How to deter cats from digging in your flower beds
Methods to stop cats from scraping holes in your borders and using your garden as their litter box.
Common name: Cat, mog, moggy, pussycat, kitty, mouser, feline
Scientific name: Felis catus (Domestic cat)
Cats are a beloved pet to many, including myself, but they can be a nuisance when they take to digging in your soil to “take care of their business”. I am a proud owner of two indoor cats, but have had free-roaming mogs before, and know all too well how challenging it is when they and the rest of the neighbourhood cats take to your borders. They seem unable to resist a bed of fresh mulch or recently turned soil! Fortunately, there are several ways to discourage them from fouling amongst your flowers.
Below I am going to list the ways to deter them, to ensure they do not damage your plants or dirty your soil.
It is best to try to dissuade local and pet cats from using your soil, from the offset - before it becomes a habit for them. Avoid encouraging your neighbour’s cats from entering your garden altogether, as it’ll be easier for them to learn not to use your space if they don’t consider it part of their territory. If you are mum or dad to a cat, you’ll want them to enjoy your garden, but still discourage them from thinking it’s their litter box. Below are some of the different methods for limiting their unwelcome habits.
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Cultural controls –
- Dense plants – By planting densely, bare soil isn’t as easily accessible, and it will be a less appealing toilet area.
- Watering seedbeds – Cats dislike wet soil and prefer loose, dry earth – so keeping freshly sown seeds well-watered will keep cats off.
- Cat-repellent plants – Some plants produce a scent that cats do not like e.g. Plectranthus ornatus (Coleus canina). These are sold specifically to keep cats away from the areas they are planted in. Cultivars include ‘Scaredy Cat’ and are available from many garden centres. You can also grow lavender, geraniums, lemon thyme and thorny roses among your other garden plants. These are potent-smelling and generally despised by the feline population.
- Dedicated areas and sandboxes – If your resident puss-cat has a penchant for pooping in fresh soil, consider allocating a particular area of the garden to them. A small area at the back of a bed, or around the back of a shed could work well. You can create an outdoor litterbox by filling a large sandbox with fine sand which will be attractive to your mog (you could try filling their existing litter tray with compost instead of commercial litter). Make sure to always scoop trays and sandboxes regularly to prevent them from returning to use your flowerbeds.
- Cat-friendly areas – If you are happy with them being in your garden in general (just not toilet-ing) make a cat-friendly area planted with Nepeta cataria (catnip), Nepeta mussinii (catmint), Teucrium arum (cat thyme) or Valerian. This will entice them here, away from digging around your precious plants.
Oats Cat enjoying the Nepeta in my garden.
Physical control –
- Netting – Cats roam freely and can climb and jump well, so fencing won’t work to physically exclude cats from your entire garden. However, if you have a small area that you need to keep cat-free, netting can work (e.g. a fruit cage or temporarily netted area of freshly-seeded lawn).
- Thorny “barriers” – Make the surface uncomfortable for cats to stand on by covering it with spiky plants. Lay cut branches of thorny roses, pyracantha or holly on the surface of the soil (be careful where you kneel when you’re weeding!). You can also create a spiky “wall” out of prickly hedging plants such as blackberry bushes, hawthorn or holly.
- Ultrasonic devices – Ultrasonic, motion-triggered devices can be purchased in garden centres and online. These are barely audible to people, but most cats can hear them and do not like the sound. Do not use it in your garden if you have a cat as they won’t like it. My cats are completely deaf so this may be a good choice for my garden – eventually, they will be able to come outside to use their catio (cat+patio), and I’ll want to still deter the other ones in the vicinity.
- Water sprayers – Electronic, motion-sensitive devices which connect to a hose. These will spray anything that triggers the sensor!
Chemical controls and repellents –
- Store-bought repellents – Non-toxic products can be purchased at many garden centres. These contain ingredients that cats don’t like the smell and/or taste of. These are humane, temporary measures to teach behaviour, and will wash away with rainfall. They will need to be reapplied until the problem stops. Products include:
- Methyl-nonyl-ketone (this can be harmful to birds and other wildlife, so use it sparingly).
- Pepper power (e.g. Vitax Pepper Dust).
- Aluminium ammonium sulphate (e.g. Protect Garden Animal Repellant Concentrate).
- Homemade repellents – You can use a number of strong-smelling household items to help repel cats from using your flower borders. These will need to be replaced as their odours wear off. Experiment by trying some of these scents in your garden:
- Citrus peel - lay peels from oranges, lemons or grapefruit on the soil around your plants.
- Coffee - sprinkle used coffee grounds in your borders. Use sparingly as it is toxic to cats and dogs if ingested.
- Lavender - spikes of lavender flowers, stems of lavender leaves and oils will all help to drive them away.
- Essential oils - as well as lavender, try other oils such as eucalyptus, citronella, lemongrass and clove. Rub a small amount around the rim of plant pots that the troublesome cat seems to have taken a shine to.
- Pipe tobacco - if you are a smoker, try sprinkling a thin layer of tobacco around the base of your plants.
- Pepper and herbs - sprinkle dried herbs on the ground on the surface of the soil.
Toast Cat doesn't mind Lavender. Cats are notoriously "strong-willed", and they may well ignore your techniques!
Biological control –
- Get a cat – Bear with me…adopting your cat will help to keep other cats in check*. Cats are territorial so will likely not enter your space if another cat is occupying the space. Now, you’ll only have to toilet-train your new furry family member!
My late Ceefa Cat seeing off the neighbourhood stray, "Steve".
Multi-pronged attack –
If in doubt, use multiple methods to help keep cats away. Use a mixture of methods: different non-toxic repellents, physical barriers and cultural practices. Cats are clever and they’ll learn where not to go, but will undoubtedly ignore some of your attempts!
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If you have any further questions about cats affecting your garden, please comment below or get in touch. Feel free to chat to me about anything cat-related, as I am as cat-mad as I am crazy about plants! Take a look through my shop which includes some illustrated, moggy-themed homeware, garden accessories and greetings cards.
*Only adopt a cat if this suits your lifestyle. Consider your family requirements, household environment, time commitments and finances before choosing to be responsible for any pet.
I am so glad it’s working, Catherine :-)
Hannah Weeks on