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cat pouncing in garden

How to Keep Cats Out of Your Garden

There's nothing like using your bare hands to gently work compost into your garden's sun-warmed topsoil. That is until you unearth a cat turd...or three...or dozens. Hopefully, after that first buried treasure, you grabbed a pair of gloves because beyond the gross factor, cat scat posts a biological hazard to humans. What's more, domestic cats themselves are—from mother nature's perspective—an invasive species.

"Hell yes, they're an invasive species," you mutter as you scrub your fingernails with a wire barbecue brush. "They've invaded my garden, and I want them out!"

So what's the scoop on preventing the poop? How do you keep cats out without subtracting any more of their nine lives than absolutely necessary? 

Take the diplomatic route

Let's operate on the assumption that the offending felines don't belong to you. If you know which neighbor is responsible for the animal, be direct and politely ask them to contain their pet, as it's causing damage to your property and posing a risk to your health. You could do this in writing, and it's a good idea to keep a record of your efforts, but a face-to-face meeting will seem less backhanded and more cooperative.

While you might be tempted to hit the cat owner over the head with data blaming outdoor cats for declining songbird populations, this isn't the time.

Before you go, find out if there are any local ordinances or homeowner's association rules pertaining to outdoor cats or "animals at large." Good neighbors don't threaten to rat one another to The Man, but it's wise to have a good understanding of the rules (or lack thereof). 

If the "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" approach falls flat, it's time to evaluate your next move.

Add cat-deterring plants to your landscape

We're not going to make any claims that the following plants are kitty kryptonite. The idea is to convince the cats that there are more pleasant places to poop than on your property. Try interplanting your ornamental and vegetable beds with a few of the following cat-repelling plants:

The "scaredy-cat” plant (Coleus canina)

    C. canina looks nothing like the coleus (C. blumei) plants grown for their multi-colored foliage. Also called the "piss-off plant," and synonymous with Plectranthus caninus, it's a member of the mint family. Apparently, the smell is highly offensive to cats, but the odor has also been described as similar to marijuana. This may be a plus for some gardeners, but be warned: you might find teenage kids crashing through your garden in the dead of night or, depending on your state, the DEA.

      Rue (Ruta graveolens)

      This gorgeous, hardy evergreen perennial is among our favorites. Rue is a medicinal and culinary herb, and its unusual blue-green leaves and clusters of yellow flowers pretty up any sunny spot in the garden. Solutions made with crushed rue leaves have long been used to repel mosquitoes and discourage dogs, cats, rodents, gophers, rabbits, and deer from raiding veggie gardens.

      Lemon mint/bee balm (Monarda citriodora)

      You should have this stuff in your garden anyway. Lemon mint (not to be confused with lemon balm) attracts pollinators, repels pests, makes a soothing tea, and adds zest to salads and rum drinks.

      Pretty much any citrus-scented plant

      Lemon thyme, lemongrass (if you can grow it in your area) get the idea. 

      Peppermint (Mentha x Piperita)

      Concentrated peppermint oil, live plants, or dried leaves and stems may repel nearby cats. The scent is often used to keep mice out of cupboards, drive away ants and unwanted moths, and fend of rabbits, dogs, and cats. Peppermint can become a nuisance plant, so consider growing them in containers if you're not prepared to keep them in control. 

      Lavender (Lavendula)

      All the lavenders have strong scents that cats just don't fancy. Some of the hardier strains will do well in the sandy soils cats otherwise love. Try growing lavender as an informal hedge where cats enter and leave your property. 

      Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)

      Like lavender, rosemary is a low-maintenance shrubby evergreen perennial so that it can serve as a year-round garden sentinel. 

      Not-so-live-plant-based cat repellents

      Citronella, lemongrass, eucalyptus, and peppermint oil are popular aromatic or repellents, and gardeners often scatter the following around their planting areas.

      • Citrus peels and pulp
      • Cayenne pepper
      • Coffee grounds
      • Cut, dried, and powdered anti-cat herbs (see above)

      Some old wives' tales will say that tobacco repels cats, but at today's prices, we doubt anybody will be mulching with Marlboros anytime soon. Besides, all tobacco, including the ornamental Nicotiana plant, is toxic to pets and kids. It's not worth the risk.

      Fun-to-watch anti-cat tech

      cat walking on fence

      Nobody likes to see an animal suffer injuries, and we'd be the first to pepper animal abusers with rock salt shotgun loads. But there's something perversely gratifying about foiling ninja cat behavior, especially when a little humiliation is involved. (We know we're gonna get mail for that.)

      Note: We at Seed Needs don't endorse any one of the following methods of repelling cats from garden beds, so please don't be angry with us if they fail to defend your dianthus, or keep poop away from your poppies

      Rolling or spiked fence tops

      These are used to deter seagulls and coyotes. The design is essentially a spinning cylinder affixed along fence tops, creating the "logrolling" effect when the animal tries to climb over. An Australian company adapted this design specifically with cats in mind, but there are plenty of DIY options floating around.

      Reviews are mixed, though; dogs and coyotes use fence tops to leverage themselves over, so the rollers work well against them. Cats, on the other hand, cling to wooden fences with their claws and can haul themselves over the rollers.

      Some gardeners make or buy spike strips designed to deter cats. Whichever boundary method you use, be sure they're legal and family-safe.

      Subsonic deterrent

      Have you ever tried those plug-in electronic mouse repellers? Maybe solar-powered, subsonic gopher chasers? They're marketed as "pet-friendly," though their auditory spectrum can overlap a cat's range of hearing.

      There are all-in-one subsonic devices that claim to deter everything from cockroaches to Cocker spaniels within a focused range, and models that run on solar power. We've heard good things about infra-red triggered devices that only emit noise when trouble's afoot; this may prevent unwanted animals from becoming desensitized to the irritating sound.

      Automatic water cannons

      Okay, this is probably our favorite. Rather than lurk behind the boxwood shrubs with a Super Soaker, the motion-sensing tech will blast cats, raccoons, and other unwanted garden guests from "off-limits" areas.

      Be sure to warn any friends or neighbors who've agreed to check on your property while you're on vacation, though. There's no better way to say "thank you" than scaring the crap out of them with a sudden high-power stream of cold water.

      Speaking of cold water, these don't work when the temperatures drop below freezing. It's a good idea to have another system in place in early spring so intruding animals won't stake out their territory early in the season.

      Applied chemical deterrents

      There are a ton of manufactured and home-brewed repellents, and from what we've seen (and tried ourselves) results vary widely. The key to success for any of these products is a frequent, copious, and consistent application, which can get spendy if you're dealing with the store-bought products.

      • Apple cider vinegar and water (1:1) with or without irritating scents
      • Predator urine
      • Cayenne powder mixes
      • Hand sprays 

      Don't be above bribery...or revenge

      Felines love to dig catholes in soft, deep soil. They're also drawn to catnip. While it might assault your principles to do so, building a cat-friendly zone well away from your valuable landscaping and veggie patch could help you win the war. Set up a "cat patch" well away from the area you want to protect, preferably in a quiet spot near the felines usual path of travel.

      Covered litter boxes or a well-drained, tidy little 2x2 (or, preferably, 4x4) sandbox, "primed" with an excavated cat dook, could be more attractive to neighborhood kitties. Plant a patch of catnip nearby, and be sure to clean the cat patch. What you do with the resulting "almond rocas" is up to you, but this video may offer some inspiration...especially if you're tired of dealing with inconsiderate cat owners. 

      How do you keep cats out of your garden?

      Our advice? "Layer" your strategy using different products and techniques. Change things up by moving mechanical deterrents from time to time. Cats will learn how far a water cannon will reach, and they've been known to dodge subsonic sound waves.

      If you have feral cats on your property, find out if there's a feral cat advocacy group. They may trap, neuter and relocate (somewhere else, hopefully) the offending animals or you may decide to contact your local no-kill shelter or municipal animal control department. If you have kids, or you're pregnant, cat-polluted soil poses a direct threat to your family's health, so don't feel guilty about taking humane steps to remove the felines.

      We'd love to hear about your (humane and legal!) cat control methods. Hit us up on social media, or contact us if you've got a good story!
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