Rats: Do Gardens Attract Them?


I’ve often heard that one of the biggest drawbacks of gardening is that gardens attract rats and other unwanted pests and animals. I live in a decently large city, in the middle of the block, surrounded by other homes, each on a small-ish lot. There simply isn’t a lot of wildlife running around. Most of our gardens and yards are surrounded by 8-foot fences. Deer are definitely not going to be a problem for me. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought animals would be a big deal either – then I did my research…

So, do gardens attract rats? If you plan to have an outdoor garden the answer is yes, your garden will attract rats. Gardens are an ideal place for rodents like rats, mice, gophers, and others to get free food. Although gardens do attract unwanted pests there are steps that you can take to minimize those unwanted animals.

From rats to gophers to raccoons and armadillos to bears, snakes, and deer gardens are known to attract all manner of wildlife other than the typical insects. It’s a matter of nature. Animals are always on the hunt for food, shelter, and water. Left unprotected, your garden is the perfect place to find these commodities! It’s important to protect your garden and home against these animals before they arrive and move all their furniture into their new home.

Why you might ask, does it matter to keep these animals from moving in? Well, there are a ton of reasons why, but the biggest is mainly your health. Wild animals carry disease and bacteria that can make you extremely sick. They spread infection, viruses, and disease as well as undesired insects and bugs like fleas and ticks. It’s best to keep as much of that out of your garden as possible. Once a wild animal takes up shelter in your garden it can rapidly turn into a much larger infestation which is a much more common sign of an unclean property and lack of sanitation. Improper garden maintenance brings on additional problems for your plants as well, making them unhealthy and more difficult to grow.

Aside from sanitation issues, wild animals are known to dig up your yard and destroy the hard work you’ve put into your garden.

How to prevent unwanted critters

The first step to preventing unwanted critters is to find out what type of critters are lurking in your area seeking food, shelter, and water. My garden isn’t going to attract large wildlife like bears and deer, but smaller animals like snakes, gophers, and mice are much more likely. That’s because I live in the city, and they’re just aren’t many large wildlife wandering around in the city unnoticed. Look for signs of wildlife such as nests, seeds, droppings, burrows, mounds, etc. These signs will help identify what type of animals you may be dealing with.

Ideally, you’ll want to have an idea of what animals you could be dealing with before you discover them in your existing garden. A little research and planning will go a long way to helping you prevent these unwanted critters.

Once you know what kind of animals you’re dealing with you’ll have a lot easier time taking the necessary steps to prevent them.

  • Shelter – If you’re dealing with small animals like mice, snakes, and rats you’ll want to make sure you keep your grass cut and eliminate hiding places around your garden. These animals find your source of food, but they need shelter and it’s much easier for them to stick around if they have nice tall grass to nest in or a large wood or compost pile to call home. Unwanted critters find shelter most frequently in compost piles, sheds, garbage bins, woodpiles, and bird feeders.
  • Food – this is a tough one because obviously you’re growing the food. Many animals will eat the food straight off the bush before it’s ripe, but to make it more difficult to try to remove any food that has dropped to the ground. These freeloading animals would rather not work for the food if they don’t have to. Don’t make it easy on them by letting food waste decompose in your garden.
  • Garbage – Keep your trash and waste away from your garden. Garbage attracts unwanted critters because it stinks. If your garbage is near your garden the animals will find both.
  • Grubs – Not only do unwanted critters eat your garden, but they love grubs! Just like with your garbage, if they come for one food source, but find a second food source they are much more likely to stick around.
  • Fences – I’m not just talking about tall privacy fences or chain-link fences. I’m talking about hardware cloth dug deep into your yard around the garden. Burrowing animals like gophers and rabbits won’t go much more than 12-18 inches below the surface so dig yourself a nice fence, place down the hardware cloth being sure it’s angled away from the garden, and you’ll have a good barrier to the critters that dig.
Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) hiding in the vegetation. (Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)

How to recognize unwanted critters

So let’s say your prevention methods didn’t work…or you are worried they didn’t work. It’s important then to be able to recognize if unwanted animals and rodents have been visiting your garden. If they’ve arrived, they’ll soon start looking to upgrade their lifestyle – their measly little nests and burrows won’t be enough and they’ll want to come to join you in the house to watch TV. That’s no good, so it’s important to recognize the signs.

  • You’ve made eye contact – a lot of these creatures are fairly sneaky. They like to eat at night and they are pretty good at avoiding you during the day. However, if you see them around your yard you can reasonably assume they’ve found your garden. They often travel high and live low. Fences and power lines are good places to watch for them moving from one place to another.
  • Disappearing plants – No, it’s not a magic trick. If your seedlings, plants, or crop goes missing it’s because an animal has taken off with it like a thief in the night.
  • Tunnels – smaller rodents tend to go underground to avoid detection. If you notice trails of soft spots in your yard or small hills you’ve probably discovered an underground rodent road.
  • Mounds – some critters use mounds to mark the entrances to the underground tunnels.
  • Poop – critters don’t have the decency to use the porcelain thrones you and I call toilets. They poop where they eat. Animal droppings and feces are the main contributor to the spread of bacteria and often look like small pellets or dark grains of rice.

Get rid of unwanted critters

Okay, so your prevention methods didn’t work. You’ve found evidence that the critters are moving in. Now what? It’s time to get rid of the unwanted guests. Fortunately, it’s not as awkward as telling your in-laws to leave, but it’s not as easy as asking either.

Make a plan to use more than one method to remove unwanted guests. They’re smart, and some already know your methods and how to avoid them. Many hardware stores will sell you devices that repel critters, but this doesn’t always get rid of them.

You may consider flooding any burrows you’ve found, but it’s a temporary measure and they’re likely to move right back in unless you keep at it and evict them over and over again until they learn that they’re in a hostile environment. You can build a house by a river, and if it floods once every 25 years it may not be that big of a deal, but if it floods every 6-12 months you end up moving.

Traps are a great way to get rid of the wildlife that you don’t want hanging around. There are plenty of traps on the market that don’t put your pets, children, or welcome wildlife at risk. Typical traps are often unpleasant though they do work to totally rid your garden (or home) of unwanted critters.

Want a more “humane” way to deal with the unwanted animals, there are traps for that too. Live traps are great for relocating these animals to places they might be better suited to live in the wild. Some live traps even hold up to 30 mice, but they must be checked often and need to be released far from your home to prevent them from returning. Be careful when relocating live animals, they’re alive and can be dangerous. They will likely try to bite you which can transmit disease and cause infection.

Poison is another great method to getting rid of your garden guests, but it is a little more dangerous than traps because the poisons that work on your unwanted guests also work on you, your children, and your pets. It’s important to only use poison where there is no risk of other animals or people coming in contact with it. My dog once ate some poison he found in the garage (left by a previous tenant) and I spent thousands of dollars for vet bills (blood transfusions, oxygen tanks, overnight emergency care, etc.) to keep him alive. After 10 long days, the vet told me my dog was the first he’d seen survive eating the poison. I have a lot of kids and pets, so for me, poison isn’t an option.

RELATED QUESTIONS

Do tomato plants attract rats?

In short, yes. Just as with any fresh produce. Rats, mice, and critters of all kinds eat just about anything and your fresh tomatoes and other produce is a perfect source for them. Reduce the likelihood of these unwanted visitors by taking measures to make your yard and garden uncomfortable for the rodents. Exterminate them right away if you find signs of them near your garden.

How to keep rats off of tomato plants?

Rats, squirrels, mice, and other animals are opportunists. These animals eat garden vegetables because it’s easy. Prevent them by using traps, repellents, fences, and plant cages. This will help reduce their desire to frequent your garden.

Eyerly Family

The Eyerly Family is a family of 8 that loves gardening. Over the past several years we have been applying what we learn about gardening to our own 16x16 raised back yard garden. Our garden is very prolific and we grow a wide variety of vegetables which we love to eat! Click here to learn more about the Eyerly Family.

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