Minimise cat problems

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Cats! They flatten the flowers as they sneak up on the birds, but in our view their greatest sin is using the garden as a toilet, leaving unpleasant heaps, scratching up seedlings in the process, and contaminating salad plants.

Cats can also be a nuisance for pondkeepers, either injuring or killing fish, or damaging the liner, in addition to stopping birds drinking and bathing.

So how do you keep cats off or out of your garden? We’ve compiled a list of possible answers, but some work better for some people (and some cats) than others. We’ve given up on the idea of zero tolerance with our aim now being for fewer cats in the garden for less time, and therefore less fouling and less bird bullying.

Read this first!
Barriers
Cat-resistant plants
Frighteners
Water
Ultra-sonic devices
Repellents/deterrent scents
Attract cats to one area
Don’t…

Read this first!

Whatever deterrent you try, it has to be on an area that the cat hasn’t contaminated before. The advice from Vitax is that if you’re too late and a cat has already soiled an area, you should bury the mess and then remove lasting taints with a weak solution of biological detergent. Then put your off-putting strategy in place. Doing this or not could explain why some people find one deterrent really useful and others find it absolutely useless.

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Barriers

Whole garden

A prickly hedge, dense at the base, will stop cats sneaking through at ground level, but if there’s anywhere they can jump over or walk along or squeeze under (gate, fence, garage, shed) then they’ll be in. However, you can get spiky Prikka strips to put along fence tops to stop cats walking along them, and you can also place a single strand of wire above the fence so they can’t balance along the top.

Smaller areas

It’s easier to use barriers to protect smaller areas or individual plants, keeping them clean/undamaged.

  • Grow vulnerable crops and other plants in a fruit cage, greenhouse or cold frame.
  • Fence garden areas with chainlink that’s angled outwards from the base to the top, so the cat has to climb at the ‘wrong’ angle and will give up.
  • Cover outdoor plants, seedlings, seedbeds and bare ground with netting or garden fleece.
  • Areas that cats might target for fouling, or skulking, can be protected with prickly prunings – rose, hawthorn, holly, gorse etc – but you’ll need to wear gloves when you’re weeding. You can also buy spiky pads to place on the ground.
  • An electric fence, such as the ones used to protect ponds from herons (eg from Pondkeeper), might also be useful around parts of your garden, not just around a pond.
  • Salad leaves, and other crops you want to eat uncooked, can be planted off the ground and out of reach (eg. large tubs, window boxes or hanging baskets), but these will need regular watering.

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Cat-resistant plants

Is this possible? Some say citrus-scented lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) deters cats so we’ve begun to grow some as a little hedge around our veg plants – we’ll report our verdict later. The curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) – although the plant has scented leaves, it is not used to make curry – and also Coleus canina (but this, unlike the first two, is not frost hardy) are reputed to deter cats, but we haven’t tried these two yet.

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Frighteners

All scaring devices need to be novel, so keep changing them or moving them to different places so the cats don’t get used to them. Examples include a water-filled plastic bottle, a snake-sized piece of hosepipe, or a cat shaped cut-out with glass eyes.There’s also the interesting idea of a mirror-finish pyramid to float on a pond, with the idea that the irregular flashes of light as it bobs about. It’s called the Velda Brilliant Pyramid, available from Pondkeeper.

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Water

water pistol is handy, if you find one that doesn’t leak so you can keep it by the window or door, poised for action. Of course, it’s only useful if you’re around all day and night looking at your garden and are fast enough to open a door or window, or get outside, to take aim.

Better is an automatic water jet from a sprinkler system connected to a heat/motion sensor, which saves you having to guard the garden. It sends out a jet of water over a wide arc but don’t get caught out yourself! It also drenches 2-legged ne’er do wells skulking around your garden. We had great success with this but found cats ran so fast that it should never be directed to frighten them towards a road. Apart from the disadvantage of getting wet yourself, this device has to be disconnected from the mains supply during freezing weather to avoid damage to it, the hose and your tap. There are many variations but one example is the Tensor Water Blaster.

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Ultrasonic devices

These work by emitting a sound that’s barely or completely undetectable by humans (it depends on your age and your hearing) but is disliked by cats so they will move away – not always immediately but they are uncomfortable in its range and will move off quite soon.

There are various types of ultrasonic device (eg from our online shop). Choose one with a heat or motion sensor that will be triggered as required rather than one that is permanently switched on (these might deter hedgehogs) and remember to switch it off before going into the garden as exposure to this can damage your hearing eventually (even if you can’t hear it).

There’s a solar powered Tensor Pest Deterrent, and also the mains/battery operated Catwatch, available from our online shop or from Crocus, which we have found to be really successful in our garden. It didn’t stop cats walking by, or even going up to it and batting it with a paw, but they didn’t linger for very long however much they tried to keep face. The only problem is with deaf cats (some white cats are congenitally deaf; also cats can lose hearing with age).

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Repellents/deterrent scents

You can confuse or offend a cat’s sense of smell by putting down strongly scented products – natural or man-made. Often animals sniff the ground before using it as a toilet, so anything that masks old smells or deters them should work. The main problem is rain and time, as both mean that you have to replenish the deterrent. All sorts of smelly household items (e.g. mothballs, orange peel, garlic) plus numerous products are suggested by various people, but none seem to be consistently useful to all, so you’ll probably have to experiment. Cat-owners tell us that cats hate citrus so insist that a crushed orange will work. There are citrus scented repellents made too, such as the Vitax’s Scent Off range and other products, including citronella-impregnated sticks.

Bizarrely, some people find that fertiliser based on lion dung (again, from Crocus) or chicken manure, keeps cats away. Also urine (human), but as the smell soon goes so you need to keep topping up. Yet another suggestion is pepper, but the effectiveness (presumably it literally gets up the cat’s nose) would soon be reduced in damp conditions, let alone rain.

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Attract cats to one area

Instead of repelling cats, you could try keeping them to one area.

You could grow plants that attract cats e.g. Nepeta (catmint) (widely sold eg plants from Crocus; seeds from our online shop) and hopefully distract them from other parts of the garden.

You could also reserve a small area of bare soil as a cat toilet – as far away from the house as possible as it will smell, although better if you bury the mess. If you’ve just dug over a veggie bed or prepared a seedbed, then a more freshly dug area will be more appealing, so it might distract them from your precious patch. Also, if one cat uses it regularly, perhaps others will stay away?

Don’t…

…hurt or shoot cats – they are probably someone’s much loved pet; it’s cruel; it’s illegal.

What works for you?

Please contact us with your comments, reviews, recommendations, and we’ll add them to this article.
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