Photo: were-photography, depositphotos
By Larry Hodgson
You just love your cat! He (or she) is smart and affectionate and would never hurt a fly, let alone a garden. But the neighbor’s cat, that’s a different story. The @*&#! thing has decided your garden is it’s personal litter box. And your other neighbor feeds stray cats and attracts dozens to the neighborhood where they spray your lettuce with stinky urine, poop in your garden, and dig up your beds. What can you do?
Fortunately, there are several tricks you can use to keep cats out of a garden, or even an entire yard! Here are a few:
- Keep the animals’ favorite litter spot moist by repeatedly watering it: cats hate getting their paws wet and will eventually move on to drier pastures.
- Cover the soil with chicken wire. Cats won’t be able to dig into the soil and in fact won’t even walk on it if they can help. To make the situation worse (for soon-to-be grumpy kitty), cats have the inherent habit of scratching the soil after they defecate to bury the evidence… and chicken wire makes that impossible . However, plants can grow through the mesh, so you, the gardener, gets to win!
- Cover the soil with a rough or even prickly mulch: bark mulch, pinecones, spruce branches (you just knew there had to be a way of recycling last year’s Christmas tree branches, didn’t you!), rose trimmings, gravel, etc. They’ll keep cats away.
- Apply dog hair to the spot (kitty won’t be happy with that!). If you don’t have a pooch, ask a pet grooming salon for a few handfuls. Human hair will work too… on feral cats. Domestic cats, though, are not bothered by human odors.
- Stick coffee stirrers, bamboo skewers or plastic forks (pointy side up) about 8 inches (20 cm) apart in the soil of the cat’s favorite litter area. This will make things very uncomfortable for Puss.
- Apply citrus peels to the soil. Kitties will avoid them.
- Some plants have the reputation of being able to repel cats. This is particularly the case of rue (Ruta graveolens), lavender (Lavandula spp.), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), absinthe (Artemisia absinthium), lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and Piss-off Plant™ (Coleus canina or Plectranthus caninus, also sold under names Scaredy Cat™, Dog’s Gone™ or Bunnies Gone™). Be forewarned though that some cats seem fairly indifferent to plant odors: you may have to test several plants to find one that works in your situation. And very honestly, the so-called Piss-off Plant (P. caninus) has a terrible reputation among gardeners. In fact, serious studies show it simply doesn’t work.
- Use a commercial animal repellent, which can be coyote urine or the urine of some other predator, rotten eggs, or a mixture of various repellent products. You can spray it on the soil or on the surrounding plants or structures. You’ll have to spray repeatedly (read the instructions for the recommended frequency of application), as they wear off. Sometimes you have to try several repellents before finding one that works well.
- Surround the garden with fencing. This is an expensive solution, but if you have to protect an entire garden from feral cats, it may be the best choice. Use chicken wire, plastic mesh or chain link fence on metal or plastic posts (cats will climb wooden ones). The fence should be at least 7 feet (2 m) high and buried at the base (the cats won’t hesitate to dig to reach their favorite garden). An electric fence is another possibility.
- Install an ultrasound repulsive device. These seem to work with most cats at first, but most cats quickly get used to it, so it may only be a temporary solution.
- Use a motion-activated sprinkler. Just attach it to a hose and point it towards the garden in question. The next time the cat saunters by, it’ll be greeted with a spray of water, the ultimate insult for kitties! This method seems completely effective, but the device is quite pricey. Two models I know of are the Scarecrow by Contech and Spray Away by Havahart.
Methods to Avoid
On the Internet, you’ll find dozens of other methods for keeping cats away from your garden, some effective, some slightly so, and many a waste of time, but there are a few you should simply avoid. Here are some examples:
Placing mothballs in the garden. Their odor is said to repel cats (that in itself is debatable), but the real problem is that they contain naphthalene, a toxic product. Some cats, far from being repelled, eat the mothballs and make themselves sick. Some even die. Also, children may mistake them for candy.
The same applies to dryer sheets (Bounce, Snuggle, etc.), also sometimes recommended for keeping cats away. Some cats chew or play with them and make themselves sick.
Certainly, don’t sprinkle Cayenne pepper in the garden and gleefully sneak away, feeling you’ve really put one over on the annoying little critter. That’s just cruel! Cats don’t even notice the smell of this type of pepper and so it can’t possibly repel them. But they can get it on their paws, then lick it off, causing them gastric distress, vomiting, diarrhea and more. Or severe pain and temporary blindness if it gets into their eyes. A trip to a veterinarian is likely to ensue. A cat may be an annoyance to you as a gardener, but it doesn’t deserve that!
Finally, some people claim that applying coffee grounds to the soil will repel cats. While coffee grounds aren’t harmful to cats, using them this way is a waste of time. Most cats are indifferent to coffee grounds while others are actually attracted to the stuff. Just put your coffee grounds in the compost bin, where they really belong!
Try one (or more) of the above methods and you should be able to get the peace you deserve!