People usually talk about pest problems when the pesky little critters invade houses and flats. But what attracts mice and rats to your garden? The truth is, they don’t just decide one fateful day to come and say hello. Like every other living creature, rodents just go where the food and shelter are.
Hobby gardeners who like to know how to prevent mice and rats in the garden;
People that have gardens on their property and dealing with rodent infestation;
Signs of rodents in your garden
It’s impossible not to notice when something is amiss. Identifying a rodent infestation is as easy as looking out for some of the following signs.
Unidentified mounds and burrows appear all of a sudden. Mounds and burrows are a sure sign you have a rodent infestation. Rats and mice like to make their home close to their food and water sources. Often, a burrow can be found under a garden shed.
Tunnels in the soil under the garden. Mice, rats, moles and other rodents dig tunnels underground. The tunnels are connected and have small mouse holes for entrances. Even after the infestation is taken care of, blocking the entrances and making the tunnels less hospitable is advisable. This way, they won’t attract another wave of rodents to hide inside.
Plants disappear fast. If you have a tunnel system under your garden, then the pests are surely gnawing on the roots of your plants from below. They’re often pulling them down altogether, resulting in their disappearance. Other pests would eat your plants from above; even if they pick them, there would be a root left behind. If there is none, you have a rodent problem.
Rodent droppings all over. If you notice black grains of rice scattered around, be sure that it’s not rice, it’s rodent droppings. This is a definite sign of rats and mice in the garden. If the pieces are bigger and olive-shaped, then you have a rat problem.
You see them. There is no better proof that you have a problem than actually seeing the problem. Rodents are careful about exposing themselves, but if you wait until around dusk or dawn, you’ll likely see them coming out. If you spot only one, you can be certain there are many more.
In Britain, the wood mouse is the most likely culprit behind a mouse infestation. It’s no bigger than 10 cm, with a tail which can be as long as 11 cm. It has huge ears, a pointed face and a dark brown coat.
Another example is the yellow-necked mouse, which is slightly bigger and has a longer tail. It’s easily identifiable by the yellow band across its chest. In the south of England, the wood mouse’s larger cousin, the yellow-necked mouse, sometimes comes into people’s gardens.
There is also the classic house mouse that invades both gardens and properties. It’s the same size as the wood mouse but with a grey coat. Because they look alike, we have created a guide on how to tell house mice from field mice. Both species can be found all over the UK, while their yellow-necked cousin is more often found in the southern regions. Neither is protected as a species.
Where do mice hide during the day?
Bird feeders. The garden is not the only source of food – if there is a bird feeder nearby, the rodents might be attracted to the bird feed that usually drops on the ground. Often, burrows are placed near the place where the seeds would fall.
Rubbish bins. Your green outdoor rubbish bin, where you throw away your food scraps, is an easy target for the pests, if not secured properly. To avoid attracting wildlife, you can opt for a bin with a lock on the lid.
Compost piles. Compost piles, when managed improperly, turn into a dining table for rats, mice, and just about anything that can grow hungry. This should also be the first place to look if you are suspicious of having an infestation. Composts are also where leatherjackets accour.
Garden sheds. Sheds are a very comfortable place for rodents to hide – they’re protected from the elements, there are usually piles of stuff to hide in, and if there is a water source inside or nearby, the rodents will turn your shed into their home.
Wood piles. Outdoor wood piles are another very comfy place for rats and mice to make their nests. Rats would build their nests in the safest possible place.
The walls of your property. If there are cracks and holes in the outer structure of your property, be sure that the rodents will find them. If the walls offer good enough accommodation (and honestly rodents don’t need much), your house will eventually hint at the pests’ presence with a particular smell.
What damage do mice and rats cause?
Rodents, whether rats or mice, can cause serious damage to your garden. Not only do they feast on the results of your hard work after spending time planting and growing your produce, but they can also gnaw on wooden structures, like your garden shed or the very walls of your property.
Another damaging problem you should not underestimate is when mice chew on electrical cables. This can cause a short circuit and even lead to a fire.
There is also a health risk. Rodent-borne diseases, including Salmonella, Leptospirosis, Weil’s disease, Listeria, Cryptosporidium and rat bite fever. All of them are harmful to humans and pets. They can also carry ticks, mites and fleas and, thus, can cause additional pest infestation.
Infections can be triggered by direct contact with their urine, faeces, or saliva. Rarely, but still possible, one can get sick through bites and scratches. Coming in direct contact with a dead mouse or rat carcass can also get infected. There have been cases where pets have transmitted rodent-related diseases to humans. Sometimes, even inhaling dust particles that contain infectious microorganisms is enough.
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Once you’ve noticed the infestation, it’s time to make the invaders go away. There are a few widely known successful methods.
Evict them from the burrows with water. Water is the best eviction mechanism. Use a garden hose to flood rat or mouse burrows. They might come back later once the water gets absorbed by the soil, but if you do it again and again, eventually, they won’t come back again.
Install ultrasonic devices. This technological wonder is a device that emits ultrasonic frequencies that only rodents can hear. The sound is extremely irritating to them and forces them to run away from the area. It’s also very successful in keeping new rodents from coming closer.
Use rodent poison. This one is not recommended, as poison can cause more trouble than it’s worth. If you have pets and small children, you’re immediately putting them in danger. But even when you take all the measures so that no one gets poisoned, the toxic substance can easily contaminate the soil. Consult with a professional pest controller on the matter, or let them handle the situation altogether.
Snap traps. These are manual traps that kill the rodent on contact. They work once, and you’ll have to dispose of the dead rodent yourself before placing the trap again.
Live capture traps. A more humane way is to trap the animal in a small cage and release it in the wild.
Precautions when handling traps
Any professional pest controller would advise that you do not dispose of rodents manually and/or without protective gear, whether they are dead or alive. A bite can put you in danger of contracting an array of diseases, and getting in direct contact with a carcass is even worse. Simply inhaling the dust around it can cause respiratory problems.
But if you are doing it anyway, make sure you use protective clothing, such as rubber gloves and a dust mask. If you want to dispose of a dead animal, bury it away from your house in a deep hole in the ground so it doesn’t get dug up by neighbourhood pets. And always check any relevant national and local regulations.
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:
Remove their food and shelter
Empty the rubbish bin as often as you can. Take the bird feeders down, and don’t leave cat or dog food outside. If there is no food, they have no reason to come. The same applies when it comes to their shelter. Keep the grass short, don’t pile up plant matter, and periodically move woodpiles.
Improve the structure of your property
Your house or your garden shed is a good shelter for rodents, especially in the winter. Call a professional to inspect the outer structure of your property at least once a year. If there are cracks or holes, they should be sealed.
Let cats roam the garden
The best thing to keep mice away is to show them that their most hated predator has claimed the garden for themselves. Just make sure you don’t have catnip planted in the garden, as it can cause a whole new array of problems.
Plant natural rodent repellents
This should be an addition to your preventative measures. Certain plants keep mice and other rodents away. You can plant mint, pennyroyal, garlic, lavender, wormwood and onion between your flower plants, veggies and fruit shrubs.
Place plastic mesh tubes around tender seedlings to prevent mice and rats from eating them.
Mice and other rodents are a problem for every home and garden owner. If you spot one, you can be certain there are going to be a lot more since they breed at a very fast rate. And even if they are mostly seen in the garden, you can be sure your house will also be their target, especially if winter is coming. That’s why it’s always advisable to ask for advice and help from professional domestic mouse control every time you notice the signs of an infestation.