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 plants with stinky urine, defecate in your garden, and dig up your beds. What can you do?
Fortunately, there are several tricks you can use to keep cats away from a yard. Here are a few:
- Keep the animals’ favorite litter spot moist by repeatedly watering it: cats hate getting their paws wet.
- 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, yet plants can grow through the mesh.
- Cover the soil with a rough or even prickly mulch: bark mulch, pinecones, spruce branches, 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 dog grooming salon for a few handfuls. Human hair will work too… on feral cats. Domestic cats, though, are not bothered by human odors.
- Apply citrus peels to the soil. Kitties will avoid them.
- 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.
- 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, now 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 eventually 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.
Another product that is supposed to repel cats (again, very debatable), but can poison them instead is ammonia. Especially don’t put out a dish of ammonia: some cats are actually attracted to ammonia and may poison themselves by drinking it.
One of the most horrifying means of repelling cats is sprinkling the ground with cayenne pepper. It’s not only ineffective (cats are not repulsed by cayenne pepper and in fact, don’t even seem to notice it’s there), but it’s downright nasty. The cat’s paws pick up the powder, then, when it licks itself to clean up, it will be in serious pain. The pain will be worse if the pepper gets it in its eyes. And when swallowed, cayenne pepper can cause severe intestinal distress in cats. Too many cats end up at the vet’s after coming into contact with this product.
Finally, it is sometimes said 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!