Are mice and rats treating your garden or orchard like their personal buffet? While they may look cute from afar, these rodents are pesky nuisances that like to pilfer your fruits and vegetables and can sometimes harbor disease. Keep them away from your harvest with these helpful tips.

What’s Attacking Your Fruit?

A Norway (brown) rat

Before you do anything, you have to understand what you’re up against. While mice can cause harm in the garden, rats are by far the bigger culprit. In particular, there are two types of rats that like to wreak havoc on fruit trees and shrubs: roof rats and Norway rats.

Roof rats, also known as black or tree rats, have pointed noses and long tails. They’re good at climbing and love dense vegetation that allows them to hide. They prefer to be above ground, nesting high up and moving between wires, branches, and vines. They are most commonly found in southern Atlantic, Gulf coastal, and Pacific states.

Norway rats, also known as brown, wharf, or sewer rats, have blunt noses and shorter tails. They tend to live near the ground and burrow along building foundations and under woodpiles.

Rats tend to stay within one to three hundred feet of their nest or burrow when they look for food. Similarly, mice tend to stay within 50 feet of their homes.

How Do You Know If You Have an Infestation?

Look for bite marks on your fruit

You’ll likely notice damage before anything else. Do you see bite marks on or large holes in your fruits and vegetables? You may spot some damage to surrounding plants in places where the rodents have nibbled. Rats often travel the same paths between their nests and their food sources, so you might even notice a smooth trail free of vegetation somewhere in the surrounding ground cover.

What to Do If You Have Rats and Mice

Evict these vermin right away! However, since the infestation will usually be near a food source, you may want to avoid using poison to do it. It's often best to trap them with snap traps. Set the traps where you’ve noticed damage, and secure them trigger-side down to the trunk of a tree using twine. Entice the rodents into the traps with peanut butter, dried fruit, or bacon, and remember to only set them when the vermin are out (between dusk and dawn) to prevent other wildlife from getting injured. Keep the traps in the same location for about a week or so before moving them. if you think you have an especially large infestation on your hands, place the traps about 10 feet apart from each other to improve their chances of working.

When removing dead rats from traps, you'll want to wear protective gloves. Place the bodies in a plastic bag, seal it, and put it in your trash can. After you’ve disinfected the gloves, place those in a plastic bag, seal it, and place it in the trash. Always wash your hands after handling traps.

Many people also use bait stations, which protect other wildlife and kids from getting injured, to deal with rodents. These traps are placed about six feet off the ground and may or may not be refillable. Since these traps use poison, take the time to follow the directions printed on their packaging.

How to Keep Rats and Mice Away

prune your trees and shrubs to keep rodents away from your yard

Keep these vermin out of your garden or orchard. If you suspect you have root rats, place a rat guard around your trees in the form of a sheet of aluminum or piece of sheet metal that's about two feet wide. Measure the circumference of the tree, add a few more inches onto that number, and cut the sheet accordingly. Wrap it around the tree and secure it with wire through holes you’ve punched in the top and bottom of the sheet. If you’re unable to wrap metal around a tree because of its shape, create a two-foot high fence-like structure around it using the sheet metal.

Keep your trees separated from one another and at least three or four feet away from the roof of your home or shed, wires, fences, and other nearby structures to keep roof rats from moving from one tree to the next. Also, make sure none of the lower tree branches aren’t touching the ground.

Prune your trees and shrubs. This is not only good for air circulation, but it'll also help keep rats away. Since rats prefer to be hidden (particularly while they’re snacking), they avoid areas where they feel exposed. Trim your trees, shrubs, and other plants until they're four feet away from any roofs or utility poles. If you’re concerned about rats and mice noshing on your melons, pumpkins, or garden vegetables, create a cage for them using wire hardware cloth. This will prevent any critters from gnawing through them.

Keep your property clear of debris like wood piles, and take the time to thin any thick vegetation nearby. Remove any fallen fruit from the ground, and pick the ones on the trees as soon as they're ripe instead of waiting. These seemingly small tasks will make your property much less attractive to rats and mice.

To prevent rats and mice from feeling at home in your garden, you'll also want to keep pet food inside in covered metal containers. Feed your pets during the day, and try your best to clean up any excess food at night. Hang rodent-proof bird feeders up. Stack wood 18 inches up from the ground and about a foot from all fences and walls. If you keep your trash outside, make sure its in a sealed bin.