Edited by Dayle Cheever.
In keeping with our pest theme, rats seem to be a particular problem this year. Is there a particular method or technique you have used to protect your garden from rats?
Karen Kees: We got two kittens a year ago. No more rats. At least none are getting our fruit crops now. We tried every other method of rat control (short of poisons) that we could find. Searched high and low. Nothing worked. Cats work.
Ken Blackford: I have been soliciting more raptors, like this American kestrel, to help the rat population down!
Jon and Rose Cooper: We spread used kitty litter where the rats might hide or run, to discourage them; seems to work.
Bruce Hubbard: After my house and garden burned down in 2007, I no longer have a problem with rats. I believe what happened is that all of the rat middens (which are sometimes over 50 years old) in the surrounding coastal sage scrub burned, limiting their natural homes. I now disassemble any middens that the rats start.
Vince Lazaneo: I would like someone to invent a ‘ratapult’ so I can send the little rodents into orbit…
Cheryl Leedom: I’ve tried to adopt a live and let live philosophy, but when they started munching on my potted succulents I declared war! I did some research and found that they don’t like the smell of peppermint, so I went to Sprouts and bought a bottle of peppermint essential oil. I put cotton in some small plastic containers (like cottage cheese or hummus containers), put about 10 drops of the oil on the cotton, poked holes in the tops of the containers and placed them in the area of the pots. So far it seems to work. I have to replenish the oil about once a week. We also have an infrared, motion-activated camera in the garden so we’ve seen that at night we have help from bobcats, coyotes, and raccoons in controlling the rat populations!
Christine Vargas: I recently found a rodenticide at Dixieline called RatX. It is harmless to pets and children because it’s made of gluten…some people call it ‘no second kill.’ I have had moderate success with the trap called Ratinator. It’s like a Have a Heart trap. I have the most success with ordinary snap traps. Alternate baits, remove any dead animal remains, including blood, and use gloves to avoid human scent.
Penny Perryman: Thankfully, we haven’t been experiencing this issue. OMG. I hope we don’t.
Kathy Copley: I would like to say, without any particular authority, that my research shows there are two kinds of rats; one that prefers the roof and building structures, the other that nests in the landscape. There are some plants that provide favorable nesting areas and covered routes of travel. Old ground covers and slope shrubs, such as junipers, Algerian ivy, Acacia redolens and hybrids, are happy places for rats, since they can travel undercover and nest easily in the concealed branches of the shrubs. We have to get rats where they live and nest. Why? They don’t like large expanses or open exposure to predators like owls and raptors, with low ground covers that put them at risk. Vines, trellises, and espaliers that create ladders to roofs may also need attention if there are rats in the roof. It may provide an opportunity to update, redesign, or just selectively prune the garden with these things in mind. The objective might be to create open landscape areas around the house and between shrub groupings with prostrate ground covers that create physical clearances from the slope shrubs providing habitat. My experience with clients is that owl boxes are a concern because, while they provide an excellent nesting opportunity for predators that eat rats, they may put small dogs and cats at risk. While there are no easy fixes, the most successful approach might be to stop providing them with ample habitat in the garden. I’ll leave the traps and other methods to someone who has experience in that endeavor. I’m looking forward to learning from what others have to offer.
Mike McLaughlin: Lancashire Heelers… best ratters in the world. Get two or three of these dogs together and they’ll get the rats. Our pair have killed ten at two homes in the last year. Sadly, there’s only an estimated 300 of this breed in the world. Check them out online.
Victoria Lea Chapman: The only time I have had a rat problem was when I put wild bird seed mix out. When I removed the attraction, the rats were no longer interested.
Peggy Geyer: I am one of the people having a terrible problem with rats. Not in my garden—but in my attic and garage. As far as my garden is concerned—my biggest problem is ground squirrels. They are eating everything; succulents, ice plant, and mostly the unripe fruit off the trees.
Andrea Wagman-Christian: Rat traps. Bang dead. We use bread to lure them.
Mollie Allan: Yes, we have had quite an invasion of rats in Poway over the past year. In response, we have tried to remove habitat for them. We've: 1) Cut back our large bougainvillea, away from the house. 2) Pruned back large, old bird of paradise plants, which my garden crew noted were serving as rat hotels. 3) Removed dead, old California native plants, which again provided ample cover.
Vivian Black: Take the bird feeders in every afternoon so the rats can’t get to them during the night. Put traps out where the fruit is. Check traps often and pick fruit daily. Pick fruit when ripe, so as not to encourage the rats.
Stephen A. Zolezzi: Rats, they are indeed a perennial problem exacerbated by last year’s rains. It's control, not elimination—that’s just not possible given their ability to eat just about anything and reproduce at an alarming rate. What I find most effective are bait stations placed away from the house, which I check on weekly. I use the yellow blocks, which are more easily taken back to the nest where the most good will occur.
Greg Hunter: Rats! Over the past thirty-one years, I have used several methods, but none have been as effective as the common snap trap. The key is to make sure that the bait is securely centered in the trap and the baited end of the trap touches a wall so the rat can’t miss it. The most durable traps I have found are the inexpensive plastic snap traps at Home Depot.
Barbara Strona: Thank God I haven’t seen any. I had raccoons prune a rose bush, badly. I’ve had coyotes pee in my garden, but not lately. It kept the gophers out. Now I have a plant that one of our workshop speakers told us about. It is working to keep gophers out. I really don’t want rats. What do they do in the garden?
Francine Tong: Hire a cat.
Sabine Prather: We had a rat, not in the garden, but chewing under our house. It took a long time, but eventually a rat trap worked. We’ve isolated the openings to prevent more coming in. Not sure how to keep them away from the garden.
Kevin Grangetto: As much as I hate to use them, sticky traps with a tiny dab of peanut butter, in the very center, work very well. The traps are so huge that the rats and mice can’t escape them, and they can’t outsmart the sticky stuff. We LITERALLY caught eight mice on one board, three days ago. So gross. I’d much rather use snap traps (the old-fashioned wooden traps are still the best) and get it over with quickly, but sometimes they still outsmart them. If you put peanut butter on a not-set trap for a week, and get them used to the trap first, they will eventually trust the trap enough to go to it when you set it. Unfortunately, that means waiting a whole week through whatever other damage they cause!
Sharon Ward: I have always owned a cat, or one has always owned me, but at any rate, rats have only been a problem briefly. Once a rodent makes its presence known, it is not seen again. A good cat can be very beneficial in a neighborhood and a loving companion. My neighbors swear by my cat's ability to control rodents; rats, mice, and gophers. I grow catnip in my garden, so when his work is done, he comes home and he is in at dusk to hunt another day.
Cindy Sparks: I had a bad rat infestation in my last house, brought on when an abandoned home in the neighborhood got a new owner and the house's resident rats were forced to look elsewhere for housing. I used the big (about 8-inch) rat traps and baited them with half a cherry tomato, which I had to sew onto the trap mechanism. I caught one rat per night, for a couple of weeks. By that time, either they got wise or the combined neighborhood fight against rats wiped out the population. I knew to use tomatoes because the rats had been consuming the tomato harvest on my upstairs balcony. The little devils easily climbed up the supports to the second story balcony and had a field day with my fruit, leaving tiny little bits of tomato skin all over the place.
Carol Donald: Rats have proliferated beyond belief this year. The garden was the least of my concerns because they'd built nests with insulation material under the hood of my new car. We first thinned out thick foliage and cleaned out as many potential nesting areas in the garden and landscape as we could. Then, we placed Tom Cat traps (purchased at garden supply stores) baited with peanut butter around our property. After repairing the damage to the car and steam cleaning it, we installed a flashing light device called Rid-A-Rat under the hood of the car (three device are recommended per car). The Rid-A-Rat device we purchased is attached to the car battery, but there are other models that come with an external battery or built-in batteries that may be useful in the garden area. I also began placing peppermint oil soaked cloth on the tires, under the hood, and around the car (it’s purported that rats also avoid peppermint plants). I also leave the driveway light on over the car every night, so it’s not clear what the most effective deterrent might be.