Keeping Cats Out of Your Garden

According to bylaws in the city where I live, all cats must be kept on a leash when outdoors. In practise, however, most cats seem to wander freely, leaving droppings in any inviting patch of soil. Besides the nuisance, cat feces sometimes contain parasites that can be harmful to humans, especially children and pregnant women. So choose from this list of methods for keeping cats away:

Fencing: Although most cats can jump most fences, there are some methods that might help keep them out. A tight string or a row of spikes along the top of your fence (commercially available to keep birds from perching, or try purchasing carpet tacking strips) may keep them from walking along the top. Chicken wire bent to face away from your fence can keep them from getting over the top, and strips along the bottom of the fence, or between any gaps, may keep them from getting under or between.

Mulch: Loose, bare soil just calls "Potty time!" to cats, so keep it covered. I used dry leaves this fall, which our neighbour's cat simply dug up. However, something harder to walk on, such as pinecones or rosebush or raspberry stems, might make a cat think twice about invading. Laying down chicken wire is also sometimes recommended as a surface they don't like to walk on, and as an added bonus, they will keep the squirrels away from your bulbs.

Repellents: Several herbs emit distinct odours that cats are said to dislike, including sage, rue, lavender and pennyroyal. Coleus canina, a variety of the common ornamental annual coleus, is also supposed to repel cats, dogs and foxes by its smell. Citrus peelings and coffee grounds scattered around the garden are also sometimes recommended to repel cats. There are also several commercial repellents available at garden centres, often using sometime of predator urine to scare cats away.

Attractants: Planting catnip in a remote part of your yard might keep cats from digging around your more choice plants, but why attract them to your yard in the first place? Less ethical, but more effective, might be to make a gift of a catnip plant to a neighbour.

Motion: Strips of tin foil or old CDs that flutter in the wind and reflect light might scare away some cats, but likely won't be effective once they get used to them. Some people even claim that a clear bottle half full of water will scare cats because of the way the light refracts through them.

Noise: My kids like to bang on the window whenever a cat comes in our yard. This doesn't always work, but they usually run away if we open the door and threaten them. Motion-activated singing frogs can also be effective in your absence. Some products emit high-pitched noises that are supposed to repel animals, but these haven't been proven to be very effective.

Water: A very effective deterrent (which I haven't personally tried) is a water pistol, and one dose might be enough to keep the cat away for good. My brother informs me, however, that your cat-owning neighbour might not be impressed when they catch your three-year-old son chasing their pet with a water gun. Motion-activated sprinklers are easier, and are also effective against larger animals, such as deer and teenagers. Just make sure to turn them off before you go into your own yard.

Unfortunately, most of these methods have pretty low success rates, but keep trying until you find the one that works!


  1. Hi Cassandra,

    As the husband of a cat owner, and probably the only cat owner in the neighbourhood who actually takes their cats outside only when on a leash (a few short-term escapes excepted), and who reacts to unwanted cats violating my garden in a (ridiculous, but) territorial manner, I'd have to say that all of the methods listed above are of, at best, temporary solutions. The only permanent solution is a coyote, and they are rather sporadic and unpredictable in nature. However, the City of Edmonton does allow live trapping of cats - up until last month at least. I’m pretty sure, though, that this is not a good solution, unless you can handle hate from the owners.

    I've always been at the horns of a dilemma about free-roaming cats. (Well, I was raised on dreck like ‘Born Free’, so I plead media manipulation.) Our current cats were acquired in Australia, where feral cats have a very bad reputation for being destructive to wildlife (and also growing to humungous size – 30 lbs or more – they can kill almost anything but the dingos). I once took care of a landlady’s cat in Melbourne and, one by one, that cat killed every single nestling bird in the neighbourhood – and brought them back to drop at my feet. Of course, most of those nestlings were introduced species, but when it brought in a rosella and spread the bloody beautiful parrot all over the dinning room, I decided I’d had enough. When my wife insisted on house cats, we agreed they would stay in the house or in a controlled yard or on a leash. We’ve stuck to those rules for the last 8 years and (other than the outlandish cost of importing them to Canada) had no regrets.



    PS - thanks for the tip on Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier - excellent, if a bit eccentric, book. I did find one possible source of 'multiplier' onions in Canada:

    But hard to tell if these are really the aggregatum variety or not.

  2. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for your comment about cats. I agree with you that most of these solutions are of questionable efficacy. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that some strategies will be effective against some cats. The only real solution, however, is responsible cat owners like yourself who don't allow their animals to wander freely. Unfortunately, I can't make my neighbours do what I'd like, so I'd like to think there might be another solution!


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