Hmmm… you say to yourself, that salad would be awesome with a little squeeze of lemon. So you head out to your garden to harvest a few of your Meyer lemons only to find all the ripe lemons, completely and neatly peeled, but still hanging in the tree. Weird, right? Well you know what they always say: Roof Rats and S_ _T Happens!
I recently saw this at a friend’s house – peeled lemons were both hanging on the tree and laying on the ground. There wasn’t a ripe lemon in sight. And if you’ve ever tried a meyer lemon, you know that the rind is sweeter than the fruit, so this was a critter that knew its stuff. But which one? I did a little research to see if anyone else was having similar problems. Turns out there were a few people in northern California, (specifically the Bay Area) that had also dealt with this mysterious lemon peeling demon; not only with their lemons, but also with certain types of oranges. There were similar complaints from folks in Australia and New Zealand too! Uggh…
Suggestions on WHO was to blame ranged from aliens to opossums to raccoons to bats…
But a few people whose trees had been attacked had also found some tell tale droppings that gave the culprit away – a rat – specifically the ‘roof’ or ‘citrus’ rat. Interestingly, one tree may be attacked while a neighboring tree is completely untouched, which is exactly what I witnessed. I looked over the fence to find the neighbors tree loaded with ripe lemons, none of which were peeled.
What Can You Do?
If it is a roof rat, here are a few suggestions I found helpful from the Marin Master Gardeners:
- Harvest or pick up fruit, nuts and vegetables as they ripen.
- Prune away branches that touch a fence, tree, ground or anything that can act as a bridge for rats to climb onto your tree
- Wrap the trunk of the tree with something slippery such as sheet metal – make sure there is no other way for critters to climb your fruit tree
- Feed your pets during daylight and remove uneaten food right away.
- Keep garbage and recycling cans covered.
- Store bulk foods, birdseed and dry pet food in rat-proof, covered metal containers.
- Use rodent-proof birdfeeders.
- Remove excess garden debris.
- Set up a sonic or ultrasonic sound repellent near your tree.
Some people also had luck spraying with cayenne pepper. Most likely, like many of the urban animals that we saw too much of this summer and fall, they were just looking for a little extra food and water. Now that it is finally starting to rain, with luck, they’ll move on.