Chris Bonnett is the founder and CEO of Gardening Express.
There is now an unmistakable autumn feel in the early mornings, with cooler temperatures at night, and the evenings are already falling, it’s time to get ready, this year I’d say it’s absolutely necessary. Thanks to the summer heatwaves and an abundance of food, whether it be piles of uncollected garbage in urban areas where garbage collectors go on strike or an abundance of hedges, treats and fruit shed from orchard trees in the high heat, there are Ultras in the neighborhood and these sex-crazed beasts breed quickly.
Life was easy for them in the summer, so they filled their time with pro-creation while feasting on all the people’s leftovers from those summer picnics and trash left behind from free time outdoors in the summer. Of course, these Ultra rats now want to continue the party, so will be moving soon.
I say ultras because while you may have heard of super rats before, they seem to be growing to epic proportions this year – hence why I call them ultras now. I’ve seen families of them scurrying in parks and riverbanks looting the trash cans, monsters nearly two feet tall and nearly the size of a rabbit—perhaps a pound in weight—this is far from normal.
There can be several generations in a season – a female rate can have 72 babies a year and the babies are ready to breed on their own within a week. Scientists theorize that gigantism occurs where ideal conditions for rat populations arise thanks to the abundance of food, all that energy can be spent on body mass and growth rather than staying warm this year and breeding populations of potentially biblical size.
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They may be hiding out of sight right now, but soon these unwanted pests will take refuge in our gardens – or worse homes – for the winter period. Food sources in their usual abodes will diminish, temperatures will drop, and the baked parched soil of the drought means there will be far fewer dens for them to take shelter in. Now is the time to protect your yard and home. When rats get hungry, they’ll eat pretty much anything — even dog poop, so you really don’t want these disease-ridden ultra-rats around. They can literally be deadly, and with climate change there are also theories that the UK rat population will increasingly carry a host of additional tropical woes.
Our nursery is surrounded by farmland and we know that once the harvest is in, only so much grain is spilled before they come to us in search of food and shelter. They will destroy many trees and plants by gnawing on the bark when hungry, so we protect all vulnerable plants and take precautions to prevent this, and you absolutely do not want these visitors to enter your home or garden. So what can you do to protect yourself and prevent an infection?
1. Check your garden for food sources – if fruit trees, shrubs or vegetables are growing, be sure to harvest as soon as possible and be sure to remove any windfall from the soil under an apple tree as soon as possible. Anything you store should be placed in a safe area that is inaccessible for these critters to invade.
2. Clean up all the garbage, debris and yard waste ready for disposal – don’t wait any longer to get rid of this now, rats are already on their way with families sending scout groups to find their next rung on the property ladder.
3. Bird tables are notorious for attracting pests – if you have one and it eventually attracts them, you may need to remove it altogether so there is no food source. Meanwhile, regularly, daily if necessary, clean up and spill seed – late afternoon when birds have finished feeding would be best. Also make sure your bird table is in an open area, away from bushes, fences and walls – rats are expert climbers and will jump onto it from a nearby tree if they can.
4. Make sure there are no places where rats can easily hide. Does your shed or garage door close properly? Are there gaps? Consider installing a metal bumper on doors to prevent gnawing and make sure to fill and cover any gaps. Tiny young rats can squeeze through rather small holes.
5. Protect pet food – many people store bags of pet food in a shed, and anything edible should be kept in a container or bucket with a lid. Ideally metal, as hungry rats have an amazing sense of smell to detect this and have been known to chew through plastic containers to get to food. I’ve even seen them gnaw the lids of buckets of commercial rat poison in a farm store shed—quite ironically.
6. Check that all drain grates are intact and that all drains are covered, replace urgently if necessary. Also look around the perimeter of your home and check for any air stones or potential weak points to get in – take immediate action and make any repairs or replace any grates that require it.
7. Rats also need a water source, so if you have another dripping garden tap, rain barrel or clogged drain, get it now.
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8. Do you have a compost pile? Spin it, don’t put food scraps on it and keep it wet – otherwise the rats could see your cozy compost pile as a new 5 star hotel with room service. It’s also worth thinking about embedding chicken wire to make it less permeable.
9. If you have a cold box or greenhouse, make sure there aren’t piles of pots and trays languishing under the benches – these would provide perfect shelter and a fun little maze for rats to hang out in.
10. Put preventative odors around the perimeter of sheds and your home – rats shouldn’t be allowed to pass strong odors like garlic powder – which can be purchased online in bulk buckets or white vinegar. Apply generously around and sensitive areas.
Finally, with these Ultra rats around, you may just want to be prepared and invest in conventional traps and bait in case the invasion hits your yard and property – they’d be nothing worse than a local pest infesting your precious plants, garden. attack or shed – or worse – and find stores that sell out of what you need.