From the Forum – Anyone have any ideas for rat-proofing a yard?

by Prince Of Petworth April 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm 34 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user nevermindtheend

Anyone have any ideas for rat-proofing a yard?

“I own a row-house in DC, just a few houses in from a commercial strip with a lot of restaurants, etc. The house has a postage stamp-sized yard in front as well as front porch. Over the past year, the front yard and the area underneath the porch has come to be absolutely riddled with rat burrows. I come home in the evenings and the rats are hanging out, chilling, welcoming me home. They’re not getting in the house, which seems well-enough sealed (knock wood), but they are consistently out in the yard, especially at night.

I have tried an exterminator, which left me with no real change to the problem plus dead rats to clean up as well. I don’t think it’s feasible to kill or trap all the rats, and I know new ones would come back, so this is not my goal. What I want to do is make my yard unappealing to the rats, so they go and hang out elsewhere. Short of paving the yard, any ideas of what I can do (and/or suggestions for reputable and reasonable contractors who could help)? One thing I’ve considered is pouring concrete under the porch (so the least well-lit area is inaccessible)–could that work?”

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  • Anonymous

    Same issue OP. I called a highly recommeneded exterminator but for liability reasons they won’t set up traps outside in the yard. Other people recommended “rat zapper”- we bought one this past weekend and have yet to set it up. You can also try 311 to do a block wide rat abatement. The most importatn thing is to 1) find the burrows and fill them 2) get rid of any standing water and trash in your own yard. 3) cut back bushes etc that may make nice hiding places for rats. and 4) our rats are living under our front porch and squeeze through a brick lattice to get in. We are seriously considering a giant hole in the brick lattice to allow for the feral cats to get in there…

    • Anonymous

      I second all of the above, years of experience with rats myself. Most important call 311 and be consistent (keep calling the city, write emails etc). The poison that they put out is the most effective, private exterminator/pest control is also good, but expensive. Rat-Zapper, traps etc. are all gimmicks, they do not effectively take care of your problem. Feral cats are the best solution but of course bring about their own responsibilities.

    • MRD

      Be careful on the feral cat solution. We had a den of rats living under our car port, which then became a cat gathering spot. I would often walk outside to see five to ten cats lounging on top and under our car and all over the back deck. Once, I came home and found 12 dead baby rats lined up in a neat row in front of the back door.
      They sprayed everything, everywhere, every day and the smell was horrendous. We eventually got rid of the entire deck and paved over the yard. I don’t think there would have been any other way to get rid of the eye-watering odor. Worse, before we fixed drainage problems, our basement frequently flooded and brought the cat odor into the house.
      The city did do a block-wide rat treatment. I don’t know how or what they did, but the rats disappeared, along with the cats and squirrels, too.

  • heffieb

    Try either making a perimeter that is too wide for rats to jump, or completely covering the area, with lava rock. It’s my understanding that they won’t walk on it because it cuts their feet like so many little razor blades. This is how it comes at Home Depot: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Vigoro-0-5-cu-ft-Decorative-Stone-Red-Lava-Rock-440897/100427379

  • textdoc

    Definitely call 311 to request a “rat abatement” (from the Department of Health) for the common areas of your block (e.g., alley) and for your front yard in particular. They can shoot “tracking powder” into the rat burrows; the rats then ingest it when they groom themselves.

  • Anonymous

    We had problems with rats getting to our vegetable garden. We planted some mint and peppermint in the corners and have noticed a huge change. Apparently they don’t like the smell and went and found another place to hang out.

  • Skn

    We have the same problem in our back yard. I think the rats like to live under the concrete parking pads. We keep the yard clean, grass cut and don’t have plants along the fence line. We have tried poison in rat boxes and having the city come out. The rat problem remains.

    Is it silly to think that removing the parking pad and installing a fence that is trenched into the ground a bit would help? Any other ideas?

  • Anonymous

    Call up Blake, Adam, and Anders from workaholics (search for workaholics rat killing).

    • anon

      Or Charlie Kelly, King of the Rats.

  • Anonymous

    Put a terrier in it! I’m kind of serious. If you’ve ever seen a little terrier dart after a rat and then snap its neck with delight, you know how amazingly effective they are at killing rats, despite the fact that they’ve been lap dogs for dozens of generations.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. We have 2 little dogs, a doggie door so they can run out into the yard whenever they want, and no rats. I’ve see rats in the alley and on the street occasionally, but never in our yard.

    • houseintherear

      I second this, as a Westie owner.
      And speaking of dogs, it’s important to be mindful about pet animals and feral cats when setting out poison (or having a pest control company do it). The poison is meant to be yummy and eaten by animals, and will kill a dog quickly. Not to mention a curious child. The stuff listed above that is more of a powder and that is put way down underground in their dens/nests is a better alternative. Or natural methods, like certain plants or weeds strategically placed or planted around your yard. (Mint is a good one- not peppermint oil, which is poisionous to many animals including cats, but actual mint plants…) though I imagine a rag or cotton soaked in peppermint oil but hidden underground somehow would be safe. Another natural repellent is predator urine, which is gross and seems like it might be too difficult to even fathom, but a neighbor of mine in Petworth used to put their cat’s used litter around the perimeter of their yard and swore by that method.

      I urge you to not kill the rats yourself. They are meant to scavenge and they have a purpose for our world, and they have enough chance of getting killed in a natural way (cat or dog predator). Keeping them away from your hard/house does not mean having to kill them.

    • yunkstahn

      Terriers were bred as ratters as far back as Medieval Europe (they started in the British Isles, I think). They are feisty and tough little fellows! My toy fox terrier is fierce when he shakes his toys; I’d imagine he—and his terrier kin—would be formidable opponents to vermin. Side note: Rat-baiting with terriers was a popular, if cruel, sport back in the day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat-baiting).

  • Absolutely call 311 – City rat abatement right now. They are really good. Check with your neighbors because if you have a problem, chances are they do too and the team likes to treat an entire block. They also like to get permission for this – by distributing hangtags. They stick a tube down into the burrows to put down a powder poison that is very effective, then cover up the holes. Dogs etc. are safe. I had the same exact issue – 50 rats having a Margarita party!

    Absolutely no on the pouring concrete – that makes an even more ideal habitat as they just burrow under it and now have an extra sheltered condo complex, nice and dry. You want to provide as little shelter as possible. (A proper patio with crushed stone/sand/pavers is not the same thing.)

    The Rat-zapper is great for when you have a mouse or rat inside the house, or the occasional one cruising your yard (I found a opossum sized one once – barely fit into the shoebox sized trap – I had to pinch its legs together to tip it out!) But for an infestation like this – call the city.

    • Anonymous

      “I found a opossum sized one once – barely fit into the shoebox sized trap – I had to pinch its legs together to tip it out!”
      I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. 😡

  • Sunsquashed

    Call 311 and have the rat abatement dudes place poison at the burrow entrances. Fill the holes/burrows with a combination of wet cement and broken glass. Rats can chew through concrete, but the glass shards will rip them up. Then cover the holes up / level the dirt in the affected area. Place strong wire mesh (think chicken wire but thicker and with smaller holes) along the area where the rats are burrowing. Then cover up with tightly packed dirt. This worked really well for us.
    Feral cats are not going to touch a full sized city rat. There are numerous cat vs. rat videos on youtube that can attest to wins during these encounters (while the terrier idea may work, I dunno). I also place (plastic/metal) weatherproof rat traps out at logical entry points, and occasional snag a rat coming under the fence from our neighbors yard.

    • houseintherear

      My 28 lb Westie terrier has killed 3 (and one opossum)… God bless a terrier.

  • Oh Sweet Thing

    Here’s what I would do, in this order:
    1. Puke
    2. Burn house down
    3. Die

  • Anonymous

    been thru all of this – exterminators are a waste of money, poisons (including those used by 311) are a very short term solution (and you never know where they’ll die/smell). Snap traps are grisly but work very, very well (as long as you have a spot that squirrels, birds, pets won’t get near).

    If the porch is the only access point – put a layer of cement in. if you have a crawl space and the porch is the access point to that, you may have some real work to do. Cement and snap traps are the only things that have worked for me – things have improved but every few months we have to re-secure.

    I’ve never tried mint or lava rocks – i’ll give it a shot!

  • Rat King

    Here’s what worked for me:

    (1) Lava Rocks.

    (2) Burying a cage or wire mesh that they can’t get through. It’s more feasible with a smaller property, but you can plant bushes etc on top of the cage and still have a nice garden.

  • Anonymous

    This guy has a nice instructional video on getting rid of rats:


  • Anonymous

    We had a terrible rat problem in our back alley. It was the entire alley, mainly caused (allegedly) by the bad trash disposal practices of a nearby restaurant. Call 311 — they direct you to the Dep’t of Health, which includes the Rodent Control department. They probably had to come 4-5 times over a few months (every few weeks) but we now haven’t seen a rat in months. Probably the most important thing they did was to figure out where the rats were coming from (the restaurant’s dumpsters) and then they worked with the restaurant to adopt better practices (lids on the dumpsters, etc). It still took a couple of months to get rid of the rats after that, though, because the DOH had to keep coming and clearing out all of the rat burrows in the alley. They had really settled into the neighborhood. I was very impressed by DOH, though. If you don’t get an immediate response, try going through your ANC member. Ours put me in touch with a specific person at DOH who then became my contact person over the next few months as I gently nudged them to keep coming back. It’s probably the restaurants and they are required to do certain things to limit rodents.

  • Anonymous

    Im intrigued by the lava rock idea. Never heard of it before and just googled it but Im confused. It sounds like some pet rat owners (god help me) put lava rock in the cages so that is trims down the nails of their rats but supposedly they will still walk on the stuff? If I think it will work Im going to by 20 lbs of it at Home Depot and cover every square inch under my deck…and then maybe take another posters suggestion and puke and burn my house down. Lived in the city for 15 years and still hate the rats!!

  • suzindc

    I dealt with this same problem. After calling 311 for years, I finally bit the bullet and took care of it on my own. (I don’t blame the rat abatement team — they work hard but there is only so much that you can do when you have irresponsible restaurants nearby who leave dumpsters open and provide food out for the rodents.) I solved the problem but installing a metal perimeter underground around my yard. I can’t remember how deep the rodents typically dig but I made sure that it went deeper than that. I made sure that there was no gap between the perimeter and my fence so that they couldn’t crawl in above ground. Then, for extra measure, I poured concrete under my entire back yard (it was small) and put slate above some of it (for cosmetic reasons) and a foot or two of dirt (for shallow plantings). It was expensive but worth every penny because I was able to sit outside during the evenings without having unwanted guests.

  • Amy

    We have a rat problem in our alley too because our neighbors won’t pick up after their dog. Dog poop is a food source for rats and they also use it for their nests. I’ve looked into non toxic rat poison since regular rat/mice poison is terrible for the environment. Anyone find success with poison made from equal parts sugar, flour and baking soda? I read that rats can’t fart and the baking soda creates bubbles in their stomachs. Pop! And the rat is dead. Hoping this works but afraid that I’ll just end up feeding the little suckers.

    • Anonymous

      Doesn’t work – urban legend/myth

  • jae1012

    Try putting mothballs in the holes and around the perimeter of the yard. I used to have a problem with rats eating through the wires in my car, and once I spread mothballs around my parking space, the rats stayed away. I have no idea why it works, but rats must find the small horrible or something.

  • Anonymous

    Ninjas! Nothing else works.

  • Anonymous

    You could always go move back to the suburbs. You’re probably the same time of person to call about a noise complaint on the weekend.

    • anon

      I hope the above was in jest. If not… how about you take the OP’s rats as part of your oh-so-edgy city life?

  • Anonymous
  • If you have a cat, sprinkle some of the used (yup, used) cat litter around the yard. No cat, just beg the used litter from someone who does… I feel your pain about cleaning up the remnants of exterminators…and you’re never sure where those disgusting bodies are going to be, either. I became quite proficient with Big Cat traps but THAT was not w/o its own disgusting clean-up and sometimes the little old squirrels got greedy for the peanut butter bait! Used cat litter. It works.

    • Reading through some of the other responses, I thought I should add…beg used litter from a friend who uses the clumping type…no smell so you’re not introducing yet ANOTHER problem to your problem!

  • Noah

    I had this problem in my small front yard a few years back. It spread from the next-door neighbor through our yard and to the next house.

    One day in desperation–after years of failed concrete, poison, etc.–I took my garden hose and placed it in the hole on full blast. For at least an hour. Some rats that were out foraging returned and looked unsure of what to do when they returned to their saturated holes. They did not want to go in.

    Did this again over the next 2 days. Eventually water pouring in one hole would come out of the others in all 3 yards.

    Rats vanished, have not seen any new rat holes for years despite an elderly neighbor who is irresposnible with garbage cans.

    Aside from accidentally flooding a basement (which did not happen), does anyone have any idea if this is a good or bad idea?


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