unsupervised.
4. Herbaceous borders
Another strong-smelling plant which is anathema to rodents is mint. Again, planting one or two of these around your garden and positioning pots at the entrance to your greenhouse will not only ward off unwanted visitors with a natural deterrent, but will also add a sweet-smelling fragrance to your greenery.
It’s not just mint that rats don’t like, either. Pretty much any herb with a potent aroma (such as basil, echinacea or thyme) will do the trick, masking the smell of anything the rat might actually like to eat and convincing it that it’s not worth the bother of investigating your wares. Keep your herbaceous borders thriving and watch your rat problem disappear.
5. Safeguard birdfeeders
One of life’s little pleasures is leaving out a smorgasbord of nuts and seeds for our feathered friends to gorge themselves on – but they’re not the only animal who will take advantage of your generosity. Rats are remarkably good climbers, meaning they can scale most freestanding bird tables with ease, while they’re always on the prowl for any scraps which may have fallen to the ground beneath.
Squirrel-proof feeders are better suited to preventing rodents from accessing the food in-situ, so it might be worth investing in a hanging alternative to your bird table. As with the fallen fruit mentioned above, make sure you keep on top of any delicious debris that may have been knocked to the ground and sweep it up before a rat can do so first.
6. Secure outdoor buildings
Do you have a shed, greenhouse or other type of outdoor building? Rats are especially keen on darker and dingier places where they can hide away from prying eyes. It goes without saying that all of those places should always be securely closed and locked, but rats can fit through the smallest of gaps, as well. Any aperture of 15mm or more will be sufficient, while mice can slip through cracks of just 2mm in diameter!
With that in mind, make sure that the floors, doors and walls of any outhouses do not have any holes, gaps or other points of entry which a rodent can exploit. Metal “kick plates” are a good option for safeguarding the bottom section of shed doors from scuffs and scrapes, while simultaneously making it even trickier for unwanted guests to gain entry.
7. Cover compost
Compost heaps are a great way to recycle organic matter, improve the quality of your soil and do your bit for the environment, all in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, they’re also beloved by rats for the inviting habitats that they provide. One way round this is to forego a heap in favour of a bin with a lockable lid that keeps rats at bay. If that’s not an option, you could place chicken wire underneath the heap to make it inaccessible from below and keep it topped up with green and brown materials to increase moisture.
In a similar vein, mulching is another common practice which can have great benefits for your garden – but which also extends a hearty welcome to rats, mice and other rodents. Try to refrain from mulching altogether if possible, or else use a wood-chip variety that doesn’t lend itself nearly so well to setting up shop for vermin.
8. Cut off the water supply
While mice are capable of living without water for months on end, rats are not quite so adept at extracting the moisture from their food and as such need a steadier water supply. One easy way to deter them from frequenting your back yard is to remove any sources of H2O to which they currently enjoy easy access.
Ponds are excellent at encouraging other forms of wildlife to flourish in your garden and so should be kept for the biodiversity they bring. However, you don’t have to make things easy for rodents; remove any bushes or rockery from the fringes of the pond, meaning the rat will have to expose themselves if they want to slake their thirst. Elsewhere, make sure outdoor taps don’t drip, attach baffles to your drainpipes and secure the top of any drainage points.
9. Rearrange the furniture
Another quirk of the rat personality is their resistance to change. Indeed, they’re positively perturbed by any new additions to their environment, so placing new items in the garden will cause them to become suspicious and entertain thoughts of departing for stabler climes. Of course, that can quickly become quite an expensive tactic, but even rearranging your existing furniture, ornaments and other garden features can be enough to unsettle these flighty creatures.
This technique becomes even more effective if you begin to understand the rat’s favoured stomping grounds. Creatures of habit, rats will memorise the same pathways between their dens and their food sources and retrace their own steps day after day. Put something new in their way and they’ll think twice about making themselves at home in your garden going forwards.
10. Get a pet
Have you ever seen Tom and Jerry? While real-life rodents are not quite as resourceful as that mischievous mouse, it’s true that cats are naturally inclined to hunt rats and are likely to be far more successful at doing it than we are. Even dogs are equally as effective in disrupting the rat’s routine and serving as a deterrent for them to stick around.
Of course, a pet is a huge responsibility in itself and will require sustenance, care and attention every day, so acquiring one solely for the purposes of dealing with your rat problem is as illogical as it is irresponsible. However, if you have the ability and inclination to get a cat or dog, it will certainly help to scare any rodents away from your territory.
11. Repel with solar-powered sonar
For those compassionate souls who want to get rid of the rats without actually harming them, there are some hi-tech contraptions which can do just that. Using ultrasonic frequencies that are beyond the hearing range of humans and pets, these ingenious gadgets are intolerable to rodents and will scare them off. For an added environmental bonus, you can get solar-powered repellents, which harness the sun’s rays and use it to ward off the vermin.
Bear in mind that most models on the market only have a specific range (generally around a few thousand square feet), so those with a large garden may need to purchase a few and position them at intervals. Meanwhile, some people have reported that while the devices were effective at the outset, the rodents became accustomed to them over time, suggesting they may not serve as a definitive solution.
12. Use traps
One alternative to ultrasonic repellents is humane live traps, which capture the rat and keep it alive so that it can be safely delivered to a location far from your home. Glue traps can also serve this purpose, although they are perhaps less reliable than live ones, since rats can often escape with the trap still attached to their body. However, the mere thought of dealing with a live rat can be a touch too much for some people, in which case a more conventional trap may be required.
There are a number of different options available, including both snap and electrical traps. There are also a range of poisons and pesticides which can be employed, although the user is always warned to bear in mind the health and safety of other animal life in the vicinity (including, of course, household pets). In any case, traps and poisons are often the first course of action that despairing homeowners turn to, when in reality they should perhaps comprise the last resort. If you do decide to proceed with such methods, make sure you read the labelling carefully.
Jonny is an avid writer with a background in tourism, film and literature, but has a penchant for penning articles on all kinds of topics. He's always considered himself an environmentalist to some degree, but in recent times he has found himself shining a greater spotlight on his daily lifestyle choices and how the tiny changes he can make to his routine can have a cumulatively significant impact on the planet.