Picture this; you’re sitting in your backyard, admiring your flourishing vegetables, feeling amazing about your garden. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see a small, brownish-gray critter streak by. As you focus on that area, you realize it’s a rat. And while potentially cute, the last thing you want in your garden is a rodent, leaving you scrambling to determine how to get rid of rats in your garden.
Simple steps like eliminating food and water sources and hiding spots are surprisingly effective for getting rid of rats. Couple that with deterrents like cayenne, peppermint oil, and ultrasonic devices, and you can make serious headway.
However, other strategies are also worth considering. If you’re trying to figure out how to get rid of rats in your garden, here’s what you need to know.
- How to Know If Rats Are the Problem
- Are Rats Dangerous?
- What Scent Will Keep Rats Away?
- How to Get Rid of Rats in Your Garden
- 1. Remove Food and Water Sources
- 2. Cut Down Overgrown Areas and Remove Clutter
- 3. Add Obstacles to Runs and Move Items Around
- 4. Block Access to Shed and Underneath Decks
- 5. Get a Cat or Dog
- 6. Cayenne
- 7. Peppermint Oil
- 8. Lavender
- 9. Balsam Fir Oil
- 10. Build an Owl House
- 11. Install Ultrasonic Devices
- 12. Add Soil Netting
- 13. Stash Soft Furnishings
- 14. Get Rid of Outdoor Woodpiles
- 15. Try Traps
- Will Rats Leave on Their Own?
- What Happens If You Disturb a Rats Nest?
- Does Vinegar Keep Rats Away?
- What Are Rats Most Scared Of?
- When to Call a Professional
- The Best Way to Get Rid of Rats in Your Garden
How to Know If Rats Are the Problem
In some cases, you’ll know rats are your problem because you’ll see one scurry through your garden. However, rats are generally nocturnal. Unless you spend time in your garden at night, you might not spot one of the furry critters first-hand.
Instead, you’ll need to look for signs of rat activity. Small tunnels – usually about two to four inches in diameter – could indicate rats. The same for tracks along common runs, such as worn paths along walls or fences. You might even see smudge marks along the walls, which can happen when rats brush against them and leave behind body oils.
Cylindrical droppings can also signal that rats are the problem. Parallel teeth marks in vegetables or chewed-up wood are also red flags. Sometimes, it’s a pet acting strangely, such as staring intently at a wall or hole, that lets you know a rat is potentially on your property.
If you suspect rats, it’s wise to examine areas they would potentially travel for signs like those above. You could also try a night vision critter camera, possibly letting you capture footage of the responsible animal on film.
Are Rats Dangerous?
In most cases, rats won’t lash out at people unless they feel threatened or cornered. Should that occur, then bites and scratches are certainly likely. However, they aren’t typically the biggest risk created by rats in gardens.
What makes rats dangerous to people (and pets) is the diseases they can carry. Rats may harbor hantavirus, leptospirosis, salmonella, tularemia, and typhus. They can host pneumonic and bubonic plague, of which there are a little more than a handful of cases every year in the United States.
Many diseases rats carry don’t require bites or scratches to transmit. Instead, contact with urine and droppings can spread many of them. In some cases, simply inhaling air in rooms with rat activity could cause a person or pet to contract some diseases.
What Scent Will Keep Rats Away?
When it comes to scents that deter rats, there are a few that rats find unpleasant. Peppermint and other types of mint – whether natural or in essential oil form – aren’t smells that rats generally enjoy. The same can be true of eucalyptus and citronella.
The scent of cayenne pepper can potentially keep rats away, as it functions as an irritant. Onion and garlic produce strong odors, which make them unpleasant to animals with a strong sense of smell. The same goes for ammonia and vinegar.
However, it’s important to note that rats may not be deterred by odors as much as you’d expect. Rats commonly scavenge for food in the garbage and aren’t afraid to climb into sewers looking for meals. Many strong, pungent odors aren’t something they aren’t willing to overlook if the benefit is there, which is why scent-based deterrents alone may not be enough to get rid of rats.
How to Get Rid of Rats in Your Garden
1. Remove Food and Water Sources
In most cases, rats won’t stay in areas where food and water aren’t easy to come by. Since that’s the case, removing food and water sources is a smart first step if you’re worried about how to get rid of rats in your garden.
On the food side, make sure trashcan lids are secure and clean up any dropped food immediately. Reconsider keeping birdfeeders on the property, as dropped seeds can become a meal for a rat.
If you grow vegetables, make sure to install a fence around them. Choose fencing with tight slats or a tight weave. Additionally, bury the ends at least 12 to 18 inches below ground to prevent rats from burrowing underneath. Also, ensure the top leans outward and the fence is at least 48 inches tall.
For water sources, address any dripping faucets. Also, remove birdbaths and pet water dishes. If you have a pond, you may need to fence it or otherwise prevent access if you want to ensure that it won’t serve as a water source for rats.
2. Cut Down Overgrown Areas and Remove Clutter
Rats prefer areas with ample cover, so cutting down overgrown areas can make your property less enticing. Along with keeping grass short, make sure that any larger plants are well-spaced and well-manicured.
Additionally, remove clutter that could give rats a place to hide. This includes décor and gardening tools outdoors along with layers of items in storage sheds.
3. Add Obstacles to Runs and Move Items Around
Rats are broadly considered neophobic. By introducing new items or moving existing pieces around, rats may become anxious. While rats are territorial, they find disruptions threatening, which may encourage them to leave.
One quick way to begin is to place obstacles along any runs you find on your property. Bringing in rocks that are baseball-sized can make it clear that the path was disturbed. You could also shift potted plants into different positions near trails or in your garden area.
Shifting larger pieces in your yard can also work. Adjust your furnishings regularly to give the rat the impression that danger may be lurking.
4. Block Access to Shed and Underneath Decks
When rats settle down on a property, it’s usually because it’s got everything they need, including a viable nesting location. Since sheds and the space underneath short decks can be ideal places to nest, blocking access is essential.
Check any sheds for holes or cracks that could allow rats inside. Additionally, check along the lower outer edge to determine if a rat could squeeze underneath. If you see any potential entry points, block them.
For a ground-level deck, you may need to do more than go along the edge with a board. For example, connecting tight, chew-resistant netting to the boards and burying the edge at least 12 inches down could create a sufficient barrier.
5. Get a Cat or Dog
A predator on your property is a simple way to discourage rats from moving into your garden. Both outdoor cats and dogs known to go after rats – like many terriers – can threaten a rat’s safety. As a result, your property may seem too dangerous to call home.
Just be aware that a cat or dog may not just chase a rat away; it might attack it. While that means the threat to the rat is very much realized, it could introduce certain dangers for your pets.
For example, a rat bite or scratch could harm your pet. Additionally, many diseases rats carry can be transmitted to cats and dogs. Since that’s the case, you’ll want to remain vigilant if your pet is after a rat, allowing you to intervene or seek proper treatment from a vet should the need arise.
6. CayenneFor many kinds of animals, including rats, cayenne is an irritant. Since that’s the case, it can make a property seem like a poor choice for a home or meal.
With cayenne pepper, you want to sprinkle it around areas where the rat is traveling. That can include between plants in your garden, along runs, and at the entrances of holes that may lead to nests.
Just be aware that cayenne can be an irritant for pets, too. If you have a cat or dog going through the area, you may want to consider an alternative deterrent.
7. Peppermint OilPeppermint oil has an incredibly strong scent that many animals find unappealing. As a result, it may help keep rats that haven’t made your house their home from nesting in the area.
Additionally, peppermint oil can act as a mild irritant, bothering the eyes and nasal passages. Plus, if enough peppermint oil is consumed by a rat, it can become toxic to them, leading to organ damage and, potentially, death. While rats consuming enough to cause organ failure is rare, it’s critical to know that it’s technically a possibility.
With peppermint oil, you can soak cotton balls or add a few drops to a spray bottle filled with water. Either option allows you to disperse the scent around your garden. Just know that the scent will dissipate with some speed, so reapplication is often necessary.
Additionally, peppermint oil isn’t ideal for homes with pets. The scent is unpleasant to cats and dogs. Plus, even inhaling the aroma can harm a cat’s lungs, so you’ll want to use another method if you have pets.
Planting lavender in your garden could keep rats away. The odor is quite strong, and rats generally find it unpleasant. Since the pollen can spread to nearby plants, it may also reduce the odds of them turning your garden into a buffet.
9. Balsam Fir OilAnother scent-based deterrent, the smell of balsam fir oil is quite strong, often to the point of deterring rats.
Like peppermint oil, you’ll have to reapply frequently for this option to work continuously.
Additionally, while it may keep a new rat from moving into your garden, it typically won’t chase away a rat already calling your property home.
10. Build an Owl HouseWith an owl house, you’re creating a home for a bird of prey that might view a nearby rat as a tasty meal.
Essentially, this works by increasing predator activity in the area.
Once an owl moves in, it may eat the rat. Otherwise, its presence may be enough to scare the rat off.
11. Install Ultrasonic DevicesUltrasonic devices emit a noise that annoys animals like rats. Since the sound is continuous and unpleasant, it may encourage a rat to call somewhere else home.
Just keep in mind that these devices aren’t just annoying to rats. In many cases, ultrasonic devices also bother pets and most types of wildlife.
Since that’s the case, it’s not the best choice if you have pets or don’t want to scare other animals off.
12. Add Soil Netting
While soil netting doesn’t keep rats away on its own, it can limit a rat’s access to a potential food source. With the mesh down, rats won’t be able to burrow down to eat bulbs or plant roots with the same level of ease. As a result, they may decide to look elsewhere to find an easier meal.
If you go with this option, look for touch, chew-resistant netting if possible. Rat teeth are sharp and durable, so a determined rat can make it through most kinds of mesh. By going with a more durable option, you make that task more difficult, reducing the odds that they’ll stick it out.
13. Stash Soft Furnishings
Soft furnishings can be attractive napping spots for rats, particularly if the furniture or cushion is also somewhat hidden. However, even if the furnishings are exposed, rats may chew through the material to get to any underlying padding.
If a rat chews into a cushion, two things may happen. First, it might remove stuffing to get padding for its nest. Second, it may simply move into the hole it creates, using that as a nest.
Since that’s the case, it’s best not to leave soft furnishings outside. Instead, either bring them inside or at least remove the cushions, allowing you to carry the most enticing part indoors when not in use.
14. Get Rid of Outdoor Woodpiles
Woodpiles are filled with nooks and crannies that can serve as hiding spots for rats. Since that’s the case, you may want to remove your outdoor woodpiles entirely, ensuring rats don’t have a place to find cover.
If you must have a woodpile outside, ensure it’s not up against a structure. Ideally, you want it at least four feet away from your home or any sheds, though more distance is often better.
Also, get a rack that allows you to keep the wood a minimum of 18 inches off the ground. That ensures the bottom of the pile can’t hide a rat run. Plus, it makes hopping up to find a hiding spot seem like a less viable option.
15. Try TrapsIf you can’t get the rats to leave using the options above, you may want to try traps. There are several types on the market, each with its own benefits, drawbacks, and levels of effectiveness.
Electric cage traps are highly effective and considered some of the most humane options if you want to kill instead of capturing a live rat. However, they can pose a risk to any animal that fits inside, so this isn’t ideal for homes with certain outdoor pets or areas where other kinds of smaller wildlife are welcome.
Live traps allow for potential relocation and eliminate the chance of harming another animal by mistake. But you’ll want to check local laws regarding release spots, as there can be rules for animals that are broadly considered pests.
Poison traps are often effective, but they aren’t particularly humane. Plus, they pose a risk to other animals, including pets. Additionally, most don’t work instantly; there’s a chance the rat will die in an area you can’t reach, like inside a wall or under a shed.
Snap traps can potentially do the trick, but they pose a risk to other animals and don’t always work on larger rats. Glue traps are commonly viewed as the least humane option. Additionally, depending on the rat size, they may not be particularly effective.
Will Rats Leave on Their Own?
Generally, rats won’t leave on their own unless the area doesn’t have what they need to survive. For example, removing food and water sources and eliminating hiding spots could cause rats to move on without any other steps. In those cases, it makes your property less viable as a home.
However, if food, water, and shelter are readily available, rats will probably stick around. The only exception is if there is a presence of a clear threat that they aren’t willing to overlook, such as an aggressive cat or dog that makes accessing sustenance impossible.
Additionally, if a rat has nested on your property, it will typically return, even if the nest was disturbed. Rats can be surprisingly territorial, so without an imminent threat to their lives or a lack of food and water, they may come back time and time again.
What Happens If You Disturb a Rats Nest?
As mentioned above, disturbing a nest won’t necessarily cause a rat to leave. Sometimes, it may even cause a rat to act more aggressively. As territorial animals, they may view the activity as a challenge or threat, which could alter their behavior if they encounter a person or pet.
Additionally, handling a nest comes with clear risks, as urine and droppings in the nest may harbor potentially deadly diseases. Even if you don’t touch the nest, being near it could be enough to pick up certain airborne diseases.
Finally, if a rat thinks its nest site is in harm’s way, even that isn’t a guarantee that it’ll leave your property. Instead, they may just make a new nest not far from the location of the original, leaving your house or garden as their home.
Does Vinegar Keep Rats Away?
In most cases, vinegar may deter a rat for a short period. When it’s freshly applied, the odor can be pretty strong. However, the scent loses potency surprisingly quickly, so it may not work as a deterrent for more than a few hours.
If a rat hasn’t decided to make your house or garden its home, that short window of effectiveness could be enough to send them looking elsewhere for a nesting spot. However, if they’re already nesting nearby, vinegar isn’t typically enough to make them leave.
What Are Rats Most Scared Of?
Generally speaking, rats are afraid of animals they view as predators. Along with people, creatures that consider rats as potential food sources all pose a threat to rats.
Many household pets, particularly cats and dogs, often frighten rats. The same goes for foxes and weasels. Birds of prey are a significant threat to rats and many snakes.
However, rats are also intimidated by any change in their environment. They’re considered neophobic by nature, so they may view any shift as a sign of danger.
Another thing that rats fear is wide, open, clean spaces. Rats prefer to have ample cover, as that prevents them from becoming a meal for a predator if they can duck away quickly. Since that’s the case, uncluttered, well-manicured lawns and gardens may seem too risky.
When to Call a Professional
First, calling a professional is always wise if you’re worried about handling the problem on your own for any reason. Even if it’s just one rat, it’s better to turn to a professional if you aren’t sure that you can handle the problem.
Those with certain health conditions are also better off calling a pest control specialist. As mentioned above, rats can carry various diseases, and some people may be more susceptible than others. If you have a weakened immune system or are at particular risk of serious illness or death, have a pro tackle the problem.
Finally, if you’re dealing with an infestation, not just a single rat, work with a professional. They may have access to tools that can handle the issue faster and more effectively, ensuring that your rat problem is addressed the right way from the beginning.
The Best Way to Get Rid of Rats in Your Garden
In most cases, a combination approach is the best way to get rid of rats in your garden. Try removing food and water sources, cutting down overgrown areas, and moving items around while also introducing a repellent or two. However, if you have a serious infestation, you’re likely better off turning to a professional.
Did you learn everything you wanted to find out about how to get rid of rats in your garden? If so, let us know in the comments section below. Also, if you know of anyone who could benefit from the information in this article, make sure to share it.