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Cats in the garden are a universal issue, whether it’s your own cat or a wandering neighbourhood stray. There are a lot of outdoor cats in my community, and I’m constantly finding the little gifts they leave behind for me in my veggie patch.
Why do cats like to dig, pee, and poop in gardens, flower beds, and veggie patches? Cats are instinctively drawn to go to the toilet outside and bury the evidence. Soft, airy soil, like in your garden beds, is easier to dig in than grass and other patches of dirt. Plus, plants provide a little bit of privacy and protection from potential predators and other cats.
An alarming number of people I’ve spoken to about the issue — including a professional gardener — resort to quite nasty methods to keep cats out of their gardens. I’ve been told to turn on the sprinklers or get a dog to chase them away, but that’s both cruel and unnecessary. Instead, I’ve found cheap and relatively easy ways to protect my garden without scaring or potentially hurting the cats.
Keeping cats out of your garden naturally
Limiting access is the best and safest way to keep your cat out of your garden. Keeping your cat inside also protects it from predators, cars, and other dangers. If your cat can’t part with their outside time, build a cat run. This gives your cat plenty of outdoor time, while keeping both them and your garden safe.
Use safe, cat-friendly deterrents
An easy, safe way to keep cats out of your garden is to block access to your garden beds or lay down non-toxic cat repellents.
- Place large, flat rocks across the top of the garden bed soil. This will prevent them from digging in the garden bed and using it as a litter box. Make sure you use big rocks, though, as gravel makes digging more fun for them. You could also use pine cones, a heavy gardening mulch or bark chips.
- Install plastic spikes around your plants. The spikes won’t hurt your cat, but they will prevent it from being able to walk in the garden beds. Plus, they keep away other troublesome visitors, like rabbits and dogs. You can make your own at home by placing sticks upright in the soil 5-10 cm apart.
- Cover the garden bed with a shade cloth or greenhouse structure. These covers prevent cats from accessing your garden beds, and they protect your plants from the elements — a double win!
- Use strong scents to repel the cats. Although you can buy non-toxic cat repellent sprays, it’s also easy to make your own by mixing lemon juice with water and spraying it on the soil around your plants.
- Scatter orange peel in your garden beds. Similar to the lemon spray, orange peel or other citrus peels are a really effective repellent because cats dislike the smell and won’t go near the garden. The best part is that it composts, so you aren’t putting litter into your garden beds.
- Put used coffee grounds on top of the soil. Cats are repulsed by the smell of coffee grounds and will avoid the area. As a bonus, this is really good for your soil. I usually ask my local cafe for a bucket of grounds when I go for lunch, and they’re happy to provide it.
- Grow plants that repel cats. Some plants smell so bad (to animals — not us!) that cats will naturally avoid the area that they’re planted in. Planting herbs like rue nearby will keep cats away.
- Plant a dense ground cover. Another gardening tip is to plant dense ground cover plants that are safe for cats such as creeping thyme or sweet woodruff. They will quickly grow and cover the soil surface, creating a natural barrier and discourage a cat from digging.
- Place a cat statue or cat-shaped metal sign in your yard. Although it’s obvious that this isn’t a real cat up close, neighbourhood cats won’t know this from a distance as they’re entering the yard. Cats are territorial and will stay away if they see another cat in the area.
Lure the cats away from your garden
I found a few really good ideas to make another area of your garden more attractive to cats so they will leave your veggie patch in peace.
- Grow a separate garden bed for them and fill it with plants that cats love like catnip, cat grass and lavender. They’ll be more inclined to spend their day lounging in the cat garden, and will leave your other plants alone.
- Install an outdoor litter box. If your cat primarily uses the garden as its private toilet, putting a large litter box outside near the beds might lure them away. I’d avoid this if neighbourhood cats and strays frequent your yard, though. Many serious cat diseases such as toxoplasmosis spread through faeces, and a communal litter box will increase the risk of an outbreak.
Avoid harmful methods and toxic deterrents
There are a lot of other ways to keep cats out of your garden, but many of them are cruel and unsafe. Here are a few that you should avoid:
- Don’t use motion activated sprinklers. These scare cats with sudden movement, noise or water, but can lead to more damage as they run away in a panic. Cats who are bolting to get away from whatever startled them aren’t paying attention to their surroundings and could rip through your plants, damage your fence, and even hurt themselves.
- Don’t use chicken wire fences as a barrier. This is not a safe option to keep cats out of your garden. Chicken wire has sharp edges and can potentially injure cats or other wildlife if they attempt to climb or force their way through a gap in the fence.
- Avoid commercial deterrents that contain harsh chemicals. Instead, opt for natural, gentle solutions like citrus sprays.
- Don’t chase, yell at, or otherwise scare the cats. Not only is this cruel, but it isn’t likely to keep them away from your garden in the long-term. They will just return when you’re not home.
Is it safe for my cat to be around plants?
Many plants are toxic to cats, and if they’re in the habit of nibbling on them, they can get into some very serious medical trouble. Although they’re slightly less likely to eat outdoor plants than indoor plants, it’s still a big risk.
Planting cat-friendly flowers and herbs is the best way to protect them. It’s also important that you confine your cat to your yard so that they can’t eat poisonous plants from elsewhere. There are some really good cat-safe plants and herbs available to fill your garden with, like hoyas, catnip, catmint, lemongrass, and even lavender.
I have stray cats in my garden. What should I do?
If the cats that frequently visit your yard are feral cats or strays (or you don’t know if someone owns them), the best thing to do is to contact a local cat rescue. These organisations will be able to help you humanely trap the cat and neuter it to reduce the risk of it having kittens in your yard. If the cat is friendly but not owned, they can also find it a loving home.
Cats in your garden (especially when they are not your own) can be a real nightmare, but there are many humane and safe methods to deter cats from your garden without harming them or your plants.