There is an undeniable allure in handpicking and savoring ripe, luscious tomatoes straight from the vine. Regrettably, rats share the same connection, displaying a penchant for ravaging tomato plants and consuming their bounty, hence, the need to keep rats away from tomato plants.
How to keep rats away from tomato plants
Rats can sustain themselves with a wide array of food sources, ranging from decaying leftovers that have been sitting for days to animal excrement. Even the slightest trace of nutritional value can turn an item into a potential dinner plate for these critters.
Like humans, rats are omnivorous. However, given the choice, rats will go after fresh and delectable options, making your tomato plants their prime target. Here are simple ways to keep rats away from tomato plants:
1. Build cages and fences
You want to surround the tomatoes in your garden with a fence. However, rats can gnaw through wood, drywall, brick, concrete, aluminum, sheetrock, and more. So, to keep them out, you need a robust hardware cloth as a barrier.
Rats also have a propensity for burrowing, so you need to dig the fence at a depth of at least 6 inches to block their access.
Build tomato cages to keep rats away from tomato plants. This gardening tool not only provides support for your tomato plants by preventing them from leaning downwards but also gives a challenge for rats attempting to access the fruits.
2. Maintain a clean environment
Apart from fresh and juicy tomatoes, rats are particularly drawn to pungent and easily accessible trash found in untidy areas. Therefore, don’t leave your garbage in unsealed bags near your garden to prevent pet food from scattering around.
Don’t also neglect to clean up dried-out leaves and other biodegradable compost that can contribute to pest attraction. If you fail to tidy up the garden by removing unnecessary items, that can create an environment that attracts rats to your tomatoes.
Even the grass plays a role in rat presence—trimming the grass and removing overgrown weeds can provide hiding spots and shelter for pests.
Another tip is to remove anything that rats can climb, such as overhanging tree limbs, hedges, and trellises. Gardeners generally advise investing in a rodent-proof trash can equipped with a lid.
Neglecting these tasks essentially extends a free buffet invitation to rats and encourages their presence in your tomato garden.
3. Plant rat-repellent herbs and plants
Rats have a keen sense of smell,¹ which compensates for their relatively weaker eyesight.² Exploiting this characteristic can work to your advantage. Try to mask the enticing fragrance of your deliciously fresh tomatoes by planting various herbs and flowers, including:
Grow these plants around your tomato plants or along the borders of your garden. The fragrance from these plants will keep rats away from tomato plants.
4. Use live capture kill traps
Consider investing in no-kill rat traps such as bucket rat trap as an alternative to protect your tomatoes. A live trap is a humane option for rodent control. First, identify rat foraging paths, signs of chewing, tomato damage, and droppings, and place the traps nearby. You can entice fruit rats into the traps with baits like dried fruit, nuts, bacon, or kibbled pet food. If using a bucket trap, smear peanut butter as bait.
These traps can potentially capture chipmunks and squirrels as well. However, since rats typically forage at night while chipmunks and squirrels are active during the day, positioning the traps at dusk and checking or removing them at dawn the next day improves the likelihood of capturing rats rather than other creatures.
5. Consider rat extermination options
If you opt for or find it necessary to exterminate the rats, get a suitable rat trap to help protect your tomatoes. You can invest in bait stations. Place the bait stations in areas where rat presence is observed and secure them to a post, fence, or other structures using plastic zip ties to prevent displacement.
Only handle rat traps while wearing disposable gloves to prevent leaving your smell behind. That smell is enough for rats to avoid the trap. Close the covers of the bait station and inspect them daily, ideally at dawn, after leaving them out exclusively during the night to enhance the likelihood of capturing rats rather than other wildlife in your backyard.
Prioritize the safety of your children and pets while placing the traps. When inspecting the traps, remember to wear a pair of disposable gloves for hygiene purposes. Place one gloved hand into a plastic bag and carefully examine the trap. If a rat has been captured, securely close the bag over it and tie it.
Dispose of any dead rats in your outdoor trash cans. You may have to consult your town’s animal control services to find out the proper disposal method for a dead rat. Rats can carry diseases, and many regions have specific protocols that must be adhered to when disposing of rodents.
6. Recruit Outdoor Predators
Since rodents are primarily nocturnal creatures, they tend to target tomato plants under the cover of darkness. In such cases, enlist the assistance of hunters like cats and owls. These predators are naturally active during nighttime and can help keep rats away from tomato plants.
Cats are natural hunters with a strong inclination towards pursuing mice, making their presence an effective deterrent against rats picking interest in your tomatoes. On the other hand, owls are nocturnal (they operate at night), so they are ideal for controlling the rat population in your garden.
Build an owl house near your garden to provide the bird with an advantageous vantage point, and a clearer view of your tomato plants and any intruding rat.
Detecting potential rat infestation
The arrival of rats in your fruit and vegetable plants can introduce a multitude of health risks. Moreover, consuming produce tainted by these unhygienic creatures is simply unacceptable. That said, below are indications of rat presence in your tomato garden:
- Paw imprints with either four-toed front or five-toed back prints in dusty or muddy areas of the garden.
- Evidence of bite marks on the tomatoes.
- Partially consumed tomatoes left behind.
- Rat feces (shiny black and 1/2 – 3/4 of an inch long) and urine stains scattered around the vicinity of the tomato plants.
- Damage inflicted on the tomato stems.
- Presence of live or deceased rats in your garden.
If all else fails, you can always reach out to your local pest control service for assistance in eliminating rats and safeguarding your precious tomato plants. Rodent control specialists typically have the appropriate tools, skills, and plan to keep rats away from your tomato plants.
- “Norway Rats.” Illinois Department of Public Health
- “RATS by Robert Sullivan.” Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education