How to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard and Garden

Cat walking along the top of a wooden fence

Are cats on the prowl in your neighborhood? While some homeowners enjoy furry visitors, maybe you fear these felines will dig up your prize flowers, turn your landscape into a litter box, or stress out your pets. Let’s learn how to keep cats out of your yard and garden with humane methods.

9 Humane ways to keep cats out of your yard and garden

A cat eating cat grass
Photo Credit: LisaSympson | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’re sick of dealing with unwanted cats on your property, don’t resort to violence! There are plenty of ways to keep cats away without harming the little critters. 

1. Get rid of food sources

Why are neighborhood cats attracted to your yard in the first place? You might be feeding them without even knowing it. They could root around in your trash cans like raccoons or hunt birds on your property. By getting rid of food sources, you might get rid of the cats themselves, too.

Always keep trash cans covered, and maybe even secure the lid with bungee cords. Never leave your own pet’s food outside, as neighborhood cats may help themselves. If you attract lots of birds to your yard with bird feeders or birdbaths, it might be a good idea to stop until you can get the cat situation under control. 

2. Block access to hidey holes 

Cats love warm, dark spaces where they can hide from humans and predators. You’ll often find them hiding in crawl spaces, underneath decks, and in similar undisturbed, enclosed areas. Install chicken wire or lattice to block the cats’ access to hiding spaces. Just make sure the coast is clear first so no cats or kittens end up trapped inside. 

3. Use scent repellents

Cats have extra sensitive noses, so even scents that are barely noticeable to us can be overbearing to them. Some scents are pungent enough to make cats want to stay away.

Here are some cat-repelling scents and how to apply them to your lawn and garden:

  • Commercial repellent sprays: Products such as PetSafe SSSCAT Spray and Nature’s Miracle Just for Cats Pet Block are designed to keep cats away with a formula of scents they hate. 
  • Citrus: Scatter fresh citrus peels or liberally spray a citrus-scented spray. 
  • Coffee grounds: After making coffee, spread the used grounds in a perimeter around the area where you don’t want the cat to go. 
  • Tea leaves: Just like coffee grounds, tea leaves don’t smell great to cats. Sprinkle the used leaves or place tea bags in areas you don’t want the cat to be. 
  • Vinegar: Apply watered-down or straight vinegar with a spray bottle. Don’t spray near your grass or garden, as vinegar kills plants. 
  • Pipe tobacco: Spread pipe tobacco in a perimeter around the area you want to keep cat-free. 
  • Essential oils: Fill a spray bottle with water and add up to 10 drops of lavender, citronella, lemongrass, or eucalyptus oil, then spray around the area. You also can soak cotton balls or strips of fabric in the oil and place them around the garden.
  • Blood meal: Blood meal is made of dried animal blood, which cats don’t like. Add blood meal to your soil to repel cats and fertilize your plants. 

Scent repellents can be hit-or-miss. One cat might hate a certain smell, while the same smell doesn’t bother another cat at all. Try different scent repellents around your yard to figure out which one is most effective for the cats in your neighborhood. 

Also, keep in mind that scents fade over time. You’ll have to reapply most scents about once a week for them to remain effective. 

Note: Some of these substances make cats ill when consumed. Be careful with these substances if you know the cat invader likes to eat anything and everything. In those cases, it’s best to stick with other methods. 

4. Fill your garden with cat-repelling plants

Photo Credit: Hans | Pixabay | License

There are many plants whose natural scent repels cats. Plant plenty of these around your garden for a lasting fragrance that encourages cats to stay away. Be careful, though. Many scents commonly recommended for repelling cats can be toxic to humans and pets if ingested and, in some cases, cause skin irritation on contact. 

The following plants are poisonous to cats, humans, or other animals in one way or another but are often recommended as cat repellents:

  • Pennyroyal: Highly toxic to humans and pets if ingested
  • Rue: Causes severe skin irritation in humans and pets 
  • Scaredy-cat plant (aka Coleus canina): Causes severe skin irritation and stomach irritation in pets
  • Lavender: Toxic if ingested by pets 
  • Geraniums: Toxic if ingested by pets 
  • Citronella: Toxic if ingested by pets 
  • Lemongrass: Toxic to pets if ingested in large quantities (cats are more sensitive to this one than dogs)

Rosemary, curry plant, and lemon thyme can repel cats and aren’t poisonous to people or animals.

As with other scents, cat-repelling plants aren’t a surefire way to keep cats away. What repels one cat may not work on another. 

5. Make potential lounging or digging spots uncomfortable

If there are cats in your yard, they probably like to dig in flower beds or vegetable gardens and lounge on warm surfaces like sun-baked driveways. Wherever your neighborhood cats’ favorite hangout is in your yard, there are methods to make those spots so uncomfortable that the cats won’t like them anymore. 

Some methods for cat-proofing gardens and other lounging or digging spots include:

  • Carpet runners: Place plastic carpet runners with the spike side up in your flower bed, on top of your car, or wherever cats like to hang out. The plastic spikes won’t hurt cats but will make them uncomfortable. If you don’t like the look of a carpet runner in your garden, cover it with a light layer of soil or mulch. 
  • CatScat mats: The CatScat mat has long, flexible plastic spikes that will bother cats but won’t harm them. As with a carpet runner, lay the mat in any spot where you often see cats lounging or digging.
  • Chicken wire: Cover the ground in your garden with chicken wire to prevent digging. Roll the sharp edges of the wire under so the cats and other wildlife don’t cut themselves. 
  • Plastic netting: Plastic bird netting is a cheaper, more flexible alternative to chicken wire. Lay it on the ground where they dig or use it to protect plants. 
  • Sharp mulch: Cover the soil in your garden with a rough-edged or sharp mulch to prevent digging and keep cats away. You might use rough rocks, pine cone pieces with sharp spines, or crushed eggshells. 
  • Sticks, stakes, and cutlery: To make an open space less welcoming, stick branches, chopsticks, forks, or garden stakes into the soil. They should be close enough together to make it impossible or impractical for the cats to lounge. 

6. Buy an ultrasonic animal repeller 

Ultrasonic animal repellers are devices that emit a high-frequency sound that humans can’t hear but that irritates cats and other wildlife, such as raccoons, opossums, and deer.

For best results, place ultrasonic repellent devices around the perimeter of your property or at least around the area you want to keep cats away from. 

Make sure you purchase a device designed for outdoor use and for larger pests (rather than insects or rodents). Some popular models that can work for cats include:

If you have your own pets that go outside, don’t forget to turn off the ultrasonic device before letting them out. The sound doesn’t penetrate walls, though, so it won’t bother indoor pets.

7. Install motion-activated sprinklers  

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Everyone knows cats hate water. Motion-activated sprinklers send out a jet of water when any cat (or another animal) comes within range of their motion sensors. The water may or may not hit the cat directly, but it should startle them to run away in any case. 

For maximum effect, place motion-activated sprinklers around the perimeter of your property. Just be careful not to put them where neighbors, delivery people, or anyone else walking by your yard might set them off.

Here are some motion-activated sprinklers designed to repel pests such as neighborhood cats:

Note: Motion-activated sprinklers may not work during winter if the temperature drops low enough to freeze the water in your hose. If you live in a colder climate, install the sprinklers in spring or summer so neighborhood cats are trained to stay away from your yard before winter rolls around. 

8. Try cat-proof fencing 

Cats are infamous climbers and tightrope walkers, so a regular fence isn’t enough to keep them out of your yard or garden. But there are special fences designed to keep pet cats confined inside a yard, and you can use them to keep neighborhood cats out instead. 

One type of cat-proof fencing uses a slanted wire panel or chain link along the top of a standard fence. Cat owners slant the panel inward to keep their cats from getting over the fence, but you could install it slanting outward to keep cats from jumping or climbing into your yard. The company Purrfect Fence offers kits to install a cat-proof topper to your existing fence. 

Another option is Oscillot’s cat fence roller. This system involves installing a rolling bar on top of an existing fence. When cats jump up and try to grab the top of the fence, they can’t get a solid hold on it because the bar continuously rolls. 

9. Look into TNR

Photo Credit: sandid | Pixabay | License

If you have a ton of feral cats, aka community cats, in your neighborhood, TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) might be the long-term solution you’re looking for. It isn’t exactly the easiest option, but it’s worth the effort because it improves life for both you and the cats. 

So, what is TNR?

  • Trap: Humanely trap community cats (NOT pet cats that belong to your neighbors) using large wire traps, the kind you might use for raccoons. 
  • Neuter: Take the cat to a vet to get spayed or neutered and vaccinated. The vet also will cut off a tiny tip of the cat’s ear (a humane procedure that happens while the cat is under anesthesia for surgery). The ear tip is the universally acknowledged symbol that a cat has been TNRed, lives outdoors, and shouldn’t be picked up and taken to a shelter. 
  • Return: Release the cat back into its territory, the same place where you trapped it in the first place. 

TNR prevents the overpopulation of outdoor cats because it keeps future kittens from being born. It also prevents the spread of rabies because TNRed cats get their vaccinations. 

Spayed or neutered cats also will stop troubling behaviors such as spraying and yowling. It’s a humane process and widely recognized as the single best way to deal with outdoor cat overpopulation.

TNR projects work best when you get the whole community involved. If you can successfully trap and spay or neuter all the cats in your neighborhood, you can guarantee no more new kittens will be born. 

Of course, the cost of spaying and neutering is quite high. There are many animal welfare nonprofits with TNR programs that can help you. Learn more about TNR, why it works, and how you can get a project started in your community from Alley Cat Allies

Why cats in your yard might actually be a good thing

Before you evict feline neighbors from your yard completely, consider the benefits of keeping them around. Cats hunt constantly, so they can keep your property free of mice, rats, and other small pests. 

With the exclusion methods described above, you can protect your garden and outdoor living spaces from cats while still letting them roam the wider property. 

FAQ about keeping cats out of your yard

Can I take neighborhood cats to the shelter?

If you can help it, try to avoid taking stray cats to the shelter. Most shelters are full all the time, and, unfortunately, many animals end up euthanized. Cats can live long and happy lives outdoors, free of humans, and there are many humane ways to coexist with them. Try the methods in this article instead of taking outdoor cats to the shelter. 

Do mothballs repel cats?

Mothballs are hit-or-miss as a cat repellent, as with most scents. Plus, they’re toxic to cats and other animals that might eat them. They’re also toxic to the environment because they contain pesticides. 

Is cayenne pepper a good cat deterrent?

Cayenne pepper might repel cats, but it isn’t the most humane solution. It can cause intense burning and stinging. 

What can I do to keep my cat from roaming the neighborhood?

Are you on the other side of this conundrum, an outdoor cat owner looking to keep your cat out of trouble in other people’s yards? One option for you is the cat-proof fences described above.

Here are some other tips for keeping your cat from pussyfooting around:

—Feed cats on a regular schedule and in the same location every day so they don’t wander in search of food. 

—Provide outdoor shelters on your property where your cat can hide and shelter from cold weather. You can purchase outdoor cat shelters or build your own using storage containers, coolers, and other inexpensive materials. Providing shelter may prevent your cat from trying to hide under your neighbor’s porch. 

—Create outdoor litter boxes the same way you would build a sandbox. Fill them with sand or peat moss instead of regular cat litter, which would absorb all rain and other moisture. Regularly clean the litter boxes so your cats continue to use them — not your neighbor’s garden bed — to do their business. 

By making your own garden cat-friendly, you can improve their (and your own) enjoyment of your yard while keeping your neighbors happy.

How can I prevent other unwanted animals in my yard?

The good news is that many techniques used to deter cats will help discourage other animals as well. Eliminate food and water sources to make your yard less appealing. Choose tall fencing with no gaps and an underground portion or barrier on the surface near the base to prevent digging. The best scent, texture, and plant deterrents will vary by animal species. 

For more specific details, check out Lawn Love’s guides on:

How to deal with landscaping damage caused by cats

Cats can dig up flower beds or lawns and ruin your picture-perfect yard. If you’ve got your hands full warding them off, contact local lawn care or gardening pros. They can bring your yard back to its former glory while you relax and enjoy your cat-free yard.

Lawn Love participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other retailer affiliate programs. Lawn Love may earn revenue from products promoted in this article.

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Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer and editor with a passion for sustainable, earth-friendly gardening and lawn care practices. When she isn't sharing her knowledge about lawn care and landscaping, you can find her curled up with a good book and a cat in her lap.