How To Safely Keep Cats Out of Your Garden

With summer just around the corner, many people all over the country are either preparing their gardens, or already tending to early sprouts. Lush foliage, sweet scents, and ripe fruit and vegetables are enticing to most people, and those garden beds can also attract sometimes unwanted visitors — cats. If you have roaming cats that prowl your neighborhood streets or yards and hope to keep them out of your garden beds, a few easy measures can help reduce visits from these intruders, or prevent them from returning altogether.

Portrait of fluffy gray cat. Cute cat in flower bed.
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Why do cats invade gardens?

Unlike bugs and other pests like rodents who may sneak into to steal a sweet bite of squash or tomato, cats aren't entering your green space to eat. Instead, it's what's under those plants that curious felines are after — giant piles of loose dirt. As you may have noticed by your cat's litter box, most felines hide their pee and poop. This process usually involves digging a shallow ditch, doing their business, and then covering their mess with more litter so anyone passing is none the wiser. This comes from a wild habit of evading predators and/or more dominant cats who may have claimed that specific area as their own territory. This habit absolutely occurs outdoors as well, with cats looking to everything from front yards to flower pots to garden beds to hide their waste in.

Handling unwanted cats

There are a couple of ways to go about keeping cats out of your garden. One way is by helping cats associate your garden with an unpleasant experience… and by "helping" we mean "leaving a bad taste in their mouth or nose." The University of Vermont Extension suggests trying to sprinkle pepper on or around your garden beds, which may irritate an unwanted cat's senses and keep it from coming back. Of course, you'll have to reapply these spices every so often, but if you find it working on your cats, it can make for a low-cost and environmentally friendly solution to your problem. Bitter scents and flavors, like grapefruit or lemon, can also leave cats turning their nose up at your garden, so placing some rinds in your beds can keep cats away (worst case scenario: it becomes composted into the soil.)

Grey cat sleeping on a board in the garden
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Because cats are territorial creatures, especially those that roam outdoors regularly or even live outside full-time, another animal's scent in your garden could deter a cat from entering that space. Urine repellent can keep dogs and cats from making themselves at home on lawns and gardens, and can be purchased at garden centers or home repair stores. Timed or motion-detected sprinklers that go off when cats come around can also serve you well and it will cause them to run away, although it's unclear whether this tactic will keep them gone for good.

Plants that deter cats

If you're looking to take an even more organic route, you can plant certain species of foliage that cats naturally tend to stay away from. Gardening Know How recommends planting herbs and flowers that emit smells that cats just don't love, which include lavender, pennyroyal, and rosemary. These varieties can be planted directly into garden beds, especially if your neighborhood cats have selected a favorite one, or they could be planted around or near the bed, or around the perimeter of your yard or garden plot.

Young Australian boy works in the backyard garden with his father.
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If you don't want to scare your feline friends away entirely, you could encourage them to stay away from your garden by creating a diversion, assuming you have the room to do so. Everyone knows that most cats can't resist catnip, and because cats usually enter gardens to dig or roll in the soil, you can create a quiet cat sanctuary in a corner of your yard opposite where your garden is by using these two things. To do this, simply fill a garden bed with dirt or turn over a small patch of loose soil, and plant catnip in or around the area, which may help keep cats in their designated space in which to enjoy rolling around in ecstasy.