Some people love cats. Others hate them. But whatever your feelings about felines, chances are you probably don’t want them digging up your garden. So, what do you do?

First, it helps if you can think like a cat. With the exception of a few plants, catnip being the main one, cats really aren’t out to destroy your beloved perennials or garden vegetables.

What they really like is the dirt. Most cats think the outdoors is their litter box, and a patch of dirt is an invitation to come do their business. It also makes a great place to play or roll.

One way to keep your own cats from roaming into the neighbor’s garden is to make your space attractive to them. In an out-of-the-way corner of the yard, plant a patch of catnip, the aphrodisiac of cats. Spread some sand for sleeping nearby.

Or, if your feline companions prefer to keep you company in the garden, leave a cat-sized play area in one part of the garden. Make sure you plant or mulch the rest of the garden so your cats have no other place to roll and will stay in their designated area.

If you don’t want your neighbor’s cats in your garden, you will need to take more drastic measures. Try spraying the intruder with a blast from the hose. Most cats will turn and run, although some actually enjoy water, especially on a hot day.

For them, you must try other tactics, like planting rue. The blue foliage makes this an attractive garden accent, but cats can’t stand the odor and will make a wide berth around the planting. Thorny roses also deter cats.

Some gardeners use homemade remedies. Although I can’t personally attest to the success of these methods, it won’t hurt to try them. Sprinkle your plants with crushed pepper. It will irritate cats and may even produce a few extra pepper plants in the garden.

Cayenne is also said to work, though you will need to reapply it after every rain. Or try ground-up grapefruit and lemon rinds. Or make a tea of rue, hot pepper liquid, or lemon juice to spray on plants.

Commercial products like predator urine and cat (and dog) repellents also are available at many garden centers. Or try to get rid of unwanted cat visitors with devices that use sound, light, and/or water to scare them away.

Another possibility is to lay down mats that have soft, upward-facing points. It won’t hurt you—or the cats—to walk on these, but most cats don’t like to step on them.

If you have birdfeeders near your garden, move them to a new location or hang them higher than a cat can jump. Otherwise, cats may continue to visit your garden in hopes of catching birds.

Finally, remember that cats are not stupid creatures. They can be taught. Sometimes a stern “no” is all it takes to teach a cat to stay out of the garden.

But if all else fails, there’s always cat behavior modification—better known as therapy—for your furry friend … and you!


Dr. Leonard P. Perry is an extension professor at the University of Vermont.


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