Rat Infestation in a Garden

Brown Rat (via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Rat infestations in a garden can be a major problem for homeowners and gardeners. Rats are known to damage plants, eat fruits and vegetables, and contaminate soil with their droppings. They can also carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans and pets. To prevent and control rat infestations in your garden, it is important to understand the signs of an infestation and take appropriate action.


  • Gnawed plants, fruits, and vegetables: Rats have strong front teeth that they use to gnaw on a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, and even metal. In a garden, they may gnaw on plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. This can cause damage to leaves, stems, and fruit, making it difficult for the plant to survive.
  • Rat droppings in the soil or near food sources: Rats will leave droppings wherever they go, and in a garden, this is likely to be near food sources. Droppings are dark, cylindrical, and about the size of a grain of rice. They may be found in clusters, and they may be found near burrows or holes in the soil.
  • Burrows or holes in the ground: Rats will dig burrows in the soil to create a safe place to live and raise their young. These burrows may be found near food sources or near the base of plants. They may also create holes in the soil to access underground food sources, such as roots or bulbs.
  • Damage to seedlings and young plants: Rats will eat the leaves, stems, and roots of young plants, which can cause the plant to die. They may also dig up seedlings to eat the roots.
  • Uneaten fruits or vegetables with bite marks: Rats may bite into fruits or vegetables and then leave them uneaten. These fruits or vegetables may have bite marks that are visible.
  • Evidence of rats in the area, such as tracks or runways: Rats will leave tracks in the soil as they move around. These tracks may be visible in soil that is wet or muddy. They also may create well-used runways, which are visible as tracks in tall grass or other vegetation.
  • Unpleasant odor: Rats tend to urinate and defecate frequently, this can leave an unpleasant smell in the garden and surrounding area.
  • Unusual behavior of other animals: rats can be a threat to other small animals like birds, squirrels, and rabbits, in case of infestation of rats in your garden you may notice a decrease in the activity of these animals.

What is a Rat

Rats are often mistaken for mice, but they are generally larger and heavier than mice, with thicker fur, a longer tail and a more pointed snout.

  • A large rodent, with a body length of up to 40 cm (16 inches) and a tail length of up to 25 cm (10 inches)
  • A long, pointed snout for their keen sense of smell, taste and touch
  • Thick, soft fur that can be brown, gray, or black, depending on the species.
  • Long, hairless tail, that is scaly to the touch, and is used for balance and communication
  • Pointed ears, that are small and nearly hidden by their fur
  • Large, sharp front teeth, that are constantly growing, and need to be gnawed on hard objects to wear them down.
  • A set of small, sharp incisors, located in the lower jaw, used to gnaw on softer objects.
  • Large hind feet, with long sharp claws, that are used for digging and climbing.
  • A body shape that is cylindrical, with short legs and a long tail, that allows them to move easily through tight spaces.
  • Depending on the species, the color of the fur may vary, some species have a solid color, while others may have a mix of colors.
  • They have a characteristic musty odor, which is due to their scent glands.

Treating Rat Infestations

It may be necessary to use multiple methods to effectively control a rat infestation in a garden. For example, exclusion methods can be used to prevent rats from entering the garden in the first place, while trapping and poisoning can be used to reduce the population of rats already in the garden. Repellents can be used as a supplementary method to make the garden less attractive to rats. The key is to be patient and persistent, as it may take some time to see results, and to adapt to the specific conditions of your garden.


  • Seal all entry points to the garden, such as holes in walls, foundations, and rooflines, using materials like steel wool, caulk, and metal flashing. This can be done by using a caulking gun or steel wool, or by covering the holes with metal flashing or metal mesh.
  • Install barriers, like chicken wire or metal mesh, to prevent rats from climbing trees or shrubs to gain access to the garden. These barriers should be at least 4-5 feet high and buried underground to prevent the rats from digging under them.
  • Keep the garden clean and free of debris, where rats can hide and build nests. This includes removing tall grass, piles of leaves or branches, and any other materials that could provide shelter for rats.
  • Keep trash cans sealed tightly and away from the garden area. Use heavy duty trash bags, and keep the cans in a secure area, such as a shed or garage.


  • Use live traps, like cage traps, to capture and relocate rats. These traps are available at most hardware or pest control stores, and come in different sizes to accommodate different types of rats.
  • Place the traps near burrows or runways, or near food sources. Rats tend to travel along set pathways, so placing traps along these pathways will increase the chances of catching them.
  • Bait the traps with food that rats prefer, like peanut butter, bacon, or fruit. Place the bait at the back of the trap, and be sure to check the trap frequently, as a trapped rat can die of stress or dehydration if left in the trap for too long.
  • Be sure to check the traps frequently and release the captured rats in a wooded area far away from the garden. It’s illegal to release them in other parts of the city, and it’s also not good for the ecosystem since they can spread diseases.


  • Use baits that contain an anticoagulant poison, which will kill the rats after they consume it. These baits are available at most hardware or pest control stores, and come in different forms, such as pellets, blocks, or paste.
  • Place the baits in areas where rats are active, like burrows, runways, or near food sources. Make sure to place the baits in tamper-proof stations, to prevent children, pets or non-targeted animals from consuming them.
  • Be sure to follow all safety precautions and label instructions when using poison baits. Keep in mind that if you have pets or children in your property this method is not recommended.
  • Keep in mind that this method may take a few days or even weeks to be effective and it may require multiple feedings before the rat dies.


  • Use repellents, like peppermint oil, to discourage rats from entering the garden. These repellents can be found in most pest control stores, and can be sprayed directly on plants, flowers, or in areas where rats are active.
  • Be aware that repellents may not be as effective as other methods, and may need to be reapplied regularly. Also, be aware that rats can become accustomed to repellents over time, so it may be necessary to switch to a different repellent or to use a combination of repellents to maintain their effectiveness.