By Julie Christensen
Looking for ways to keep cats out of your yard or garden? Cats and gardening don’t mix. Cats chew leaves and lay in the middle of plants, flattening them. Then there are the little surprises you find in the soil and sand, as well as the nasty odor. What to do? If you’re having a problem with neighborhood cats, getting a dog might make them think twice about coming in your yard.
Your own cat is probably not intimidated by the dog, though. In this case, it’s time to get serious about protecting your garden. No one solution will work for every cat. Most of the time, a multi-pronged approach works best.
- One of the most effective solutions to keep kitty out of the flowers starts before you ever plant a single seed. Amend the soil with compost and fertilizer as you normally would. Then, spread a sheet of fine-gauge chicken wire over the soil. Secure it with landscaping pins. When it’s time to plant, use wire cutters to cut holes in the wire for planting. Plastic-coated, galvanized chicken wire costs a bit more, but it doesn’t rust and is less likely to have sharp edges. Cats don’t like to walk across chicken wire and will avoid it at all costs.
- There’s nothing worse than a sandbox that’s been turned into a litter box. Keep your kids’ play area safe by covering the sandbox with a plastic or wooden lid. Most commercial sandboxes come with a lid. If you make one at home, design a lid during the initial construction process. Don’t use sand under playground sets, which is a sure-fire way to attract kitties to your yard. Instead, spread an 8 to 12 inch layer of playground-grade cedar chips. The chips’ rough texture and aromatic scent will repel cats.
- Cats mix with water just about as well as oil does. Use their water phobia to your advantage. Keep squirt guns on hand to douse cats entering your yard, or install a motion-detecting sprinkler system that automatically goes off whether you’re there or not. This one is especially effective for cats that are urinating on your lawn.
Repellents to Keep Cats Away
- Commercial repellents usually contain capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives peppers their heat, or the urine of a predator, such as coyote or bear urine. These products can be effective, but follow the directions carefully. Many of them have to be reapplied after they become wet.
- Moth balls have long been used to deter cats. Unfortunately, moth balls are toxic so don’t use them if you have kids around. Even without kids, it’s a good idea to place the moth balls in a secure container, such as a jar with holes punched in the lid.
- Blood meal fertilizer, a byproduct of the slaughterhouse industry, is nothing more than dried steer blood. This fertilizer is high in nitrogen and makes an excellent garden fertilizer. It also has a strong odor that keeps cats away. Blood meal can burn plants if used in excess and the odor dissipates once it gets wet. To avoid both problems, place blood meal in small plastic bowls and tuck them among plants. Use soaker hoses in your flower beds so the blood meal stays dry longer.
Plants that Repel Cats
Sometimes the plants you choose can determine how attractive your yard is to cats. Catmint, as the name implies, is a magnet for cats. Plant one of these and you’ll attract every cat in the neighborhood. A few, though, are thought to repel cats, mostly because of their strong odor.
- Coleus canina, also known as Scaredy Cat plant, is often billed as a coleus hybrid, but it’s actually related to mint. Native to Africa and India, it thrives in warm, sunny places and grows as an annual in the U.S. The leaves have a scent that resembles predator urine, although you probably won’t notice its smell unless you crush the leaves.
- You probably love lavender for its clean, relaxing scent, but cats don’t find it so appealing. Plant lavender in well-draining soil in full sun. French lavender is hardy only in US Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10, but English lavender survives colder northern temperatures. Make sure you select a variety adapted to your region or grow lavender as an annual.
For more information, visit the following links:
Keeping Cats Out of the Garden from the University of Vermont Extension.
Questions on Cats from the North Dakota State University Extension.
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.