Winter is a time when work in the garden and orchard is primarily about protecting the plants from the cold and other dangers. One of the potential dangers to fruit trees that may be even more of a problem for city growers than our country colleagues is rats.
Rats are my least favorite animal. In fact, they creep me out. And, unfortunately, rats can cause a lot of problem for folks. When we bought our house, there were some rat denizens in the basement and crawlspaces. Luckily, we seem to have successfully rid ourselves of those. But rats have become an increasing problem all over Portland, as more people move here, creating more attractive waste; old buildings are torn down to be replaced by new ones and the rats that lived in them flee, to also find new homes; and those of us who grow fruits and vegetables and feed animals outdoors like chickens (or any pet) add to the fodder for the rats, if we’re not careful.
I try to keep my yard very clean from anything that might make a rat happy. That means not leaving ripe fruits and vegetables on the plant or on the ground. At other times of the year, I do a daily comb over the orchard and garden to harvest, or to put early dropped apples, for instance, into the compost. In winter, luckily, I don’t have to worry about it as much, as winter crops are less likely to prove tempting to rodents. I’ll still keep my eyes out for their tell tale signs of interference in my vegetable bed, though.
As far as the fruit trees are concerned, there isn’t any fruit now for the rats to steal. But there is one potential threat to the trees. If a rat gets hungry enough, it may resort to eating the bark off the trunks. Squirrels and other rodents may also do this.
So, to make sure that my fruit trees don’t experience damage, I placed collars around the base of their trunks of 1/4″ hardware cloth. I also placed 3/4″ minus gravel around the base of the trees. The hardware cloth should keep the rats from gnawing the bark, and the gravel will also deter them from trying to get around the collars somehow, as the rocks are sharp and hard for rats to move.
Now I feel more confident that my apple and cherry trees will be safe from gnawing little teeth all winter. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.