Gardening is an excellent activity providing fresh produce, beautiful flowers, and a relaxing outdoor space. However, the common rat is one unwelcome guest that can quickly ruin your gardening experience. Rats can cause damage to crops and property and even spread diseases. If you have a polytunnel, you may be particularly susceptible to a rat infestation due to the sheltered and enclosed environment they provide. Hence, knowing how to keep rats out of gardens is essential. Fortunately, we have several tips on how to prevent rats in the garden, plus the answer to ‘Does compost attract rats’ and the best preventive measures you can take. So, start keeping your garden thriving and pest-free with our top tips.
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Why Are Rats So Bad For The Garden?
Before we explore how to keep rats out of gardens, you should know the importance of doing so. For several reasons, rats and other rodents, such as mice, can be a major problem in gardens. They damage crops and property, their droppings and urine contaminate food and water sources, and fast reproduction rates mean they can quickly establish large populations in gardens and polytunnel gardens.
Moreover, rats and mice carry a variety of diseases that humans can catch, including leptospirosis, salmonella, and Weil’s disease. They also carry fleas and ticks, which can bite and infect humans and pets. So, understanding how to keep rats out of gardens is vital should you spot them. If you are curious about what diseases do rats carry, as well as other valuable info about how to control rats in the garden without harming them, read on.
Read More: Why Are There Mice In My Garden?
Signs of Rats In Gardens
Spotting rats in your garden or polytunnel is highly unlikely since they are nocturnal animals. However, several telltale signs point to these rodents making themselves at home in your garden.
Here are signs of rats in gardens and polytunnels to ensure you know what you’re dealing with:
- Droppings – Rat droppings are a telltale sign of their presence. They are usually cylindrical, approximately 15-20 mm long, and dark brown. Typically, you’ll find them near their nests or feeding areas.
- Gnaw marks – Rats’ teeth never stop growing, so they must constantly gnaw on things to keep them trimmed. Their teeth are hard enough to penetrate many materials such as wood, rubber, vinyl, low-grade concrete and cement. So, look for gnaw marks on wooden structures or other objects around the garden.
- Burrows – Rats dig burrows in the soil, often near structures or objects such as sheds, compost bins or piles, or even walls. You can identify the burrows by holes in the ground with dirt mounds around them.
- Tracks – Rats may leave footprints in areas where they walk frequently, such as along the edge of walls or fences. You may also see tail marks in dusty areas.
- Burrows – Rat burrows are typically around 6-9 cm in diameter, and you’ll find them in undisturbed areas near food sources.
- Nesting materials – Rats build nests out of materials such as grass, leaves, and shredded paper. Look for these materials in piles or tucked away in corners.
How To Keep Rats Out of Gardens
Whether you want to rid your polytunnel garden of rats or your vegetable garden, we have the answers. There are plenty of natural rat deterrents you can try to find the solution in your outdoor space. Here’s how to keep rats out of gardens to help you take back control.
Stop Feeding Visiting Wildlife
Unfortunately, feeding garden birds and other healthy wildlife will likely attract rats. Rats love to snack on grain and bird seed, and food from bird feeders and tables is a buffet. So, you may have to stop feeding wildlife in your garden altogether until you notice a decline in visiting rats.
Declutter Your Garden
Gardens with fewer places to hide and shelter are an instant rat deterrent. So, keeping your garden clear of clutter will help to keep rats away. You should keep the grass mown short, storage areas clear of clutter, rubbish cleared away, and overgrown areas to a minimum.
Switch Things Up Regularly
Rats are naturally neophobic, which means they fear and avoid new objects. So, if you want to keep rats out of the garden, move things around regularly and introduce new objects when possible. The unfamiliarity should drive rats away and encourage them to find new foraging grounds.
Block Access To Outbuildings and Decking
Sheltered, shadowy spaces in your garden are perfect for rats to burrow into and hide in. As such, spaces between decking and the interior of outbuildings are ideal. So, you’ll want to block off any potential access to these points. Fill in any spaces on your decking and cover any potential entrances to hiding spots; you may also consider installing a patio for a more permanent solution. To protect outhouses, securely block any holes in the floor, walls and doors, and install a metal ‘kick plate’ to the bottom of your shed door for extra security.
Check out our guide on how to stop foxes digging up the garden for other common garden issues.
How To Prevent Rats In Gardens
Prevention is always better than cure. So, once you’ve figured out how to keep rats out of your garden, you will want to keep them away. Here’s how to prevent rats in gardens for good:
- Grow Rat Deterrent Garden Plants – Some plants naturally deter rats due to their strong sense of smell, and filling your flower beds and vegetable patches with them can keep the pests away. Some rat deterrent plants you should consider include daffodils, garlic, lavender, sage, marigolds and oregano.
- Keep Your Garden Neat – Regularly mowing grass, trimming bushes and removing weeds will reduce the adequate hiding places for rats to hide in your garden.
- Store Away Incentives – Removing rat attractants from your garden will naturally deter them. Attractants include bird and pet food, compost, trash, fallen fruit and vegetables, faecal matter and water sources.
- Protect Tender Seedlings – Rats love to snack on tender seedlings, so you’ll want to ensure they’re protected. You can place plastic mesh tubes around them to prevent rats and other pests from nibbling.
Do Compost Bins Attract Rats?
Rats in compost bins are just as common, if not more so, than rats in gardens. A compost bin or heap provides rats with a safe, warm place to shelter from danger and the weather. Also, if you put kitchen scraps in your compost, rats will take them to feed their young. So, yes, compost bins do attract rats. However, there are things you can do to get rid of and prevent rats in compost bins.
How To Get Rid of Rats In Compost Bins
Rats taking up residency in your compost bin can be particularly annoying and even dangerous if you use the compost on your crops. Rat-infested compost is likely contaminated with their urine, so you should avoid touching it and using it on edible crops. To be able to put your compost back to good use, here’s how to get rid of rats in compost bins.
Read More: What To Do With Old Compost
Turn The Compost Heap Regularly
Regularly turning your compost heap will upheave any hiding rats and, eventually, force them to move on to a safer spot. Plus, it will aerate your compost! However, turning your compost heap will also disturb any other animals that may have made your compost heap home. For example, hedgehogs, insects, and some birds also like compost heaps. So, before turning, check out your compost heap meticulously for any friendly animals.
Naturally, when this method works, you must ensure they can’t find this safer spot elsewhere in your garden! So, follow our tips on how to keep rats out of gardens above.
How To Prevent Rats From Coming Into Your Compost Heap
Our previous suggestions on how to keep rats away from gardens will help you prevent rodents from entering your compost heap. However, there are a few more specific tips for preventing rats in compost bins.
- Avoid adding food scraps to the bin.
- Keep the bin moist with green and brown materials.
- Water the heap regularly to deter rats.
- Fix chicken wire around the bin’s base to prevent rats from digging beneath it.
Keep Rats Out Of Your Garden With Our Tips
Rats quickly become a nuisance in your garden or polytunnel, causing damage to your crops and property. However, by taking some simple steps to keep rats away, you can protect your garden and enjoy a successful harvest. With these tips on how to keep rats out of gardens, you can ensure a pest-free gardening experience and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
What Smells Do Rats Hate Outside?
Rats have a strong sense of smell, and they dislike certain scents, such as peppermint, eucalyptus, garlic, and vinegar.
Is It Normal To See A Rat During The Day?
While rats are primarily nocturnal animals, it is not uncommon to see them during the day if they are hungry or searching for a new food source. Seeing rats during the day could also indicate that their population is high or that they feel bold and confident in their environment.
What Is The Best Fencing To Keep Rats Out Of The Garden?
To keep rats out of your garden, you should choose a sturdy fencing material that is difficult for them to gnaw through, such as metal or concrete. Avoid using wood or plastic, as these materials are more susceptible to rat damage. You should also ensure the fence extends several inches below ground to prevent rats from burrowing underneath it.
Pest.co.uk. (2023) What diseases do Rats carry? [online] Retrieved from: https://pest.co.uk/what-diseases-do-rats-carry/ [accessed 26/06/23]
Prokill Environmental Services. (2020, October 6). Are Rats Nocturnal Animals? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.prokill.co.uk/blog/are-rats-nocturnal-animals/ [accessed 26/06/23]
British Pest Control Association. (n.d.). Rat Behaviour in Rodent Control. [Web page]. Retrieved from https://bpca.org.uk/test-news/rat-behaviour-in-rodent-control/222905 [accessed 26/06/23]
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.