8 April 2024

How to get rid of rats and mice in the garden

A complete guide to managing and eradicating rats, mice and other rodents from your garden.
How to get rid of rats and mice in the garden

As gardeners, we can appreciate that we share our outdoor space with all sorts of wildlife. Native birds, insects and other fauna. This includes pesky garden pests like harmful insects, slugs and bugs – and the common pests that many of us aren't so keen on – rodents.

Maintaining a thriving garden brings so much joy. But let's be real, nothing spoils the fun faster than finding out those sneaky rodents have been raiding your precious homegrown goodies or turning your hard work into a mess.

Rats, mice and other pests destroy crops and wildlife, spread disease and devastate ecosystems, completely undermining the goals of any gardener.

In this guide, we explore the best methods for getting rid of rats and mice from your garden. We talk about common concerns and offer practical solutions to a common problem.

[ Note: For those as scared of rodents as some of us here are, there are no images of any kind of rodent in this article. You are safe from the visual nightmare. ]

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When are rats and mice most problematic?

Understanding seasonal patterns of rodent infestation

Rodents are unwelcome guests in any garden, but knowing when they're most active can help us keep them in check and safeguard our precious harvests and outdoor spaces. While they're a pain all year round, they tend to be more of a nuisance during the autumn and winter months.

Autumn: An abundance of food sources

Autumn brings with it plenty of ripe fruits and vegetables, seeds and crops. A real magnet for rodents, who are keen to stockpile resources for the winter months ahead. They know things are about to get cold and their food sources are about to dry up.

At this time of year, rats will burrow to get to ready-to-harvest kūmara, and sink their teeth into late harvest tomatoes and pumpkins still on their vines. They may even eat your freshly planted spring flower bulbs. Mice will scale your sunflowers to nibble the seeds of the flower heads still drying on the stems.

Fruit trees laden with ripe fruit, vegetable gardens bursting with produce and fields brimming with grasses and crops provide ample opportunities for rats and mice to forage and feed. As a result, mouse and rat populations peak during the autumn as rodents take advantage of the plentiful food sources available and breed prolifically.

Winter: Shelter and warmth

As temperatures drop and winter sets in, rodents seek shelter from the cold weather. Garden sheds, compost bins, and even houses provide warm, sheltered environments that are ideal for nesting and breeding.

When winter rolls around and the pickings are slim, naturally there is a population decline. But it can also drive the sneakiest of rodents indoors in search of sustenance – pantry supplies, pet food and rubbish. You really want to be trapping them through autumn, before this happens!

How to manage seasonal rodent infestations

Knowing when these little intruders are most active is the best way to keep them at bay in your garden.

In the autumn, it's about reducing their food supply. Harvest fruits and vegetables as they ripen (and avoid leaving them out to rot on the ground) and block access to your compost heaps as best you can. While this won’t necessarily keep them away, it will make them more willing to take the risk on a trap.

When winter hits, it's time to batten down the hatches. We know it’s not always possible to seal up houses completely, especially older ones. But wherever you can, seal up entry points rodents might sneak through. It’s also best to stash your food in airtight containers, keep pet food covered, the rubbish bin dealt with, and leave minimal food on surfaces and floors. Tidy up outside to minimise their hiding spots. A little prevention will go a long way!

And a word of encouragement – infestations aren’t forever. Summer will come, and they’ll move outside again.

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Where do rats and mice like to live?

When it comes to food and shelter, rodents are the ultimate opportunists.

When it gets chilly out, they're all about finding cosy nooks, tasty treats, and a place to nest. They can make themselves at home just about anywhere.

Why do I have rats and mice in my garden?

Food, shelter, and a whole lot of audacity!

Food sources that attract rodents to the garden –

  • Compost: That big ol' pile of decaying organic matter? A compost bin or worm farm is like a five-star hotel for rodents. It's warm, it's cosy, and there's plenty of food waste to chow down on.

  • Vegetable garden: Especially in autumn, when garden harvests are left to ripen a little too long and fruit trees are dropping goodies on the ground, it's like an all-you-can-eat buffet for rodents. They’ll also be feasting on the seeds of plants left to go to seed – so if you’re planning on collecting seed for next year’s crops, do it before something else does!

  • Fruiting natives: Native plants fruit and bare seed in autumn – all part of their natural reproduction. If rodents get to the seed before the birds do, or natural self-seeding germination occurs, it stops the cycle and forests die.

  • Bird feeders: Spilled seed and leftover bird food provide rodents with an easy source of nutrition.

  • Pet food: Left-out pet food, whether it's for cats, dogs or other animals, is like an open invitation for rats and mice. They’re attracted to the smell, and will eat whatever they can find.

  • Chicken coops: Rodents are drawn to the grains, seeds and food scraps that chickens leave behind. It’s also the perfect place for shelter, with the coop’s bedding and nesting materials giving them a nice little spot to create their own nests.

Shelter that attracts rodents to the garden –

  • Garden sheds: Any shed, if it's cluttered and cosy, makes the perfect home with protection from the elements and predators.

  • Wood piles: Piles of wood, or even leaves and garden debris offer rodents hiding spots and nesting materials.

  • In and around the house: Rodents can squeeze through the tiniest cracks and openings in the foundation, walls or roof, establishing nests in roof spaces, under floors, and in crawl spaces.

How do you know if you've got a mouse or rat problem?

So you’ve got mice, or maybe even rats in your garden. Or even worse. You’re hearing scuttling inside. Scritchy scratchy sounds in your ceiling.

It’s time to do something about it. But where do you start?

Recognising the signs of rats or mice is crucial for quick intervention with any infestation.

Look for tell-tale signs like droppings, or gnaw marks on wooden structures. (FYI, mouse poop looks like black sesame seeds, and rat droppings look like long-grain black rice!)

Common signs of rodents are unexplained holes and rat burrows underneath garden structures, like sheds, greenhouses and raised garden beds. Their nests can also have a very strong smell!

Where to start when dealing with rats, mice and other rodents

Know what you’ve got and where they are

Maybe you’ve seen droppings around, or your cat has brought you a little ‘present’ home, or you might have spotted a brave rat racing past. Or maybe it’s just a hunch.

It’s a good idea to know exactly what you’re dealing with before you start dealing with them. When it comes to rats, they move around a lot – but generally like to stick to a small radius and feed in certain places. Finding where they’re feeding is a good first step.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that hedgehogs are a real pest to our biodiversity. They are the ‘hoovers’ of our gardens, and devour many endangered wildlife along with their eggs. They’ve been known as an urban pest, but they’re now spreading into native forests and wreaking havoc.

Remove food sources

Rodents are smart. They’re always looking for the easiest, safest and, of course, most delicious food they can get their teeth into. Naturally very suspicious, they’ll stick with the food they know is a safe bet.

Removing any easy sources of food is critical to the success of getting rid of rats, especially if you’re planning on trapping. If they have easy access to food elsewhere (including a bait station!), they’re not going to go near a lured trap.

The best thing you can do is have a jolly good tidy up of the edible garden, pick up fallen fruit, block off compost piles as best you can (5mm chicken wire is great for this!), cover pet food, put rubbish bags into bins...

Choose your elimination method

The next step when asking how to get rid of rats is making sure you’ve got a method that works for you.

“The two best things you can do is ALWAYS have a trap on the go, all times of the year. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. And keep their food sources to a minimum.” – Craig, Goodnature Co-founder.

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Ways to get rid of rats and mice

Mouse & Rat Traps:

There are plenty of trap options around. Here’s some information to help you figure out the most effective method for you.

Traditional snap traps:

The traditional snap trap, perhaps with a dollop of peanut butter. An affordable option, especially if you need multiple. This offers a swift means to dispatch rats and mice, provided the snap bar possesses sufficient force to crush a rodent's skull. If you find an injured rodent, it’s time to think about a new trap.


✅Somewhat Humane

❌ Resets Itself


$2 – $16

DOC traps:

The DOC traps come in a range of sizes (‘150’, ‘200’ and ‘250’), which work on trapping and killing pests like rats, stoats and hedgehogs. Brilliant for trappers who want to see the proof and count bodies. A suitable option if you are able to check and reset your traps regularly.


✅Somewhat Humane

❌ Resets Itself


Price: $100 – 200

Live Capture traps:

Live traps ensnare rodents and confine them within a cage. (But, unless you happen to keep a pet snake, you'll still be left with the task of dispatching the furry intruder.) Live traps need to be checked every day, as being confined can be distressing for the trapped animal (not to mention no source of water and the potential for other cannibalism if there are more than one pest in the trap).


✅Somewhat Humane

❌ Resets Itself


Price: $20 – 85

Goodnature humane traps

Goodnature's self-resetting traps provide a humane and efficient solution, minimising harm to other wildlife. Suitable for trapping mice, rats, stoats and even hedgehogs.

The Goodnature Smart Traps

(https://goodnature.co.nz/products/smart-trap-kit-old-stand)are automatic and self-resetting. It’ll also send a notification to your phone when you’ve got a hit. Free from toxins, the trap is safe for pets and is super easy to install.


✅A-Class Humane

✅ Resets Itself


Price: From $149

Top Tip: Because rats are naturally cautious about changing their diets, the best trap lure is what they’re already eating. If you know they’re dining on fallen hazelnuts under a tree, use these as the lure for your traps.

(With the Goodnature Smart Traps, this is where their Pre Feed Paste (https://goodnature.co.nz/products/a24-pre-feed-paste-nut-butter) comes in.)

Rat bait and poisons:

The tricky thing with bait is, while you might kill the rodent (eventually – it can take up to two weeks of eating the bait), it’ll also injure or kill anything else that ingests it. Even with a well intentioned tamper-proof bait station, it won’t prevent harm from ingestion by wildlife like wētā, morepork (ruru), and our beloved pets.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of people use baits, or have used rat poison in the past – but as we learn more about the knock-on effects of these poisons on our ecosystem, it’s worth finding a better way.

As gardeners, we know that using toxins in the garden can have a lasting effect on the earth. Bait has been shown to have the same detrimental effects on our land, soil and waterways.


❌Not Humane

❌ Resets Itself


Price: Bait blocks from $10 / Bait stations from $9


You could call a professional pest control company, but in most cases it’ll just result in lots of bait stations put out around your property, checked a while later.

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Why it's important to manage rodents in the garden

People, plants, animals, birds, fish, insects… we’re all interdependent. And your garden plays a small, but significant part in that.

Take the Predator Free Miramar (https://www.pfw.org.nz/miramar/) project in Wellington, for example. As a result of vigilant backyard trapping by the Miramar community, the peninsula is now free of ship rats, Norway rats, stoats, weasels and possums. The result has been a resurgence of native birds like pīwakawaka and riroriro, and a 200% increase in tree wētā. Locals have been spotting species previously absent from the Peninsula like kārearea (rarer than kiwi), kākāriki, kākā, ruru and geckos. All because of a passionate community, trapping in their own home gardens.

“If we don’t keep rodents in check, we’ll continue to see the numbers of wētā, skinks and gecko decline. These used to be our biggest natural pollinators. And when we have these, we see an increase in other native species like morepork and pīwakawaka.” – Craig, Goodnature Co-Founder

Trapping pests supports biodiversity

Every bit of land protected from pests through effective and humane trapping supports biodiversity. When our ecosystem’s natural balance is disturbed, a monoculture rather than a diverse culture becomes the norm, and our native species can’t survive.

When the population of invasive species (like rats and mice) gets too big, the number of native species (like tūī or takahē in New Zealand) can very quickly get out of whack. It doesn’t take long for iconic species like kiwi and kākā to be reduced to dangerously low numbers.

In addition to our precious wildlife, our plant life is equally vital. Failure to control invasive species that consume seeds and fruit from our native flora can lead to devastating consequences for our forests. Essentially, instead of these seeds contributing to the growth of new trees, they become fodder for rodents, hindering natural regeneration processes and ultimately threatening the health of our forest ecosystems.

“Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are totally dependent on the natural world. It provides us with every mouthful of food we eat and every breath we take. It is the most precious thing we have, and we need to defend it.” – Craig, Goodnature co-founder