Rats in your garden? Here's how to keep them away

Rats can really spoil your enjoyment of your garden; here's what you should do to make sure they're not colonising your outdoor space

rat in garden on top of bird feeder
(Image credit: Garden Buildings Direct)

Discovering rats in your garden can be a horrifying experience: not only do they ruin your enjoyment of the garden, but they can also destroy your plants and spread disease. And they breed very quickly, so if you've spotted any around your garden, you'll want to get rid of them as fast as you can. Get on to the problem before it becomes serious, and you can drive them out – by following these tips*. 

For more tips, including about getting rid of rats from indoors, too, see our guide.

1. Secure your bins

This is the most obvious – and the most important – step. Rats are opportunists and would rather not work too hard for their food, so an open bin is an open invitation to them. So, switch to a bin with a heavy or lockable lid, and never leave bins bags lying around the bin. 

Likewise, if you have a compost heap in your garden, don't leave it open (house it in a compost bin instead), and don't throw food on it. Read our guide on how to compost to make sure you're doing it correctly. 

2. Feed wildlife at correct times of the day

You don't have to stop helping wildlife such as hedgehogs in your garden, but be careful with feeding times. Don't leave food lying around all day, and especially not during the night. Rats are nocturnal and will be most actively searching for food at night. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, are crepuscular, which means they're more active at dusk, so put food out for them in the couple of hours before sunset, and then remove anything that's left after it gets dark. 

Here's how to create a wildlife garden.

3. Choose the right kind of bird feeder

If seeds are falling out of your bird feeder and to the ground, you are feeding rats as well as birds. Make sure your bird feeder does not spill seeds, and that the openings in it are big enough only for the birds to get in with their beaks. Also, try to position bird feeders as high up as possible, and away from fences and any garden furniture.

Choose from one of the best bird feeders in our buyer's guide. 

4. Block off decking 

Rats love nesting under your deck – it's dry, secure, and warm there. Block off the area underneath the deck with extra wood planks, or line the gaps with metal mesh. 

5. Plant rat-deterring plants

Herbaceous perennials are very effective rat deterrents, especially mint and sage, both of which rats loathe. In the autumn, when mint has died down, try leaving cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil around your garden. Balsam fir is another effective rat deterrent, and is evergreen. 

6. Move things around the garden frequently

Rats are creatures of habits and dislike change, or new items placed where they like to hang out. So, if you regularly spot rats in a particular part of your garden, change things around there – put in a couple of new pots, and place some fir branches on the ground in the spot. 

7. A word against rat poison and open traps

Having rats in the garden is a very unpleasant and frustrating issue, but try to be patient with how you tackle it. Leaving out rat poison should only ever be a last resort, and even then done very carefully, in places only rats can access. If you just leave rat poison out in your garden, you're risking killing a neighbour's pet, a hedgehog, or even worse, making someone in your own family very ill. The same goes for traps: they can be an effective solution against rats, but make sure you choose ones that have rat-sized openings to avoid harming pets and wildlife. IF you're going down the poison and/or trap route, it's best to seek professional advice.

*Rat deterrent tips developed in collaboration with GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk