You have put a lot of time and effort into your garden. Maybe you added raised beds with phenomenal soil. Perhaps you've perfected sunken beds. And suddenly the cats in the neighborhood think that your garden space is their personal litter box. How do you successfully keep cats away from garden beds?
There are many, many tips suggested online. Unfortunately, many of these methods just don't work well. Sometimes they are very short-lived. At other times they are just completely ineffective.
On the plus side, there are ways to keep cats away from your carefully tilled soil and prevent them from damaging your dahlias. We'll start by exploring tips that honestly don't work. After that, we'll talk about options that are short-lived and that may need to be done over and over again. Finally, we'll cover surefire ways to keep cats away.
So let's dive in!
What doesn't work at all
There are quite a number of techniques suggested online that just don't work. While they are among the most suggested ones, they are simply ineffective or, in some cases, downright silly. Let's explore some of them!
Forks, pointed chopsticks, or chopsticks
I tried many methods, but the forks were totally broken … literally. Source: Lorin Nielsen
I personally tested this a few years ago (as the photo above shows, along with other cat prevention methods such as giant PVC / chicken wire cloches and fabric walls around beds). And let me tell you, forks were one of the worst gardening mistakes I've ever made. I think I'll be picking plastic forks out of my garden in the years to come.
Plastic forks are not UV-resistant. They get brittle when they sit in the sun, which I didn't consider at first. Not only that, they are also very easy to knock over whether they are set with the prongs down or the prongs up. The cats just push them out of the way. And if you've ever watched a kitten on the table with a glass of water, you know cats love to push things!
The same problem applies to pointed chopsticks or chopsticks. Even if you place them a couple of inches apart as a box of pointed sticks, the cat will simply push them aside when it's determined. And, to make the injury worse, they could do what my neighborhood savages did and knock them over and poop right on them.
Cat deterrent plants
There is a plant called the Scaredy Cat Plant. Coleus canina, also known as Coleus caninus or Plectranthus caninus, is said to repel cats with its odor. And it sounds really appealing; Planting plants that cats don't like seems like an easy win. Unfortunately, it is more of a deterrent to anyone who comes near gardens. The scent released is reminiscent of skunks.
Worse, the scared cat plant could even trick dogs into rolling around in it. If you've ever seen a dog roll around in something that smells bad, this is what your cherished pet can experience. Unfortunately, Coleus canina just isn't effective as a deterrent!
Other live plants that are said to scare off our feline friends include rue, lemon thyme, lavender, pennyroyal, geranium, rosemary, and garlic. While these haven't had any real impact on the cats in my area, I usually breed most of them in my yard anyway. I can't recommend her as a cat deterrent option, but it certainly doesn't hurt to grow her if you want to.
Eggshells are attributed to so many magical garden uses. But in this case it is claimed that the eggshells with their pointy sharp edges will scare off cats.
Unfortunately, cats will march right over them and the eggshells will crumble under their weight. It doesn't take much to crack an egg shell, and most adult cats weigh at least 8-9 pounds and often up to 12-14 pounds. An already broken shell has no chance against a determined garden eater.
Methods that sometimes work
Sprinkle herbs on the ground
Keeping cats out of garden beds can be difficult. Source: yousukezan
The plants I mentioned above that cats (supposedly) don't like are also often spread over the soil surface. In fact, some recommendations suggest that you prune your plants and then drop them all over the place. If you feel like putting in an extra effort, I recommended drying and pulverizing them to sprinkle around.
If cats don't like the plants, the scent of freshly shredded leaves can put them off for a few hours. But once the initial odor has faded, usually within 24 hours, it is simply no longer effective. Most dried plant materials lose their aroma and begin to degrade far too quickly.
There are three things that keep their scent a little longer than most of the other options. Crushed hot peppers like cayenne pepper, some pipe tobacco, and used coffee grounds can keep cats in check for up to 2-3 days. Cayenne, however, has an unpleasant side effect; If cats walk through it and then lick their paws, they can get sick. But if you don't mind sprinkling the grounds from your morning pot of coffee over the garden every few days, you may find that there is some effectiveness in it.
There is another option that is believed to be effective: citrus peel. It is said that orange or lemon peelings scattered over the surface of the soil scent cats off with their smell. But there is a problem with this: orange peel will also get moldy and can attract flies or other pests. Citrus peels look a bit strange even in the garden.
There is a brand of mat called "Cat Scat Mat" that is essentially made of plastic fabric with ¾ "spikes. To use, lay it on the floor surface. The spines are about an inch apart, making it virtually impossible for cats to use is to walk comfortably over it.
A similar effect can be achieved by using plastic carpet runners with spikes pointing upwards. But either option will land you on the surface of your floor with that strange looking mat. You can put it on top of mulching if you're trying to prevent moisture evaporation from your soil, but that doesn't make it any better. Still, if you can find a way to minimize its appearance, it is very effective.
They may be adorable, but cats can be really a nuisance in flower beds. Source: Tilly Sfortunato
Following the previous suggestion, sharp mulching materials can have some effect in keeping cats away from garden beds. Things like pine cones, splintering bark mulch, sharp wood chips, or jagged rocks can be effective for a short time.
Unfortunately, unlike the mats, digging through the sharp mulch is an option for the kitten. In fact, it is very likely that a free range cat will encounter such prickly things in the wild. Also, crushing hundreds of pine cones or getting splinters every time you gardening may not be the best option for you. Rock mulch is the most effective of these, but it also retains quite a bit of heat … something that may not always be what you want.
Did you know you can buy predator urine? Coyote pee is one of the most common. And yes, animal urine works … for about a week.
Just like the aroma of plant material, the scent of animal pee fades over time. Hot weather breaks down the odor quickly, although it can be very stinky for a while. Rain dilutes it and washes it away. Kitty can turn your yard into her litter box once the smell subsides, provided the predator is over.
There is a free solution, but it could be uncomfortable for many people: human urine. As long as you don't have illnesses, using urine as a fertilizer is a viable option, and it's also a way to keep cats out. But just like predator pee, it only lasts a while and is strongest when fresh. You may not enjoy this option.
Oils and sprays
According to the internet, one of the most popular ways to keep cats out of gardens is by using other smelly sprays. Preparations made from a variety of essential oils, sprays made from garlic, or other strange homemade remedies are widely touted as being effective. And they're … short.
The big problem is that the natural oils in many smelly plants like garlic are only used for short periods in the garden. The sun's UV rays will break them down quickly and exposure to fresh breezes will dispel the smell.
While a lavender citrus eucalyptus spray smells nice to us, it may not be ideal for cat safety. Many essential oils are even toxic to cats. If the cat walks through your yard directly after such a spray method, it will spread over the entire fur of the cat. If they lick themselves, they can be seriously injured. If you want to try something like this, make sure it's something non-toxic!
Cat deterrent products
There are a number of retail products that claim to be natural cat repellants. Some are granulated, some are liquid. But how effective are they really?
The answer to this question is "something". Most of them use the same essential oils, paprika powder, or garlic additives as mentioned in other categories on this list. So they work, but only for a short-term boost.
Plus, most retail options really don't have any appealing smells to us, and you'll still want to keep using your yard while you treat it with repellant!
Claim it as human space
Have you ever tried to stare at a cat? This is the garden version of this method, and it can be somewhat effective.
When you claim your garden as your space, you can spread your own hair from your hairbrush around the garden or apply your own pee around the perimeter. This characterizes it as a human space.
Adding items like greyhounds or clickers, spinners, and pinwheels can also make it less attractive to kittens. And of course, removing feces or using a hose to wash off cat markings can reduce cat visits.
Unfortunately, a lot of cats are there when you aren't. In the middle of the night, cats can still sneak into the room you claimed as your own and repeat their marking. This technique is therefore very limited in order to prevent cats from using your yard as a litter box.
Reducing their natural prey
A cat on the hunt. Source: Fernando Sa Rapita
If you make it inhospitable as recommended above, don't forget the potential of eliminating their prey. After all, cats love to hunt; it's instinctual. And if you have fat mice around your compost heap or lots of little birds, they can be drawn into your yard like a child is lured to the sound of an ice cream truck.
By reducing the number of prey available on your property, you can slow down the frequency of cat visits. But that's not guaranteed.
Make a truce with Kitty
Finally, you could try reaching a truce with neighboring cats by giving them their own tribute room as a peace offering. Putting up clean litter boxes or even their own garden "bed" box with no plants might be exactly what they're looking for. If you surround the relaxation room with plants such as catnip or catnip, you might lure the cat there instead of the pea or beet patch.
The downside to this method is that you need to keep the litter scooped up and make sure there is enough space in it. Depending on the cat, it may or may not be.
Safe ways to keep them out
What ways to keep cats away are there after all of this? There are actually quite a few. Let's explore this!
A quick jet of water
There's a reason cats versus water are one of those common stereotypes in movies and television. Most cats aren't really fans of getting unexpectedly wet. Hence, water can be extremely effective at driving away unwanted visitors.
I'm a huge fan of motion activated sprinklers. Such a device can always be set up when you are not out in the garden and is connected directly to the hose. When it senses movement, it shoots a jet of water in the direction of that movement.
These are not without theoretical drawbacks. Initially, you may have some slightly overwatered plants in popular spots in the garden. But little by little the cats will learn that your garden is full of unexpected water. Best of all, it's a non-toxic, non-harmful method. If you want cats to stay out of the garden, this is a fantastic option.
Fair warning: you will eventually get hit by your own motion activated sprinkler. It will likely happen on the day you forgot to have your coffee in the morning and you will encounter an unexpected shower. But look on the plus side, you will know it works!
Don't want a motion-activated sprinkler? You can only ever use your hose when you are in the garden to send a spray after the kittens have roamed. This won't work when you are away, but effective when you are.
Securing yard boundaries
A sample version of a fence roll bar, sometimes called a coyote roll. Source: svantassel
This is the natural extension of taking up your garden as human space, but it primarily focuses on keeping cats out. There are a number of ways you can do this.
Rollers, also called roll bars, are round bars that top your garden fence. If a cat tries to walk or climb over the top of the fence, the bar will spin and the cat will not be able to find a good grip. They slide back down the other side of the fence.
Roll bars are also very effective at preventing your dog (or your neighbor's dog) from jumping over the fence. If they can't hold onto the top, they can't jump over it easily. And that basically doubles the efficiency of your fence. But they can be an expensive solution, so this can be considered as a last-ditch effort.
For something cheaper but still effective, there is another solution. If you don't currently have pets of your own, getting a device that emits high-frequency sounds in the garden can be a perfect solution. These ultrasonic repellants are too high for the average human ear, but animals can hear them. In addition, ultrasound repellants are usually quite mobile. Simply pick up the device and bring it to the area most affected by cats.
Unfortunately, your neighbor's pets and any pets you have are unhappy with these high pitched sounds. It's not a solution that works for everyone, but it is very effective for people who want to reinforce any barrier to protect their garden.
What if your outside fence is already reinforced as you can make it, but you can still find feces on the floor in your beds?
Double up fences by creating special fences around individual beds. Depending on your needs, these can be complex or simple. I use wood and chicken wire to create fence panels on stakes and then secure them in place as needed. You can also create mesh plastic fences with T-post bases, giant cloches made of PVC and wire mesh, or even floating row cover hoop houses covered with tightly fastened bird nets or floating row covering fabrics. Anything that blocks direct access to the bed is a good solution here.
One of my favorite setups is made of PVC, shade cloth, and old pallet wood. I have a bed for shade-loving plants, so I built a PVC tire house frame to support shade cloth. I then used the old pallet wood to create a picket fence at the ends of the bed that wasn't big enough for an adult cat to get in between. At the front entrance to the bed, the shade cloth is anchored in the floor with a long, weighted piece of PVC pipe. When I have to work in bed, I just take the weighted pipe, roll up the shade towel it's attached to, and set it up on top of the hoop house while I garden.
Solutions for ground barriers
Cats love to hang out on the cool earth under higher plants. Source: interestedbystandr
We talked about "scat mats" earlier, but there are other solutions that can prevent digging at the base of your precious plant. And they are often cheaper and more effective at the same time.
When you finish preparing your beds in the spring, lay some chicken wire on the floor and secure it in place with landscaping fabric clips (the long U-shaped wires you slide in to hold the landscaping fabric in place). Your yard will grow through the chicken wire, but cats will not be able to dig through it, and the thin wire will feel uncomfortable on their paws. In addition, the wire degrades slowly and is inexpensive to replace.
Similarly, a mesh fence can work in the same way, but it will cover more of the ground. It's also much more visible but can look really good if you grow the right plants in the mesh holes. This option can also reduce weed growth around desired plant species.
After all, there are always fabric solutions. In some forms of agriculture, the use of black plastic or landscaping material on the soil around plants not only reduces weed germination, but also prevents pests from digging into the soil. You can opt for one of these or go a little more organic by using old burlap coffee sacks with holes for each plant.
If you can't beat them why not join them? Get your own animals and let them make their claim on your garden. Having dogs is an excellent deterrent for most feral cats, whether or not the dogs are friendly to them.
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