By Ben Fractenberg
EAST VILLAGE — New Yorkers are no stranger to rats.
The disease-ridden rodents get into garbage, infest subway platforms and destroy gardens.
Now the city's looking to New Yorkers to help them win the battle with the pests — and as the summer gardening season begins, city health experts shared some tips Wednesday on how to keep your greenspace rat-free.
"Rats flourish because of us," said New York City Department of Health research scientist Caroline Bragdon, who was speaking to a small group of people in an East Village community garden Wednesday night.
"They know we are going to leave our food and garbage around."
Bragdon met with gardeners interested in learning how to keep the vermin out of their greenery.
One woman at the event said rats had become such a big problem for her Brooklyn garden that it was featured on Animal Planet.
Bragdon said rats are drawn to gardens for three main reasons: food, a secure place to hide and water.
Even if your space is clean, she added, the rats may still show up because of garbage in an adjoining building.
Some telltale signs there have been rats in your garden are droppings, which are actually used to attract other rats; nests, which are generally holes in the ground that may be surround by food waste; and rub marks, which are left by oil on the rats’ hair as they move along the side of buildings and walls.
If you have them, it’s important to act fast, Bragdon said.
"Rats do more damage than any other pest," she said.
Rats average about 12 young per littler, Bragdon said. And a baby rat is ready to reproduce in just a couple weeks.
You can call a professional exterminator. It is important to note that spreading pesticide yourself is illegal, as it can poise a danger to other animals and even children if done improperly.
You can also place snap traps around, but you’ll have to have someone with a strong stomach to remove the rodents each day.
Filling in the nests can also help dissuade the pests.
But like anything, the best offensive is a good defense. By keeping them away in the first place you won’t have to worry about getting an infestation.
Keep all food and waste in rodent-proof containers. Move your compost into containers with tight-fitting lids. Try to eliminate standing water and improve the drainage in your garden. Create a grass and weed free parameter around your garden and along walls.
To learn more about protecting your garden and about a rat management training academy facilitated by the Health Department, visit www.nyc.gov/rats.