The orientation of spheroidal particles dispersed in a fluid flow is known to influence the particles’ rotation mode. Rod-like and disk-like particles orient themselves differently and accordingly also rotate differently. In order to explore the role of the deterministic factors, i.e. mean shear and vorticity anisotropy, on the orientational behaviour of inertialess tracer spheroids, we adopted a purpose-made Couette–Poiseuille flow simulated numerically by Yang et al. (Intl J. Heat Fluid Flow, vol. 63, 2017, pp. 14–27). Typical wall turbulence with streamwise-oriented streaky structures caused by the locally high mean shear rate was observed only at one of the walls. The absence of mean shear at the other wall gave rise to an atypical turbulence field. Over a relatively wide and quasi-homogeneous core region, a modest mean shear rate made the vorticity field anisotropic. In spite of the mean shear, rod-like tracers were spinning and disk-like spheroids were tumbling, just as in homogeneous isotropic turbulence. We explained this phenomenon by the isotropic particle orientation and concluded that zero mean shear is not necessary for rod spinning and disk tumbling. The orientation and rotation of the Lagrangian tracer spheroids near the high shear wall were almost indistinguishable from the well-known behaviour in turbulent channel flows. Near the opposite wall, where the mean shear was negligibly small, disk-like particles aligned preferentially in the wall-normal direction and rotated similarly as in the presence of high shear. Rod-like particles, on the contrary, aligned more randomly and accordingly rotated similarly as in the core region. These observations revealed that the degree of particle orientation anisotropy has a major impact on the particle rotation mode, whereas mean shear, irrespective of the actual shear rate, only plays a secondary role in particle rotation. Deduction of the eigenvectors of the left Cauchy–Green tensor showed that the preferential orientation of the tracer spheroids was caused by the alignment of rods and disks with the strongest Lagrangian stretching and compression directions, respectively. Lagrangian stretching/compression determines the particle orientations and the particle orientation affects the particle rotation mode.