How to stop vermin in your garden

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RATS, GREY squirrels, field mice and, if you are very lucky, shrews will all eat their fair share of seeds, bulbs, nuts, fruit and even snails.

If you find a pile of nibbled snail shells in the shed or under your greenhouse staging, it’s a good bet a rat has been living there. Rats also love organic slug pellets – they will chew through the plastic pot and devour the lot.

You cannot rid your garden or allotment of these creatures, and nor should you want to. Rats may be revolting and grey squirrels a version with a longer tail, as my mother would say, but they are part of the food web nevertheless; many an owl or fox would go hungry without them.

But you should do your best to prevent them from reaching your stash. Big seeds such as broad beans, squash and sweetcorn are their favourite spring treats. Squirrels also love to eat bulbs, though they often forget them, which is why you find them stashed elsewhere.

One traditional solution was to dip seeds and bulbs in methylated spirits, which was said to taste unfavourable. And, while that works, it’s questionable whether it’s good for the seeds and soil.

Another trick is to cut the spikiest branches you can find, leave them to dry, then place them as a deterrent around whatever you’ve planted that needs protection.

You’ll need to anchor the holly, so it doesn’t blow away: cut them into 10cm sections with enough stem to insert into the ground, which usually does the trick. Dry spikes seem to be much more fierce than fresh, and the idea is that those tender, sensitive noses don’t like to be jabbed by the prickled tips. Mind you, it certainly doesn’t make for pleasant weeding among the stuff.

Once the seeds or bulbs are up, remove it, because your visitors are less interested in green shoots, though I tend to keep the holly clippings for another round, because they last for ages.

For pots and containers, some chicken wire or fine-mesh netting fashioned into a cover will deter anything digging them up; again, it can be removed once growth has appeared.

Rats are reputed to dislike mint, so grow this around places where they nest; the compost heap or alongside the shed is worth a try. Mothballs are also said to deter rats and mice, and can work in the greenhouse.

You may, however, feel the need to resort to mice and rat traps, in which case humane traps are ethically better than snap ones. That said, I’ll warn you that an angry mouse or rat is quite something, and you need to take them a good few miles away before you release them.

Rats and mice are wary of change, so they can also be discouraged by disturbing their burrows and nests. If you see a rat run or find a rat hole, stick something down it (a brick, bunched up chicken wire, mint, a bucket of water) and repeat often.

A dry, warm compost heap makes a great home, so turn it often and drench it with water if you fear anything has moved in.

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