Before they started living in our homes, businesses and sewers, rats were wild creatures. A London garden provides plenty of opportunities to live as they did for millions of years – eating fruits and plants and burrowing into the soil – while still having the conveniences of the city nearby.
A rat infestation in the garden may spill over into your home or business if their population grows too large. Exterior infestations need to be taken just as seriously as an interior one.
Here’s my tips for how to spot a rat infestation in the garden, their causes and how you can prevent them.
Rats are primarily nocturnal, so you’re unlikely to ever see one unless it’s a serious infestation. However, they do leave behind plenty of evidence if they’ve made a home in your garden.
Rats need three sings to survive: food, water and shelter.
To beat rats, you need to think like a rat. Look around your garden with these three things in mind. If you find opportunities for all three, you’re at high risk of rat infestation – if you’re not infested already.
If you have any plants, bushes or trees that produce fruit in your garden, make sure you quickly sweep up any fruit that has fallen onto the ground. After all, fruit is meant to be attractive to wildlife, and is a bountiful food source for rats. The more it rots, the further the smell will spread.
Rats are also just as happy to eat birdseed as birds are, so keep your bird feeder far off the ground and check below for any seeds. Always use a bird feeder with a seed catcher tray beneath it to catch any food that falls out.
Unfortunately, rats are omnivorous, opportunistic feeders and will happily burrow underground to chew on flower bulbs or vegetables that you plant in the garden. All you can do is try and make it difficult for them with mesh barriers or off ground planters so that they go off to find an easier food source – which there are plenty of in London.
Depressions in a patio or pathway can form puddles that rats can drink of, so try to flatten out any hard surfaces in your garden. You should also check for any unused flower pots or other objects that may be collecting water. Not only will getting rid of standing water stop rats from drinking, it will also remove a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects.
Despite being known for making their nests in sewers, rats like to keep their young dry, which is why flooded sewers coincide with rat sightings. Any dry, undisturbed site in your garden can provide shelter for a family of rats.
Popular sites for rat nests include unused sheds, wood piles or rubbish. It’s not uncommon for people to leave old furniture or gardening equipment in a dark corner of the garden somewhere, which creates an ideal habitat for a rat family.
The luckiest rats are the ones that find their way into a compost bin. What’s waste for you is a family feast for rats. Rats can chew through wood, plastic and even concrete, so good compost habits are more important than the bin you use – though you should obviously avoid any with gaps or holes rats can pass through.
Rats are especially drawn to strong-smelling protein and fat rich foods, so avoid putting meat, fish or cheese in your compost bin. You should also keep your compost wet, which will prevent rats from nesting inside it and also give you better compost.
No, NEVER put shop-bought poisons down in the garden.
Far too many cats, dogs and even children have been harmed or worse by irresponsible external poison use. Rat poisons should only ever be used by professional pest controllers with secure bait stations in combination with thorough proofing and prevention works.