How to Control Rodents in your Garden, Rentokil

Rodents in the Garden

Gardens can provide a safe harbour for several types of rodents, giving shelter and readily-available food sources both growing in the garden and stored in sheds or garages. Rodents are not wanted in your garden because of the damage they can cause to fruit, vegetables, seeds, bulbs, plants and containers, and also because they expose people and pets to various diseases and parasites.

The rat species you are most likely to find in your garden is the brown or Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus). The black rat is more likely to be found near coastal areas and ports.

There are several mouse and vole species native throughout the UK, and a small number of these can take advantage of food and lodging opportunities provided in gardens. However, their numbers are rarely high enough to cause much damage in the garden.

The house mouse (Mus musculus), wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), field vole or short-tailed vole (Microtus agrestis), bank vole (Myodes glareolus — sometimes still referred to by its old name Clethrionomys glareolus), and yellow-necked field mouse (Apodemus flavicollis), are species most likely to be seen frequenting gardens.

These rural species are normally found in specific habitats:

  • Wood mouse: woodland, hedgerows, occasionally indoors;
  • Bank vole: woodland, hedgerows, earth banks;
  • Field vole: rough grassland;
  • Yellow-necked field mouse: broadleaved woodland, hedges, rural gardens;
  • Common vole: meadows, heathland, agricultural fields.

Signs of rodents in the garden

Start by look for nesting areas — under rubbish, timber or wood piles, in drain pipes, underneath and in sheds, out houses or garages. Rodents have a characteristic smell when in large numbers and you may also hear their activity. They are usually nocturnal feeders, so you will not normally see them in the daytime. If you do see them it usually means they are short of food and desperately searching for new food sources.

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Rats in your garden

  • Holes or burrows: burrows are about 6-9 cm in diameter and can be located anywhere that is relatively undisturbed and near to food.
  • Runs and tracks: runs are typically 5-10 cm wide near cover along walls, banks and hedges and through vegetation. Rats memorise pathways and use the same routes to and from their shelter. Smear marks may be visible where they run along stone, wood or metal, such as on steps, fencing and gate posts. They tend to travel along the ground, but they can climb and jump to get to food and shelter.
  • Droppings: these are approximately 15-20 mm long, cylindrical, flat at one end and often pointed at the other. They are moist when fresh, but dry within hours.
  • Damage: rats will gnaw at food, packaging and barriers in their way, making holes or enlarging existing ones. They also gnaw objects when investigating them. Their teeth are hard enough to get through many hard materials such as wood, rubber, vinyl and low grade concrete and cement. Outdoors this can be fencing panels, sheds where food is stored, compost bins and electrical wiring in sheds, such as on power tools.

Mice and voles in your garden

  • They construct a system of tunnels to live in, which can have several chambers and exits. Voles can make a system of shallow tunnels that give a soft and uneven surface to lawns and soils.
  • Small gnaw marks can be seen on fruits such as growing strawberries and stored apples and seeds. Small fruit, such as berries may be left scattered on the ground under the plants.
  • Torn paper in garden sheds shows mice are gathering nesting material.

Damage caused by Rodents in the Garden

Rodents can cause an array of damage in your garden which can range anywhere from feasting on fruits and vegetables to gnawing on shed doors and wires. The type of damage that may be caused will vary depending on the species of rodent involved.

Damage from Rats

  • Eat a wide range of garden vegetables, including various root vegetables, such as carrot, parsnip, beetroot and potato tubers. They will eat the crops while they are growing and any they find stored in garages or sheds. They also eat fruits in storage such as apples, and seeds.
  • Eat feed put out for wild birds, poultry and pets, so this needs to be on bird tables or in hanging feeders, not on the ground and cleared away daily at dusk, along with any spillage’s.
  • Damage containers and packaging materials in which foods, animal feed and seeds are stored.
  • Cause structural damage to buildings by burrowing and gnawing, undermining building foundations, paving in patios and paths, causing settling, and damage earth banks.
  • Gnaw on electrical wires or water pipes, above or below ground.
  • Rats are opportunistic, so once they are in your garden they will seek new places to live, feed and breed, such as in your house, so it is important to control them as soon as possible. You may only see one or two, but there will be many more that you don’t see! They can damage buildings further by gnawing openings through doors, window sills, walls, ceilings, and floors to gain access.

Damage from mice and voles

Mice and voles will feed on a wide range of plants, but do relatively little other damage in the garden:

  • Eat recently sown vegetable seeds such as peas, beans and sweet corn and the foliage of seedlings.
  • Eat bulbs and corms, especially recently sown ones. Tell-tale signs are holes in the soil where they have dug down to feed on them.
  • Eat fruits such as strawberries, even before they are ripe and berries.
  • Eat stored fruit such as apples.
  • Voles can eat the bark of woody plants, especially in winter.
  • Voles make a network of shallow tunnels which can give lawns an uneven surface.

Rodent-borne Diseases

Rats, mice and voles can carry a wide range of rodent-borne diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and helminths (worms), including Salmonella, Leptospirosis, Weil’s disease, Cryptosporidium and rat bite fever. They can infect both people and pets. They can also carry ectoparasites such as ticks, mites, fleas and lice that carry another set of diseases, and can pass them on to others.

In the garden, contamination from rodents may not be as obvious as in the home, but there are several means of disease transmission, which include:

  • direct contact with excreta (urine, faeces, saliva) or inhalation of dust particles;
  • handling or inhaling dust particles containing infectious microorganisms aerosolized when disturbing compost heaps, woodpiles, or other material contaminated with dried rodent urine;
  • handling of infected rodents, alive or dead;
  • scratches or bites from rodents;
  • dogs, cats catching/eating rodents gives parasites the opportunity to cross infect pets and people.

Keeping rodents out of your garden

Rodents need food and shelter to live, so if you can take steps to deny them both of these you can reduce the chance of them invading your garden.

  • Eliminate any harbourage points around buildings and sheds. Seal any small gaps that allow them access. Rats need only a gap height of around 15mm to gain entry and mice 6mm, though normally mice access holes are 20-20mm in diameter.
  • Remove potential nesting places by keeping gardens clean and tidy. Remove piles of wood, garden clippings etc, cut back overgrown areas, and keep lawns short.
  • Cover any household food waste such as in compost heaps and garbage bins. Make sure bin lids are tightly fitted and rubbish bags containing food are not left outside for long periods.
  • Do not scatter bird feed on the ground: use a bird table or feeder basket to feed birds and clear away before dusk.
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Wood mice, yellow-necked field mice and voles rarely build up in large enough populations in gardens to become serious pests, so it is usually not necessary to need to eliminate them.

There are however, a number of DIY rodent control products available for the home use to help eliminate rats and mice.These will need a degree of skill and care to use effectively and safely. You should only use products that are designed for the ‘target’ pest animal and use methods that are considered humane or safe for other people, pets, wild animals and the environment. You should read the description and instructions on DIY product packaging very carefully before use.

Professional Rodent Control

If you are concerned that rats are nesting in your garden or that rodents have entered your property, the safe and secure option is to call a professional pest controller, who will be trained, qualified and have the knowledge and expertise to assess your rodent problem and deal with your infestation effectively.

How to Close a Rat Hole in a Garden

Things You’ll Need

Metal garbage can

Used cat litter


Don’t use poison for kangaroo rats if there is a chance it may be one of five endangered species: Fresno kangaroo rat (Dipodomys nitratoides exilis); giant kangaroo rat (D. ingens); Morro Bay kangaroo rat (D. heermanni morroensis); Stephens’ kangaroo rat (D. stephensi, including D. cascus); and Tipton kangaroo rat (D. nitratoides nitratoides).

The best way to get rid of a rat hole in your garden is to make it undesirable for rats. Using poisonous baits and traps can seem quick fixes, but they only work until the next rat moves in. Taking steps to eliminate food and shelter for rats will cause the rats to move elsewhere. Survey the area for places where rats may find food. Rats rarely travel more than 100 to 150 feet of their burrows for food. Your goal should be to find their food and eliminate it. Then you can get rid of the hole without fear of the rats returning.

Step 1

Hang a net or pan under any bird feeders to catch spilled seed. You may opt to stop feeding birds for a short period until you get rid of the rats.

Step 2

Remove any overgrown areas or rubbish that rats use for shelter.

Step 3

Store firewood, lumber, crates, and other items at least 8 inches off the ground. Stacks should be at least 18 inches from the wall.

Step 4

Keep trash and garden debris in metal cans with tight lids.

Step 5

Thin any dense vegetation to make it less attractive to rats. Areas with dense vines like ivy, star jasmine, and honeysuckle are very attractive to rats. Thin or remove them.

Step 6

Prune bushes and shrubs so they are several inches from the ground.

Step 7

Don’t leave any dog or cat food sitting out. Pick up any pet bowls that are unattended. Store bird or pet food and seeds in air-tight plastic containers.

Step 8

Pick up any pet droppings. Rats will eat and can survive by eating feces.

Step 9

Clean up any fruit, nuts, and seed pods from the ground.

Step 10

Rototill the area between your plants to remove any plant material and destroy any burrows or tunnels under the ground.

Step 11

Fill in the burrow with soil or dirt. If possible, place some used cat litter in the hole before sealing it. Cat urine will cause most rats to leave. Cover the cat litter with dirt, and pack it down so the soil is secure.

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Darcy Logan

Darcy Logan has been a full-time writer since 2004. Before writing, she worked for several years as an English and special education teacher. Logan published her first book, «The Secret of Success is Not a Secret,» and several education workbooks under the name Darcy Andries. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of Arts in special education from Middle Tennessee State University.

Keep Rats Out of Your Garden

Many gardeners have had at least one encounter with rats; the typical urban gardener has probably had many. There is only one species of rat in New York City—the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus). The Norway rat is a commensal rodent, meaning it lives in close association (literally, “shares the table”) with humans. Urban gardens are particularly hospitable to rats because they provide food, water, and safety.

Rats will burrow into any available earthen space within close proximity to food but prefer fresh, fertile soil to make their nests—a garden is prime real estate to them. A rat burrow can be anywhere from one to six feet deep and will have an entrance, an exit, and maybe even an escape hole. A typical burrow will house a family of approximately eight rats. By counting the burrow holes gardeners can estimate the number of rats living in their garden.

Gardeners are usually left up to their own devices when it comes to pest control. Some people want to maintain a pesticide-free environment; others are desperate to get a bad situation under control and will try any remedy. Rats can usually be managed effectively without relying on toxic pesticides. In fact, a good rat management program focuses primarily on prevention.

Learn What Rats Need and Eliminate It

Recognizing how to make your space less hospitable can help you to devise a rodent-reducing plan. Rats must eat one to two ounces of food a day and have daily access to water. Rats will eat everything that humans eat and many things that we would never eat. They are not vegetarian; like most mammals, rats (especially reproducing females) need animal protein, fat, and carbohydrates in their diet.

Rats will eat the vegetables and fruits in a garden, but if that is truly their only food source, they will eventually move on to a site that meets their animal protein and fat needs. A compost pile with only garden scraps will not sustain a rat colony. But if table scraps including meats, grains, oils, or other fats are added into the compost pile, it will become highly attractive to them. And the warmth generated by decomposing waste creates a hospitable rat environment in cold weather. Compost areas must be monitored carefully, and if possible, kept in hard plastic or metal containers with tight-fitting lids.

Bags of trash placed near a garden offer an all-you-can-eat buffet to a colony of rats. Like compost, trash should be kept only in sturdy cans with tight-fitting lids. Gardeners should always clean up after picnics and make sure food waste is removed at night.

Food intended for pigeons, cats, dogs, chickens, or rabbits placed in or near a garden may also end up feeding rats. Animal waste such as dog feces can also provide nourishment. Some gardeners feed feral cats in the belief that they will scare away rats. The reality is that most cats are quickly overwhelmed. A healthy breeding female rat can have litters of up to 12 pups several times a year, while the average cat may only take down a rat once every couple of days. In areas where lots of rats are present, it’s best to avoid feeding other animals.

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For shelter, rats seek out areas where they feel protected from predators. Dense plantings, tall weeds, and piles of lumber, rocks, or other kinds of clutter provide safe harbor to a rat. Ivy and bushes close to the ground and around buildings are particularly attractive. Rats have very poor eyesight and use their whiskers (or vibrissae) to navigate their environment; as a result, they prefer to travel along straight lines and use curbs, walls, and foundations to get around. Gardeners battling a rat infestation can cut back vegetation at least 18 inches from building walls, remove ivy or other vines from sides of buildings and nearby trees, and trim back tree branches that touch or rub against buildings. Deprived of cover, rats will be less confident traversing these exposed zones and may move on to safer places.

A gardener can figure out where rats are traveling by looking along straight lines for the greasy rub marks that rats leave behind. These rub or smudge marks contain pheromones from the rat’s skin and fur that they use to communicate with other rats. Washing the rub marks away with vinegar or biodegradable soap can help interrupt their established pathways to food sources and home. Hardware cloth (half-inch mesh) can be installed along the base of walls or fences to deter burrowing. The cloth should extend 8 to 12 inches underground. Even though rats can burrow deeper than this, many rats are deterred from spending so much energy to create a nest.

A Rat Reduction Plan

  • Move compost into rodent-resistant containers with tight-fitting lids.
  • Store seed and pet food in rodent-proof containers.
  • Remove fallen fruit or nuts.
  • Remove all fecal matter (dogs, cats, rodents, birds) and/or food waste every day.
  • Eliminate standing water and improve drainage, so water doesn’t pool or settle.
  • Remove clutter from storage sheds and garages.
  • Cut grass or weeds and trim back plants around buildings and walls.

Monitor for Rats

The early spring prior to planting is the best time to start watching for rats. Gardeners should carefully check garden areas before planting seeds as well as later when vegetables and flowers are actively growing. Look for burrow holes, smudge marks, signs of gnawing, worn pathways, and droppings, all of which indicate an active rat infestation. Check around the garden perimeter a few times each week for any new rat activity and take steps to stop it.

In short, think like a rat. Where do I like to live? What am I eating? What pathways do I travel between my food and nest?

Know When to Call in the Pros

If things get really bad, the best thing to do is hire a pest professional. In New York, they should be certified by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Tamper-resistant bait stations with EPA-registered rodenticide bait can be installed by a professional and monitored over time. They should be checked and replenished every week or month depending on the severity of the infestation. Make sure you walk the area with your professional and discuss the treatment plan together.

Snap traps work also work very well, but they must be installed in boxes to prevent birds, dogs, cats, and even children from encountering them. They should be checked daily, emptied, and then reset.

Poison dusts to sprinkle or blow into rat burrows are illegal for gardens and must never be used—not even by a certified professional. They are not only poisonous to rats but could also be harmful to other animals and children if ingested.

Finally, beware that some commercially available devices don’t work and are essentially a waste of time and money. These include sonic devices that claim to scare away rats; there’s no scientific proof that they actually work. Nor have mothballs, pepper sprays, peppermint, or other smelly chemicals been proven to deter rats. Cat, dog, or human hair or urine sprinkled in a garden also appears to have no impact on rats. Beware of anyone claiming they have a secret weapon or chemical that will get rid of rats. There is none.

Caroline Bragdon is a Research Scientist with the New York City Department of Health’s Division of Veterinary and Pest Control Services. Ms. Bragdon has a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and is certified by the New York State DEC in structural and rodent control. She serves as the Outreach and Education coordinator for the Bronx and Manhattan Rat Initiative and manages the NYC Rat Information Portal at

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Is there a shade-tolerant plant that might deter rats? I have planted some peppermint. I also have some plain old mint that is thriving (not peppermint) and wondered if that was an effective anti-rat plant as well.

I’ve had a rat problem in my garden for the second year. Completely devouring the cucumbers in one night. I’ve been using a homemade recipe of baking soda and peanut butter that causes intestinal bloating and will kill the rats.

I cannot imagine there is a non toxic dust that can only kill one mammal but does no damage to others. Do be careful.
I also have a rat problem as it is the first year I have chickens and grow vegetables. They’ve had all my peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, even all the apples. I’m only left with below the ground radishes and carrots. I’ve begun my research!

Rats have moved into my parents’ neighborhood as the city has grown up around them. We stopped planting a vegetable garden the past two years in part because of this. This year we decided to try tomato plants again and the rats were taking ALL of them. We decided to use the snap traps and had a completely horrifying experience. The trap killed the larger one, which we found dead BESIDE the trap; and there was a little one caught in the trap, but not dead. Not having witnessed the actual event, we can only surmise what happened from their positions. We believe that the mom was killed and her offspring tried to save her by pushing her free, only to be caught by the trap which in its already sprung condition was not forceful enough to kill the small one, but did injure it. We could not just leave it to suffer and so had the traumatizing experience of killing it ourselves. Also, the last mouse that I killed with a snap trap was caught by its nose instead of snapping its neck so I am not really loving the snap traps now. Frankly, if rats and mice didn’t multiply so much, I would just leave them be, so how about someone invent some rodent birth control that I can use instead. Please.

I am surprised and disappointed that you are recommending the use of rodenticides to combat rat infestation. The use of poison puts our birds of prey, foxes, coyotes and pet dogs and cats at risk of secondary poisoning. Poison is beyond cruel. Please do not use it!

Hi, Agata:
We’ve heard a lot about rats in the last year or two. We think with so much construction and development, they are finding shelter in nearby community gardens. The dry ice and other burrow disturbances are good ideas to prevent them from coming back. Look around and make sure to eliminate any other possible places for shelter, food, and water. Also declutter, especially along walls or behind garden sheds. The more open space, the better since rats like to hide while traveling. Since rats like greasy, oily, protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods, do not leave any open food in the garden or sidewalk. One garden was behind a church that left easily accessible piles of trash bags with food after events. Talk to school neighbors and make sure trash bags aren’t sitting out for too long before being picked up, or even better, urge neighbors to use the Organics brown bins for their food waste. Lastly, don’t leave out any containers or vessels that hold water. Hopefully, cutting off any water, food, or shelter sources will eliminate the rats. It takes some work and is hard to do if any neighbors are enabling the problem. Putting out rat traps, like the black boxes, is effective. Since it is a garden, we would not recommend sprinkling poisoned bait anywhere on site.

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I am a parent at a local public school and we have had a gardening program for many years. Recently the gardens have been overrun with rats. The garden beds are surrounded by planks and about 10inches raised off the ground. The rats are burrowing underneath and through the garden beds. We have tried to kill them off with dry ice and had custodians try to drown them and other methods. The rats keep coming back. We are desperate and very sad. Is there advice for how we can re-build our beds to keep them out. I have heard about putting cinder blocks around the perimeter and keeping the height of the bed low to the ground so it’s not a “mound” that is attractive to them. Please do you have advice on how we can build it. Thank you.

I have a bird feeder that closes automatically when an animal heavier than a large bird attempts to perch. They are great. The squirrels are frustrated and so are the rats. So I can still enjoy my wild birds!

We live in a suburban area near open space and marshlands in the North San Francisco Bay Area. We occasionally have rat issues and I tried a number of things to eradicate them. We used to feed the birds but stopped that when I heard sounds in the garden at night, turned on a light and discovered a large Norway rat hanging on our bird feeder enjoying a meal. We also tried one of the guillotine traps that worked at first to snare a couple of them but then caught and killed a curious skunk who in his attempts to get free sprayed the entire side of our house! I had used some poisons but really didn’t want to do that because the raptors and other animals eat the dead rats. Finally, when a large family of rats had moved into our garage (separate from our house), I purchased and electronic trap that proved to be the ticket. Powered by 4 C-cell batteries, it has a capacitor that builds the charge inside it. The bait—a small dab of peanut butter—is put in from an inaccessible end. You set the trap, unarmed at first to draw them to it, then energize it. In the matter of one week we had killed 7 large rats and 4 young ones, and the rat issue was over. When there is a kill, a red LED flashes on the top. You simply pick the whole trap up and carry it to the trash, tilt it, and the rat falls out. You put it back in place, turn it off and on again to reenergize it, a green light indicates it is armed then goes off, and it is set! It has now protected my garage for over a year with no more issues. It is a black plastic trap that is small and light enough to handle easily, and I moved it to different parts of the garage until I wiped out the invaders!

I placed an orchid plant in between mint plants, and a rat still ate the leaves of the orchid. Any advice, please.

I found a rat hole in my garden (disgusting! Would there be more than one rat in that hole? I have decided no more recycling and one carrier bag of rubbish gets taken to the local tip every day. I have asked that my husband dig the burrow out.

Something is eating my cucumbers and green tomatoes off the vine. What can I do to illiminate the problem? I’m assuming that it is rats.

I manage a raised bed urban garden. Raised beds do not deter them.

Interesting article. While trash at our house is kept in sealed cans, with no evidence of rats getting in, our immediate neighbors keep trash in an enclosure that rats love. So, rats dig burrows in our front garden and feast just next door. After three years, I’m getting pretty tired of dealing with rat burrows, almost to the point of paving over my lovely garden. Our garden is in two parts, one larger than the other. The rats never burrow in the smaller area, although both are heavily planted. Would dividing up the larger area into smaller sections with vertical stone slabs between them deter rats from burrowing?

To the gardener who asked if raised beds may deter rats, I wouldn’t think so, having seen them climb our house. We have a bird feeder on a second-floor balcony. Rats will climb up the walls of the house and along the top edge of a glass railing to jump into the feeder.

According to Common-Sense Pest Control: The Least-Toxic Solutions for Your Home, Garden, Pets, and Community (Olkowski, Daar, and Olkowski), rats can leap 36 inches, so consider building beds at least that high, and perhaps line them with chicken wire. The school garden initiative Grow to Learn NYC recommends scattering fresh or dried mint as a repellent and refraining from fall mulching until several frosts have occurred to keep rats from burrowing in for winter. Some plants that may repel rats include alliums, camphor plant, dwarf elder, elderberry, euphorbias, and wormwood.

I have the same question as the one asked on October 11, 2012. Is there an optimal height to plant vegetables in a raised garden that would deter rats from climbing in?

I love birds, so I feed them, andI do put out some peanuts for the squirrels. Periodically I use an outdoor vacuum for cleanup. I’ve seen rats at night, and heard noises. I guess I need a a good plan.

Since brown rats do not like to climb, is there an optimal height for raised beds that would completely deter rats from garden plots? Would some slick surfaced surround cladding be necessary as a deterrent?

Our building is having an issue with rats outside the front and back garden of the property, after a wooden garbage enclosure replaced sealed plastic bins and construction began on surrounding properties. We’ve taken all the precautions you outline and just hired a company to come out to inspect, seal, and treat the areas. They suggested they’d likely inject any burrows with a nontoxic, “green” dust that would only harm rats, but is perfectly safe for pets (we have a dog) and humans (we are organic gardening in the area and have taken care to bring in good soil.) Any advice? Many thanks!

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