Although most gardeners think about insects when they think of garden pests, rodents are the scourge of many gardens. Mice, rats, gophers and other rodents not only cause unsightly damage from tunneling through the lawn and garden, they can eventually enter your home after colonizing the garden.
To keep rodents out of the garden – and out of your home – you need to first understand what attracts rodents to the garden and then by changing the habitat to discourage them from taking up residence.
Like any living creature, rodents seek food, water and shelter. Your garden simply appears to them as an extension of the normal woodland or prairie habitat in which they live. Not only does it provide abundant food, but sprinkler systems provide water, and the abundance of vegetation provides suitable shelter.
Rodents can colonize compost piles, garden beds, ornamental plantings and lawns. Once they infest your yard, they'll continue to seek even better accommodations, especially as winter arrives. They often find entrances into houses, sheds and garages through tiny openings. While gophers generally remain in outdoor colonies, rats and mice prefer the warmth found within houses. If rats and mice are left unchecked in the garden, they may seek shelter inside your home.
How can you tell if rodents are a problem in your garden? Look for the following signs:
There are also specific areas of the garden to check for rodent infestations. These include:
Field mice in the wild eat seeds, nuts, berries and vegetation, as well as small insects. Do mice eat plants? Yes, and they will eat garden plants and houseplants, too. Mice are especially fond of seeds, so newly planted garden seeds like corn and sunflower seeds are a favorite target of garden mice. Newly emerging grass seed, grains and leafy green vegetables are also appealing to mice.
The Dangers of Rodents in the Garden
Rats and mice not only destroy your hard work by eating plants in the garden, they can also infect your garden with several pathogens. Salmonellosis, for instance, can be spread by rat feces in or near vegetable gardens. After the infected rat leaves droppings in your vegetable garden, watering spreads the bacteria from the ground by splashing it onto leaves and fruit. Lettuce, spinach and many herbs and vegetables can be contaminated in this way, causing severe diarrhea and stomach cramps within 3 days of ingesting infected materials.
Rats, mice and other rodents can be the primary agents of infection, spreading various viral and bacterial diseases. They can also carry fleas and ticks, which spread diseases such as Lyme (from ticks) and other infections.
Rodent infestations are, unfortunately, a common sign of poor sanitation. It's a good idea to check your yard and garden for debris if you suspect a rodent infestation. Not only can the rodents themselves spread diseases, but poor garden sanitation can lead to plant diseases. A clean garden is a healthy garden – and one that's less attractive to rodents.
How to Keep Rodents Out of the Garden
Knowing how to keep rodents out of the garden depends on properly identifying the type of rodent damaging your plants. Ask yourself the following questions to help identify the right rodent:
Once you've identified the likely suspect, it's time to take action. Here are several steps you can take to keep rodents out of the garden:
How to Get Rid of Rodents in My Garden
Walk into any hardware store and you can find traps and other devices said to repel rodents. Some work well, while others work intermittently. Rodents, especially rats, are highly intelligent and shy creatures. They've learned how to avoid predators, and may quickly learn that a repellent isn't going to harm them. You may need to change your strategy periodically to keep rodents on their toes.
Water can be used to evict rodents from their burrows. A garden hose sprayed directly into a burrow opening may force the rodents out. They may move back in, but if done frequently enough they can get the picture that this isn't a good garden to inhabit.
If all else fails, it's time to set out traps that won't endanger pets, children or non-targeted wildlife. While traps may be unpleasant, they do work to reduce or eliminate rodent colonies in your home or garden. Bait traps with peanut butter. While unlikely to injure children or pets, it's best to place an outdoor trap in out-of-the-way areas. Larger rodents such as gophers may require bigger traps.
In addition to more traditional mouse traps, live traps are available that can catch and hold up to 30 mice. These must be checked in order to know when the trap is getting full and in need of emptying – – especially if you use ones that can only capture a single rodent. Be sure to release far from your property, and be mindful to keep them away from the property of others, too!
Rodenticides poison rats and mice with tainted bait. Such bait can be dangerous because the poisons that work on rodents can also kill humans and other mammals that may accidentally come into contact with them. Many states now strictly regulate the use of rodenticides, and special tamper-proof bait stations must be used to keep curious pets and children out of them. Such bait stations must be placed near burrow openings to be effective. Rats may not find or take the bait. It's a smart idea to consult with a pest control expert before using rodenticides and bait stations.
Precautions When Handling Traps
Trapped animals, if still alive, can be dangerous. A bite from a mouse or rat contains microorganisms that can cause infection and disease. Always handle traps carefully and wear thick, protective gloves when disposing of dead rodents. Wash your hands with soap and water after handling traps or rodent carcasses.
Rats, mice, gophers and other rodents are common garden pests. By removing their food, water and shelter, and making your garden as unpleasant for them as possible, you can encourage them to move along and find a home elsewhere. Although traps may be an unpleasant thought, they can be very effective. With some diligence and effort, you can rid your garden of rodent pests.