Rats are usually unwelcome visitors in our gardens – they are generally considered vermin and can spread potentially serious diseases, including Leptospirosis, which can lead to Weil’s disease. They can set up home beneath decking, in sheds or greenhouses, and compost heaps.
Rats are mostly nocturnal so you may not see them, but there are other tell-tale signs to look out for. You may spot their tunnels (6-9cm in diameter) or their ‘runs’ – tracks alongside walls, fences or buildings that are up to 10cm wide. You might also notice their cylindrical droppings (around 15mm long and 5mm wide), gnawed wood (especially where food is stored), or parallel teeth marks in crops.
Like all living things, rats need food, water and shelter to survive. Remove at least one of these from your garden or allotment and they are less likely to stay.
How to get rid of rats in the garden
Stop feeding wild birds and animals
Rats feed on grain and may be attracted to your garden by fallen food from bird feeders. Stop feeding birds if you suspect rats are visiting your garden, and secure chicken runs. Store bird and other animal food in secure containers.
Keep the garden tidy
Tidy gardens are less likely to attract rats as they provide less cover. Keep grass short, clear cluttered storage areas, remove rubbish and reduce overgrown areas, especially near fences or garden buildings.
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Move things around
Rats are ‘neo-phobic’, which means they have a fear of new things. They don’t like disruption to their territory, so place obstacles in their runs and move things around in the garden frequently.
Block access to decking
The space beneath decking is perfect for rats – it’s sheltered, hard to reach and food scraps can fall between the planks. Sweep up any fallen food after alfresco meals. Block access if possible or consider installing a patio instead, if the problem persists.
Block access to garden buildings
Block any holes in the walls, floors and doors of your garden buildings securely. You could add a metal ‘kick plate’ to your shed door to prevent entry.
Protect your compost bin
Make your bin or heap uninviting – don’t add food scraps and keep it moist (which rats don’t like) by including plenty of green and brown materials. Watering the heap regularly can also deter them. Fixing chicken wire around the base of the bin can also help, as it prevents rats from being able to dig beneath the bin to climb inside. Turn the heap regularly but bear in mind that other wildlife uses compost heaps too. If rats have made a home in your bin, don’t use the compost on edible crops.
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Keep an eye on crops
There’s not much you can do to keep rats off your crops. Rats will eat sweetcorn, pumpkins, squash, root vegetables and apples, so once harvested, store them somewhere secure. If you suspect that stored or growing crops have been nibbled by rats, don’t eat them. Rats also eat seeds, so store them securely.
Remove water sources
Rats can’t survive without water. While it’s not advisable to remove garden ponds or bird baths, removing other sources of water, including dripping taps, can help deter rats, Secure drains and add baffles to drainpipes.
Rats form a substantial part of a fox’s diet, so – where possible – it’s a good idea to give foxes space to live in your garden or allotment, too. Pets can also deter rats, as they can be a disruptive force in the garden, making the rats less likely to stay.
As an absolute last resort, you may consider taking stronger measures to control rats. Do this only after all other efforts to deter them have been exhausted, as poisons can harm other wildlife in your garden and can get into the wider environment. First, identify where the rats are living and feeding routes they take between them – in neighbouring gardens, too. Traps and poisons are sold at garden centres but must be used correctly – read the label. It’s better, and safer, to contact your local council or professional pest controller.