Outdoor cats often stray into other people’s gardens, where they can make a mess and wreck what you’re trying to grow. This is a seriously frustrating problem for many gardeners. If you know the owner of the cat (assuming it’s not a stray), you might try talking to your neighbor about keeping the cat out of your yard, but that could create an uncomfortable situation. Fortunately, there are some simple, cheap and perfectly humane steps you can take to keep cats out of your garden.
Cat-proofing your garden
What all these steps boil down to is simply making your garden less inviting to cats – without making it unattractive to anybody else.
- First of all, if they poop, get rid of it. This reduces their sense that your garden is their litterbox. Also, because cats are carnivores, their poop can pass on to humans any diseases their prey had when they ate it (which is why pregnant women are advised to avoid it). You really don’t want cat poop in your soil, especially if you’re growing food.
- If you’re just starting to plant, put a sheet of chicken wire over your soil or mulch before you begin to plant (with wire cutters, you can open up sections of the chicken wire, plant your plants, and then close the chicken wire back down). Cats don’t like walking on chicken wire, so it will take a pretty big temptation for them to bother getting that close.
- Most cats don’t like water or mud, and there are a couple of humane ways to use this to your advantage. Do not shoot directly at them with a garden hose – it can be forceful enough to hurt a cat. Keep a toy water gun handy and shoot at them with that. In a pinch, you can shoot just in front of them with the garden hose, creating a wet spot they won’t want to cross.
- Of course you can’t always be around when the cats visit. You can get motion-activated sprinklers that sprinkle your garden every time something moves. To a cat, it will seem like a tiny localized rainfall – gentle, but repulsively wet.
- You can also dust the ground with ground plants cats dislike: cayenne pepper, black pepper, dry mustard, lavender, rue, peppermint, geranium, lemon verbena, absinthe, pennyroyal, lemon thyme, garlic and citrus rinds. You can also plant any of these plants in your garden to keep cats out.
- Plant Coleus canina, otherwise known as “scaredy-cat plant”, in your garden. It puts off a smell that doesn’t agree with cats at all.
- Dump used tea black leaves on the ground. Cats dislike tea, so rip those bags open and spill the leaves around your garden. (Tea leaves are a good compost material, anyway.)
- Put large flat stones around your garden to make it harder for cats to go digging.
- Decorative pine cones can be pushed down into the soil around your plants to make your garden less comfortable for cats to dig in.
- Use cat repellents like Shake Away. It’s granules of fox and coyote urine, which cats know to avoid. Sprinkle sparingly every couple of weeks around trees and bushes – areas coyotes and foxes would naturally mark. It won’t hurt cats or your soil or plants.
- Or use ultrasonic motion-activated animal repellents that emit a sound which startles cats but is inaudible to humans.
You may have heard that putting mothballs in areas you want cats to keep away from is a humane method. Moth balls are actually toxic to many animals, so you’ll need to put them in a closed container with some small holes to let the scent out. But even then, small children who can unscrew the jar lid could get into your mothballs and eat them. While this method can work, it’s no better than the others and carries some risks.