How to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard and Garden

Cat walking along the top of a wooden fence

Cats on the prowl in your neighborhood? Try these humane ways to keep cats out of your yard and garden so they won’t dig up your prize flowers or turn your landscape into their litter box. 

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

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 might 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 a lot 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 spaces such as these. 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. 
  • Vinegar: Dilute vinegar with water and then spray or spray straight vinegar. 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. Instead, you can soak cotton balls in the oil and place the cotton balls 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. 

4. Fill your garden with cat-repelling plants

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 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 and curry plant 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:

  • 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. 
  • 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. 

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:

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  

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.

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 involves a slanted panel of wire or chain-link along the top of a standard fence. Cat owners would 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 backyard. Purrfect Fence offers kits you can use to install a cat-proof topper to your existing fence. 

Another option is the cat fence roller from Oscillot. 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

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? Let’s break it down:

  • 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 against rabies. 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 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 that 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

FAQ about keeping cats out of your yard

1. 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. 

2. Do mothballs repel cats?

Mothballs are hit-or-miss as a cat repellent, as with most scents. Plus, cats might eat them, and they’re extremely toxic because they contain pesticides. 

3. 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. 

4. 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. 

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. 

Are other unwanted large animals bothering your property? Lawn Love has tips on:

Once you get rid of those frisky felines and other pest animals, it’s time to turn your attention to the lawn. Lawn Love’s local lawn care pros can take care of mowing, weeding, yard cleanup, and other services. 

Main Photo Credit: Pexels | Pixabay

Jordan Ardoin

Jordan Ardoin is a writer and indoor plant enthusiast hailing from Florida. In her spare time, she enjoys chasing her two cats around the house and trying to keep her houseplants alive.