Tomatoes are a favorite of not only humans but also insects, birds and other wildlife, including small rodents like squirrels, chipmunks and rats. Do you need to get rid of rats that are eating your tomatoes? There are things you can do to prevent them from getting into your crop. Growing tomatoes is a labor of love, and it is very disappointing to lose them to these interlopers.
Rats and Tomato Plants
Rats can be found in large, open fields as well as attics and practically anywhere else. They are attracted to compost piles, trash cans and gardens, and they are not picky about what they eat. Rats like tomatoes because they are easy to access, and they are fresh and tasty. Rats like other vegetable plants, too.
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What are the signs of a rat presence in your garden? They usually establish a foraging path and stick to it. Look for four-toed front or five-toed back footprints in dusty and muddy locations, keeping in mind that these prints look similar to squirrel footprints.
You may also see some signs of chewing by the foraging paths. Rats constantly chew on hard surfaces. Also look for urine stains, rat droppings and one of the most obvious and distressing signs of infestation: sightings of living or dead rats in the area.
Noninvasive Rat Deterrents
Start by trying the most conservative and natural ways to deter rats from your tomato plants. Clean up any garbage, debris, pipes, garden tools, boxes, crates or other items near the plants and thin out the vegetation. Anything on which rats can climb should also be removed, like overhanging tree limbs, hedges and trellises. You can also buy a rodent-proof trash can with lid.
If this does not prove to be successful, try laying out no-kill rat traps since there are humane options available. Look for foraging paths, signs of chewing, tomato damage and droppings and place the traps nearby. Traps can be baited with dried fruit, nuts, bacon or kibbled pet food. Do not use peanut butter or cheese since rats are smart enough to grab this food without getting trapped.
Realize that these traps may also trap chipmunks and squirrels. But because rats generally forage at night, and chipmunks and squirrels are active during the day, placing your traps out at dusk and checking/removing them at dawn the following day increases the odds that you'll trap a rat instead of other creatures.
Harsher Removal Methods
If you prefer to or absolutely must exterminate the rats, you can buy an appropriate rat trap to save your tomatoes. Put the bait stations wherever you notice the rat presence and secure them with plastic zip ties to a post, fence or other structure to prevent them from being moved. Wearing disposable gloves, assemble the traps if assembly is needed. Some include the bait inside. Close the covers and check them daily, optimally at dawn after leaving them out only during the night to increase the chances you'll trap a rat instead of other backyard creatures.
Be sure to keep your children and pets away from any rat traps on your property. When checking the traps, you should wear a pair of disposable gloves. Place one gloved hand into a plastic bag and look in the trap. If there is a dead rat inside, close the bag over it and tie securely. Whatever you do, don't put your hand inside the trap, especially without looking first.
Do not throw dead rats into your outdoor trash cans unless you have checked with your town's animal control services. Rats can spread disease, and many areas have certain protocols that must be followed when disposing of rodents.