Rats and mice are constant issues for Ojai homeowners. Regardless of how well you maintain your home and yard, there is a good chance these critters will at least stop by for a visit. This is particularly true if you live around rodent-friendly fruit or oak trees, and I can’t think of very many homes in Ojai that are not close to at least one of these.
Like all animals, rats and mice are primarily focused on what they need to survive: food, water and shelter. If you have rats or mice in your yard, this means that your property is fulfilling these basic needs and providing a hospitable environment for rodents to call home.
Folks who need to manage a rat population or repel mice have both lethal and non-lethal methods from which to choose. For those who want to kill them, Ojai is home to several pest control companies that will be happy to take care of this for you, or there are traps and poison for folks who want to do it themselves.
Of course, there are issues that come with each of these options, so you need to be aware that your efforts to control rodents in this manner may result in the injury or death of animals you like having around, such as raptors, rabbits, pets and other wildlife. Additionally, whenever possible, it is always a good idea to try natural pest control methods that do not end in any unnecessary deaths of rodents or other animals before turning to lethal measures.
For folks who want to get rid of rats or mice without killing them, there is really only one option: encouraging the rats and mice to move on by taking away the food, water and shelter they seek and making your property less hospitable.
Removing water sources can be difficult, since this includes water bowls for pets, troughs and buckets used for larger animals, drip irrigation systems, and water features. So, while you may need to look at removing water sources at some point, let’s start with easier tasks, including removing food sources, limiting shelter options and making your yard less appealing to repel rats and mice naturally.
Keep in mind, if you have an established colony, it is going to require a multi-prong approach that includes both eradication and prevention to avoid the establishment of future colonies.
14 Ways to Repel Rats & Mice Naturally (Without Killing Them)
First, let’s work on removing food sources:
1. Move bird feeders away from outdoor living areas and regularly clean up any waste left on the ground.
2. Cover dog food and other pet food when your pets are not outside.
3. Store animal food securely. You aren’t going to be able to keep rats and mice out of your hay barn, but you can store your cat, dog, bird, chicken, goat and other animal feed in secure containers that won’t provide an easy meal for rodents.
3. Wrap flexible sheet metal around the trunks of fruit trees to prevent rats and mice from climbing the trees and eating the fruit (or making nests). You will also need to prune branches near fences or rooflines where rats and mice could gain access.
4. Always keep your trash and yard waste bins securely closed.
5. Choose a compost bin that deters rodents, since these are prime spots for rats and mice to find both food and nesting materials. I use tumblers on stands and always keep them closed. If you have a bin that sits on the ground and has an open bottom, you can place wire mesh between your bin and the ground to slow them down, but I have found that they generally find a way in anyways. If you have an open compost pile, rather than a bin, move your compost pile as far away from your house and outdoor living areas as possible.
6. Secure your chicken coop with 1/8-inch hardware cloth around the bottom of the fence. This isn’t completely rat proof, since they can still climb over the hardware cloth and get through the chicken wire above, but this can help keep rats from going after your chickens’ eggs and scratch.
7. Regularly remove pet waste from your yard. Pet poop may be gross to us, but rats recognize its nutritional value and are more than happy to dine on it.
The step in getting rid of rats and mice naturally is removing shelter options, which includes blocking or removing pathways that provide cover for rodents as they traverse your yard:
8. Clear unnecessary clutter that provides shelter or pathways for rats and mice. This includes storing patio cushions when not in use and keeping areas near fences and walls as clear as possible. For example, dog houses, deck boxes and flowerpots should be kept away from walls to avoid creating a protected trail system for rodents.
Wood piles should also be placed away from structures and, if possible, should be at least 18 inches above the ground to avoid creating shelter for rodents underneath. You will also want to make sure rats and mice cannot find shelter elsewhere in your yard, such as in a rarely used barbecue grill or under your potting bench.
9. Prune trees away from fences and structures and wrap the trunks in sheet metal to keep rats from making nests in the canopy. If you hate the idea of wrapping your tree trunks in metal, you can also try planting rat-repelling plants, such a lavender or mint, or placing an ultrasonic rat repeller at the base of the trunk.
10. Remove dense ground covers that provide shelter and allow rats and mice to move freely throughout your yard.
11. Block access under permanent and semi-permanent structures in your yard. Garden sheds, decks, gazebos, and other structures that rarely or never move are ideal options for rats and mice looking for a place to call home. You need to completely seal points of entry, since rats and mice can get through very small spaces, so make sure you do not already have any resident rats, mice, squirrels or other animals before sealing the area. If you block access to an area while animals are inside, they will die from starvation and dehydration, which is a crueler and slower death than poisoning or traps.
And finally, let’s work on making your yard less appealing to rats and mice looking for a place to set up camp:
12. Deploy an ultrasonic rodent repeller. How well these work depends on who you ask, but if you have a significant rat population or a growing family of mice, they are worth a try. Most ultrasonic pest repellents are designed to ward off all animals, which includes animals you might like having around, such as dogs, deer, rabbits, or cats. So, if you decide to give this option a shot, make sure you purchase one that has settings for different types of animals so that you can ward off rodents without disturbing your furry friends.
13. Scare rats and mice off naturally off with predator urine. Some people swear by this method for removing unwanted rodents, which is why I’m including it on this list. However, I don’t really think it works and, therefore, is not worth having your yard smell like urine. Maybe introducing this smell could help with your rat or mice problem if you currently have no predators on your property, but most folks already have a predator or two running around. Think about it, if you have a dog or a cat that goes outside, you already have predator urine in your yard. If you live in an area where you have coyotes, bobcats or mountain lions at least occasionally on your property, you have even scarier predator urine that is not currently scaring away the rats or mice hanging out in your yard.
14. Introduce fragrances that make it difficult for rats and mice to use their sense of smell as a necessary survival mechanism. Rodents rely on smell to know when predators are around and to find food. Therefore, rats and mice generally choose to not hang out in areas where strong fragrances make it impossible to do this. You can purchase rat repellent pouches, pellets or sprays at hardware stores, feed stores and garden centers. This is a convenient option, but these can get expensive, since they will need to be regularly replaced.
You can achieve the same effect of naturally repelling rats and mice with inexpensive items you likely already have around the house or can purchase at the dollar store. For example, dryer sheets and perfumed soaps work just as well, and you probably already have these on hand. Alternatively, you can plant mint or lavender near potential nesting areas or soak cotton balls or rags with peppermint oil or eucalyptus oil to place around your outdoor living areas to deter rats and mice. If you choose to use cotton balls or rags, make sure you place them in spots where you pets cannot access them.
Owl Boxes: Another Way to Get Rid of Rats and Mice that is Better than Traps or Poison
There is another option that lies between using traps and poison and using non-lethal, natural methods for getting rid of rats and mice. While this article focuses on natural ways to get rid of rodents without killing them, this lethal-but-natural option is worth including to make sure you are aware of all your options before turning to traps and poison.
The Ojai Raptor Center sells barn owl and screech owl boxes that you can install at your home to encourage owls to nest on your property. This helps support the local raptor population while also providing you with natural rodent control, since owls are natural predators of rats and mice.
The Ojai Raptor Center website also offers free barn owl box plans if you prefer to build your own.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a member of The Davis Group and a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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