Cats in the Garden
Our cat is indoor-only, but our neighbors have a couple of active kitties that we often find napping or hunting in our garden. We usually enjoy seeing them and maybe offering them a pet, but sometimes I wish they would stay away. You can love or hate cats, but when you are weeding or tilling the soil of your garden, and you are accosted by a horrible smell, that can mean only be one thing: cats are using your garden as a litter box. Not cool!
Cats love loose soil because it is easy to dig in and they can more easily bury their waste. Commercial litter is loose and grainy for just this reason. A freshly weeded or tilled garden is exactly the texture they are looking for.
In the garden, cat waste is a big problem because of the toxins and other nastiness carnivore waste brings with it, especially their urine, which is as effective as an herbicide. Added to that, just the act of digging can destroy your carefully planted seeds, seedlings, rhizomes, and tubers. Below, I have laid out some strategies for keeping cats out of your precious gardens.
Distraction (Not Recommended)
One of the most common methods I have seen offered online to get cats to stop using your garden as a litter box is to plant catnip somewhere else in your yard. In theory, this would make cats focus on a part of your yard that does not affect your garden. In practice, I have found that it just doesn’t work.
For one, it can attract new cats who weren’t already hanging out in your garden, because catnip is a powerful draw. Let’s not multiply the problem, shall we?
Second, catnip is a weed on its own. If you ever grown mint, you know what I’m talking about. This close relative will reseed and grow from runners very actively, so you would need to keep it in a pot with no holes, but even then, the seeds could propagate if carried by wind or other methods.
If you would still like to try this method in your garden, you can order there here: Catnip Seeds
When cats are digging to bury their waste, they’re looking for that easy, loose soil. If you make the areas around your seeds and seedlings less easy to dig, cats will avoid it.
There are several commercial products for this exact purpose, my favorite being one that I found at a Daiso store called Don’t Cat. This item is the closest to it I’ve seen: Cat Repellant Mat. However, these commercial products are small and will get expensive over a large area, plus users claim that cats can just walk between the spikes.
Heavy-duty Bird Netting that is built for the garden and will last through several seasons before breaking down, would make most of your exposed soil undiggable for a cat. The downside is that it makes it hard to dig for you as well. This method would work best if you planted your seeds or seedlings and then laid the net on top, letting tiny plants through, and at a point where you will not be digging any further.
The method I use his to collect plastic forks all year round, and use them both as seed markers and cat deterrents in the garden. They stick up out of the soil right near my plants, so I know the cats will not dig right there.
When a lot of plants are in one area the tiny army of upturned forks serves as a visual deterrent, as well, so cats will find other places to dig. This method also helps deter raccoons from digging for grubs in the same places.
The downside to using the forks is that they are not meant to be in the sun, and the UV rays break them down within one season. If you have access to another kind of pointy item that is easily seen and more durable, or that breaks down, I would use that. I have also successfully used trimmed blackberry brambles and small stalks of bamboo with little pokey branches sticking out of them.
Benefits of Cats in Your Garden
While the litter box thing is really annoying, cats also serve a great purpose in the garden. They can help kill or deter vermin, like rats and gophers, and can keep birds away if they are congregating in your garden for a snack during the day. Keeping them from defecating and urinating in the garden should be your primary goal, not eliminating their presence altogether.