Garden Questions: Do Rats Eat Garden Plants?

Are you into gardening and want to keep your plants green, healthy, and flourishing? You need to protect your garden from unwelcome visitors. When we think about garden pests, various sorts of insects and bugs come into our mind. What most of us don’t realize is that rats are the scourge of several gardens. Rats, gophers, mice, and various other animals like foxes, cats, and moles need to stay away from your space. And you might think that cats, for example, aren’t that bad as rats, but people that are looking for cat repellents know that garden trouble is all the same! 

Two rats hiding behing a wood and looking for food sources

They damage your lawn and garden by making tunnels, and they eventually enter your homes. To keep rats out of your garden, you need to understand their behaviour, learn what attracts them, and figure out how to discourage them from taking up residence in your beautiful garden. This is what we are here for – by the end of this article, you will have enough information to keep the plants safe from rats! Ready? Let’s get started! 

What are the signs of having rats in your garden?

The million-dollar question is: How to tell if there are rats in the garden? There are tell-tale signs of rodent infestation. Look for their nesting areas under timber, trash, drain pipes, under the sheds, etc. Rats have a particular smell when they are present in large numbers. Moreover, you can easily hear their activity as well. 

Since they are nocturnal feeders, you will not see them normally in the daytime. However, they can be seen running back and forth just after sunset and sunrise. A few other signs of having rats around are:

  1. Disappearing Plants
  2. Tunnels in the Ground
  3. Rat Droppings

Disappearing plants

If there are rats in the garden, seedlings, new plantings, sprouts, etc. will disappear overnight, leaving no trace behind! A few of them will seem to be tugged and uprooted as well from below the ground. 

Rabbits and deer chew plants from above and leave the roots behind. On the other hand, mice, rats, etc. disturb the new seedlings from below – pulling and gnawing at the roots. You can also see smear marks where they run along with the wood, stone, on the fences, gates, etc. They usually travel along the ground but can jump as well to get to their shelter and food. The teeth of rats are hard enough to gnaw through wood, vinyl, rubber, etc. 

Tunnels in the ground

Rats dig tunnels in the ground which are connected by small entrances and exits. The tunnels are the superhighways of rats and allow them to destroy carefully planted seeds simply by passing under them. They also use the same routes when moving to and from their homes and shelter. 

A hole made from a rat in a garden

Rat droppings

This is something that is really disturbing for everyone. Even though they are small, they are easily visible on the ground which ruins your beautiful garden and your overall outdoor space.

Why do you need to keep them away from your garden?

Rat infestation is basically a sign of poor sanitation. It is a good idea to check the garden and yard because a clean garden is in turn a healthy garden. And a healthy garden with no rats has no-eaten plants! There are various reasons why you should get rid of rats.

A few of those reasons are:

  1. Damage the food
  2. Ruin the garden
  3. Cause structural damage
  4. Are disease carriers (e.g. Weil’s disease)

Your vegetable garden is in great danger! Why? Because these little things will eat various vegetables such as sweet corn cobs, squash, pumpkins, carrots, beetroot, potato tubers, etc. Rats cause excessive damage to the plants and vegetables in the garden, while they are growing. Plus, after the food has been harvested and stored, the rats will cause damage then as well. But they don’t stop there! They will also eat the food that you place out for pets, poultry, wild birds, etc. Therefore, you need to place the bird seeds and pet food in hanging feeders instead of on the ground. 

Do they eat garden plants?

Rats eat nuts, berries, vegetation, as well as small bugs and insects. However, what most of us don’t know is that they eat houseplants and garden plants as well. Rats are very fond of seeds, so if you have planted a new garden, the seeds will be their favourite target. Also, emerging grass seed, leafy greens and vegetables are also highly appealing to them. However, rats eat vegetables from the garden only if there isn’t anything else available. They’re not the salad type! These are their favourites though: 

  1. Cabbage
  2. Cauliflower
  3. Carrots
  4. Peas
  5. Turnips
  6. Leaks
  7. Potatoes
  8. Tulips
  9. Zucchini
  10. Green beans

Some gabbages in a garden ready to be harvested

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to give up on planting what you love. With rat traps and pest control, you can keep the garden safe from rodents. And don’t forget that there are particular plants that have natural scents that act as rat repellants. Plant them on the borders or intersperse them through the flowering and edible plants, and your rat problem will be taken care of!

What plants do rats hate?

Just as there are some plants to avoid, there are a few varieties of vegetables and fruits to add to your garden to keep the rats away. The most popular ones? Cucumbers, broccoli, and peppers. Take it one step further and plant peach and orange treesThe following plants and ingredients are known to keep the rats away as well:

  1. Marigold
  2. Daffodils
  3. Garlic
  4. Rosemary
  5. Lavender
  6. Onions
  7. Black pepper
  8. Tomatoes
  9. Peppermint
  10. Sage

The flavours, scents, and roots are something that rats don’t really like. Plus, most of the herbs that we have listed above are regularly used in cooking, so it is a win-win for you!

Where to find them

Rats hardly roam around in the open. So, where is the optimal place to add your repellent plants and avoid placing the ones that they love? They make their shelters and homes in specific places such as:

  1. Compost bins & piles
  2. Sheds
  3. Garbage bins
  4. Recycling bins
  5. Piles of wood
  6. Bird feeders

Well, you can try to keep the plants away from all those places and not make it too easy for them.

A woodpile in a garden in front of a red wall

Compost piles

If your compost piles are improperly managed, they are like an all-you-can-eat buffet for rodents. You can easily spot the rats by digging into the compost pile and then disturbing their nests. You might save your plants from being eaten but you keep the rats around which isn’t a great solution.


Rats like to tunnel under the garden sheds and form their residences there. Check for signs!

Garbage bins

If you keep your recycling bins and garbage bins outdoors, you should check for chew marks and droppings on them. Moreover, holes in the recycling bins also indicate that rats have taken up residence there.


In the outdoors, they are attractive places for rats to build their nests. If you have one in the garden, it is very likely that you have built a rat hotel unintentionally. You should rearrange it periodically to ensure that rats stay away.

Bird feeders

They also attract rats since the birds drop the seeds all around. Moreover, if there is bird feed in the garage or garden sheds, it will attract the rodents as well. Therefore, you need to keep the bird feed in sealed, metal containers. If there are any fallen fruit, rats will eat them as well. Not eaten plants but still rats around!

A rat eating from a bird feeder in a garden

Some extra tips to keep them away

The ultimate goal is to keep the rats out of the garden without having to resort to harmful chemicals, rat poisons, snap traps, mouse traps, etc. With the help of the following tips, you can easily keep the rats away.

1. Keep your compost wet & rotated

Compost heaps provide a wealth of useful nutrients to the garden. However, it also serves as a rich feeding point for rats. Make sure that you keep turning your compost regularly to keep the rats away. Moreover, you should keep the compost wet by spraying it with water so that rats will not have access to the food. Combine this with planting the right herbs and protecting the ones that they love to chew.

2. Move your woodpiles regularly

As we have mentioned above, they act as perfect nesting grounds for rats. Keep moving them around to stop the rats from setting up a permanent home. Don’t forget to place them away from your plants.

3. Remove leaf piles

If there are brush & leaf piles in the garden, you should get rid of them. Rake the leaves, pile the garden clippings, and bag them up immediately so that the rats will have no place to go.

4. Line the garden with rat-proof mesh

Rats can squeeze through very small spaces. Make sure that you install rat-proof wire mesh on the bottom of the garden beds and along the sides as well. This way, they will not have access to the plants and their roots from below. 

5. Eliminate the food sources

If there are bird feeders or any other food sources that are attracting the rats, it is better to remove them for a couple of weeks. It will send a message to the rats that their free lunch is over now, and they will move away!

6. Improve the sanitation

If you are keeping garbage bins or recycling bins near the garden, you should keep them clean. Make sure to wash them regularly using the garden hose and a cleaner.

a rat walking around in a garden

Like any other living creature, rats seek food, shelter, and water. Your beautiful, carefully cultivated garden appears to them as a simple extension of the prairie habitat or normal woodland they live in. Keep an eye out for rat infestations in your garden by following the tips that we have mentioned above. Remember, a clean garden is a healthy garden!

Here’s to your clean, rat-free garden!

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