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Pet rats – the kind you buy at the pet store – can make the most adorable friends. Our daughter had one as a pet and a close family member for years.

But rats in the roof, attic, crawl space, walls and landscaping are not so adorable. They wreck havoc and can cause damage to home and health. Wild rats gnaw on wood and wires, and they carry fleas that can spread disease. Bubonic plague is not an issue in Santa Clara County now, but it is in Tahoe and other areas, so it’s a risk to take seriously.

What kind of rats exist here, in The Valley of Hearts Delight?

In Silicon Valley, the predominent type of wild rat is the Roof Rat (also known as the Black Rat or Tree Rat). The Roof Rat’s eat ivy, fruit, pet food, nuts and other goodies found in neighborhoods. They are identifiable because their tail is longer than the head and body together.

A lesser seen rat in the San Jose area is the Norway Rat (also called the Wharf Rat, the Sewer Rat, or the Brown Rat). This rat has a shorter tail and is usually seen in less developed areas, creekbeds, and farm areas, which are rapidly disappearing here in the South Bay.

Recently a neighbor of ours found a dead rat in his yard, and he called The Santa Clara County Vector Control District office to come out and help him identify if there was a problem with rats getting into his home or not, and to shed light on the issue of why this critter recently appeared in his home. The officer came out and performed this service for free, enlightening my neighbor as to access points and providing a helpful brochure about rats and what attracts them.

I’d heard that Italian Cypress trees, juniper and ivy were all bad – that is, that they attracted rats. What I did not realize is how many other things do too.

Here’s a partial list of landscaping to avoid if you want to not attract rats:

  • Italian Cypress Trees
  • Juniper Tams
  • Algerian Ivy
  • Date Palm Trees
  • Bamboo
  • Honeysuckle
  • Star Jasmine

Other rules of thumb to avoid enticing rats to your yard:

  • no climbers
  • low growing – not more than 10″ high
  • plants providing fruit should not be used

I dislike ivy and juniper (and grew up with a Realtor mom so always heard that they were rat-friendly), so I thought I was in the clear with my own yard. Not so. I have climbers and star jasmine. We have fruit trees and usually only pick up the fallen fruit once a week. Apparently that’s all bad!!My neighbors have bamboo. Other neighbors have juniper and Italian cypress.

The Vector Control brochure makes a point that for rats to inhabit an area, they need food, water, and a home (or “harborage” as the pamphlet says). By eliminating the type of plants which provide harborage and food, we can reduce the risk of a rat invasion. After my neighbor’s experience, I think that’s a plan worth implementing!





  • Mary Pope-Handy

    Silicon Valley Realtor, selling homes in Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose, Silicon Valley, and nearby since 1993. Prolific blogger with a network of sites.