Meet Dave. Dave was a friendly stray who liked to hang out at a local restaurant and pester customers for their leftovers. Dave is actually a girl. She was named after the owner of the restaurant she frequented. (We knew she was female, but decided to call her Dave anyway.) Now days the only dining Dave does in on my back patio.
Dave (like most cats) loves to hang around in the garden and nap in my landscape beds. For the most part, I don’t mind her in there…just as long as she’s not using it as her litter box.
Your garden makes a great litter box.
When you are an outdoor cat, the world is your toilet. If you are unfamiliar with the toilet habits of cats…lucky you! Let me fill you in. Cat urine has concentrated amounts of ammonia that grow actually grows stronger as it sits. So its no surprise that when your cat pees on your tomato plant, it burns the leaves.
Cats have a natural instinct to bury their feces. In the wild, large cats use their waste to mark their territory. Dominate cats leave their feces unburied as way to lay claim to their land. Less dominate cats bury their feces as an act of submission. Nearly all domesticated cats will bury their waste (be that in a litter box or in the garden) as act of submission to their human owners. That’s right, Dave. I’m top cat ’round these parts. Cats will also bury their waste to prevent both predators and prey from learning the locations of their favorite hang outs.
So how do you rewire nature’s programing? You don’t. Your best bet is to make your garden a less desirable place for cats to do their business.
I’m a little embarrassed to show you the picture above. I had three tiny blueberry bushes and I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to plant them. I planted them in the ground where they would be happy until I found a permanent home for them. I threw some bricks around them to keep my husband from mowing them. Its an ugly garden bed, but Dave didn’t mind.
A domestic cat’s sense of smell is almost 14 times as strong as a human’s. Certain smells are unpleasant to cats. I know what you’re thinking: Cats live in dumpsters. If it smells bad to a cat then I probably don’t want it planted in my yard. Wrong! These things smell great to us. I’m sure Yankee Candle can attest to that.
Planting things like lavender, rue, geranium, curry plant, rosemary, and citrus scented plants will deter cats from hanging around your garden. (Lemongrass seems to be the exception. Cats really like to nibble on lemongrass.)
Placing citrus peels or coffee grounds in your garden bed will also keep cats out. Go lightly with the coffee grounds. It can add a lot of acidity to your soil that many plants won’t appreciate. (Your azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries and hydrangea will love it though!)
There are a few deterrents that are said to work well that aren’t as pleasant to us humans. Coleus canina is a creeping plant that is sometimes referred to as “Scaredy Cat Plant”. When you brush against it, the smell is slightly skunky. That’s enough to scare anyone away. Predator urine is another tough, yet unpleasant way to get the job done. A handful of mothballs in a plastic bottle (with holes poked through it) is another way to keep the felines (and neighbors) at bay.
Its been said that mulching will keep a cat out of your flower bed. This is simply not true. My cats love to nap on warm mulch on a sunny day. While mulching doesn’t keep them out, it does keep them from using it as a litter box. The mulch makes it difficult to bury their waste. They don’t like digging through it.
Likewise, you can lay fencing, chicken wire or lattice over your garden bed. Your plants will grow through the lattice holes, but cats won’t be able to dig in the area.
Spray bottles are my favorite tool for training indoor cats to stay off tables and counters. Give them a little spritz of water an they learn quickly not to repeat the behavior. Chasing cats around your yard with a spray bottle isn’t really efficient. Instead you might try a motion activated sprinkler. It will only come on when a cat (or other animal) walks in front of it. It’ll keep critters out and water your plants at the same time…awesome!
To keep the cats from laying in my seed trays I place toothpicks in the soil. Walmart and our dollar store sell wood kabob skewers. Stick them in your flowers beds and cats won’t lay on your plants.
I’ve heard someone suggest sprinkling jacks (the old toys) in your garden to keep cats from getting comfortable. I like this idea for potted plants, but I’m not so sure I want to pick them out of my garden beds when its time for re-planting.
The ASPCA suggests that instead of making your garden less desirable to a cat, create an area somewhere else that is more desirable for a cat. Find a small area and fill it with sand. They will be more apt to use it as a liter box than your garden.
Cats are smart.
Cat’s can be stubborn at times, but they really are intelligent animals. When you are training a kitten to use the litter box and it poops on the floor, you are supposed to scoop up the poo and put it in the litter box. This teaches a kitten where its supposed to go. If you create a sand area for the cats and find that they are using your garden instead, scoop some waste out of the garden and put it in the sand. The cat should catch on pretty quick.