Scram! How to Keep Cats Out of Your Garden

By Kim Thistle

I love animals. Dogs and cats are some of my favourite people. Having said that, there are few things that get my ire up as much as the beasts digging in my garden.
When I am heading to my garden plot on a warm, sunny morning and I see a dog or one of my cats tunnelling toward the south pole, it drives me positively wild. I am sure it provides great entertainment for my neighbours when they see me wildly waving my arms and screaming like a banshee at the offending critters.
Dogs, respectfully, run from me. Cats, on the other hand, could care less. They see my newly tilled garden as a giant litter box that I have graciously provided for their enjoyment. I can yell and flail ’til I am blue in the face, but they just stare me down while nonchalantly flicking my newly planted seed over their offending feces before slowly meandering off. Cats and I have a love/hate relationship.
There is no sure way of keeping dogs and cats out of your garden, but there are a few things that will deter them, at least until they get wise to your methods. Dogs are somewhat easier to keep at bay than cats. Felines make it their life’s mission to see what it will take to outsmart you – and if they can’t do that, they will just ignore you. Here are a few things that you can try that may or may not help.

Good fences make good neighbours.
 A sturdy fence around your garden will most often keep dogs out. They may discourage cats, but probably not. Cats will most likely see this as a new and interesting climbing post, a small hurdle to get over before leaping into the soft ground on the other side.

Some smells discourage our four-legged friends.
 Citrus peel gives off a pungent smell that most animals will steer away from. Cut them into small pieces (the citrus, not the animal) or grind them up with coffee grounds and sprinkle around your garden. If it does not work, at least you’ve added some nutritious, delicious smelling compost to your garden.

Blood meal is another scent that discourages most animals
, including rabbits and squirrels. Side bonus, it adds nitrogen to the soil. This is the major element for creating nice and green healthy leaves, so be sure to spread it near vegetables like lettuce. Bone meal, on the other hand, will encourage dogs, so if you have a canine pet, look for an alternative such as Glacial Rock Dust.

Some plants with aromatic foliage will discourage four-legged trespassers. 
Try bergamot, lemon thyme, citronella, Russian sage, marigolds or calendula, or strong herbs like rosemary and lavender. These plants will attract pollinators, so at least if it does not keep the animals out, your zucchinis will be pollinated and you will get to enjoy some beautiful, fragrant flowers.

There are repellent sprays that may be purchased, but I have never found them to be particularly effective. If using these, do your research. Some may be toxic to the environment.

Thorny plants such as roses, teasel, hawthorn, sea holly, globe thistle, raspberries and blackberries 
planted around the perimeter of your garden will do the trick – but be sure to plant them far enough away from where you will be working, to keep them from grabbing at your clothes and skin. If you thought you were mad at the cats, just wait till you are hot and cranky and a blackberry cane attacks you! Some of these plants spread by suckers and may become a nuisance if left alone to spread into your garden, so be sure to keep them under control.

Most animals will avoid walking on prickly surfaces, so you can spread small twigs, cones, scrunched up eggshells (which will add calcium to you soil), or even upside down carpet runners, around your plants until they get established.

Try building a small, bottomless sandbox near your garden.
 If you keep it scooped, cats will prefer to use it over your garden. They like nice, clean facilities.

Hook up a sprinkler with a motion sensor on it. 
Every time an animal triggers the sensor, the sprinkler will be activated and the culprit will be sprayed with water. It will scare off dogs and neighbours, but it’s only a matter of time before the cats figure out how far the water sprays and then perch themselves just past the drip line to do their damage. For this reason, be sure the sprinkler hits all sides of the garden, or keep moving it.

Repel them with sound.
 If you are already training your dog or cat to stay on your property, you may have purchased an ultrasonic device that emits a high frequency sound that animals hate. These work extremely well, but are probably not the most economical method to use.

Plant a distraction. For deterring my cats, I have had the best success planting catnip in various locations around my garden. Cats love that stuff. It is like a drug to them, and it’s as good as a concert to watch them with ear-to-ear smiles, smooshing their bodies into the plant. You will probably have to replant regularly because they destroy the plant trying to get enough of it. The point is, if they are rolling around in the catnip, they are not prancing through your garden. It is called living in harmony.

You will notice that I have made little reference to dogs in this article. That is because once you yell at them a few times, they get the message. Unless they are a beagle… good luck with that. Cats, on the other hand, are your real challenge. Consider spreading a few open books or computer keyboards around your garden – they always love to lie on those – and please send me the picture!

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