12 Backyard Landscaping Ideas for Cat Lovers

Cat lounging outdoors on a patio amidst landscaping

You keep cat trees, scratching posts, and toys galore around the house for your cats, but what about when they go outside? If you don’t give them something to keep them occupied, they’ll find a way to occupy themselves, like climbing on your car or digging up your flowers (or even worse, the neighbor’s). With these backyard landscaping ideas for cat lovers, your feline friends will stay in their own territory — and be happy about it. 

1. Plant a cat garden 

Cats may be carnivores, but they sure love to nibble on plants. And they like some more than others. You can plant your cat their very own garden full of plants that are safe — and fun — for them to take a bite out of. Some of these plants can even add nutrients to your cat’s diet!

The best plants to include in your cat garden:

  • Catnip (duh!)
  • Cat thyme
  • Cat grass (a mixture of edible grasses such as oat, wheat, barley, or rye)
  • Lemongrass 
  • Valerian

You can grow these plants in the ground outdoors or in a container inside your home to give indoor cats a little taste of what they’re missing in the outside world. 

Though these plants are generally safe for cats, there can always be too much of a good thing. If your cat eats massive amounts of any plant, they might get an upset stomach, resulting in vomiting or diarrhea. Overeating on plants might indicate a nutrient deficiency in your cat’s diet, so consult with your veterinarian if your cat gorges rather than nibbles on the cat garden.

Cost: $2-$5 for catnip seeds; $4-$13 for cat thyme seeds; $4-$15 for cat grass seeds; $5-$8 for lemongrass seeds; $3-$15 for valerian seeds; $18- $56 total for all the cat-safe plants listed above 

2. Install a “catio” 

A catio is exactly what it sounds like: A cat patio! It’s an opened-framed enclosure with “walls” made of chicken wire. So, your cat can go outside and feel the breeze and sunlight without the dangers of actually going outside. They can’t run away, and other animals can’t get in. 

Catios can be stand-alone enclosures, or they can be attached to the house where there’s a door or window so your cat can enter and exit as they please. 

Cost: Catios are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, ranging in cost from about $200 to more than $1,000.

3. Get a water fountain

Everyone knows how cats feel about getting wet, but did you know that most cats don’t drink enough water? Not drinking enough can lead to medical issues in old age, such as kidney or bladder problems.

But cats are more likely to drink running water than water in a bowl because their natural instincts tell them that standing water might be full of bacteria. So, encourage your cat to drink more by providing a source of running water, such as a water fountain.

Of course, you want your cat’s drinking water to be clean and bacteria-free. You’ll want to choose a fountain with a filter or else clean the fountain and replace the water every few days. If you choose a fountain without a filter, this can be a somewhat high-maintenance option.

Cost: You can find simple water fountains for around $30-$40 or more decorative and elaborate ones for up to $500. 

4. Create hiding spots

Cats love warm, dark, enclosed spaces where they can curl up and get away from it all. If you don’t provide safe hiding places for outdoor cats, they might look for shelter in dangerous spots, like inside the engine of a car or under a porch where other wildlife might already live. They might even wander into your neighbors’ yards in search of a hidey-hole. 

Outdoor cat shelters can be a cute addition to your landscape that look like a playhouse or doghouse, or they can be something simple that you build yourself with inexpensive materials. As long as there’s plenty of insulation to keep your cat warm and cozy — especially in winter — they won’t care what the outside looks like (although you might). 

Cost: Build your own cat shelter out of a styrofoam cooler ($3-$20) or plastic storage bin ($6-$40) or buy a fancier and nicer-looking “cathouse” for anywhere from $40-$500, depending on the size and style. 

5. Give cats something to climb (safely)

Cats are infamous for their love of climbing. Give your outdoor cat plenty of structures to climb to prevent them from getting bored. Bored cats look for ways to entertain themselves, which almost always spells trouble. 

There are many options when it comes to climbing structures for your cat, such as:

  • Cat trees (made of durable wood or plastic, not the fabric kind, which could be damaged by rain) 
  • Low retaining walls
  • Actual trees and shrubs

Just be careful about where you place your cat’s climbing structures. If you don’t want your cat to leave your backyard, don’t put anything near the fence that could allow them to climb and jump over your cat-proof fencing measures. And don’t put anything too tall near the house, as you don’t want your kitty to get stuck on the roof. 

Cost: Large cat trees typically cost around $100-$200, but some fancy ones are $1,000 or more. 

6. Install outdoor scratching posts

Does your kitty have cat scratch fever? Cats don’t just scratch for fun. They do it to stretch their muscles, file their claws down when they get too long, and satisfy their natural instincts. Give your cat plenty of positive scratching outlets, or they just might take their frustration out on your favorite tree (or your carpet, if they come inside). 

Steps to install an outdoor scratching post:

  • Step 1: Purchase a regular cat scratching post, just like the kind you would use indoors. 
  • Step 2: Set the scratching post into the ground outside with concrete so your kitty doesn’t topple it while playing. 
  • Step 3: Cover the concrete with cat-friendly mulch, such as cedar wood chips. The mulch will make the setup look cleaner and keep kitties from burning their paws on the hot concrete in summer. 

Of course, trees are nature’s scratching posts. If you don’t mind claw marks on the bark, and if your trees are thick and hardy enough to withstand a little damage, there’s no need to install additional scratching outlets. 

Cost: $10-$30 for a scratching post; $3-$5 for concrete mix; $4-$5 for cedar wood chips; $17- $40 total for the whole project 

7. Build an outdoor litter box

Cats ruining gardens by using them as a bathroom is probably the number one complaint from your neighbors. Provide an alternative potty spot, an outdoor litter box, to prevent cats from doing their business in places where they shouldn’t. 

Steps to build an outdoor litter box:

  • Step 1: Choose a secluded spot on your property and dig a pit about 8-12 inches deep. The length, width, and shape of the pit are up to you, but the larger the litter box, the less often it will fill up and need cleaning. If you have multiple cats, you definitely want a larger litter box. 
  • Step 2: Cover the bottom and sides of the pit with a thin layer of fast-setting concrete. While the concrete is wet, poke a few small holes in the bottom for drainage. Let the concrete dry before moving on to the next step. 
  • Step 3: Fill the pit with a material your cat can dig in and use to cover their urine and feces. Don’t use regular cat litter, which would absorb rain. Sand and peat moss are both good alternatives.
  • Step 4: Scoop up some of your cat’s waste and place it in the new litter box. The scent will help “mark” the space as their territory and encourage them to go to the bathroom in that spot from now on. 
  • Step 5: Keep the litter box clean just like you would indoors. Scoop waste at least every few days or more often if you have several cats. Every once in a while, at least three to four times per year, empty out the dirty “litter” (sand, peat moss, etc.) and replace it with a fresh batch. Cats are much more likely to use a clean, well-maintained litter box than a dirty one. 

There’s no guarantee your cat will only use the litter box and never pee or poo anywhere else, but with training and positive reinforcement, you can make it their go-to potty spot.

Note: A sandbox is perfect for a dog-friendly landscape, too. Instead of using it as a bathroom, dogs can use it to indulge their digging instincts without destroying your lawn.

Cost: $5-$15 for fast-setting concrete mix; $4-$5 for sand; $9-$20 total for installation; Plus $4-$5 for replacement sand three to four times per year 

8. Make plenty of shade 

Cats prefer to spend their lazy days sunbathing, but, just like humans, their skin can burn from too much time in direct sunlight. All cats can suffer from sunburns, especially on their ears, noses, and bellies, which are hairless and therefore more vulnerable. Cats with white fur (even small patches) or thin fur are the most sensitive to sunburn–kind of like fair-skinned humans.

The easiest way to protect your cat from sunburn is to give them plenty of shady spots where they can take refuge when the sun becomes a bit too much. Shade is especially important in the heat of summer. 

There are many ways to create shade in your yard. You could plant trees or shrubs with sprawling branches, install an awning or another shade cover, or place “houses” around your property. 

Cost: Options for a wide range of budgets; patio awnings go from around $200 up to $5,000, depending on size and style; a young shade tree costs between about $15-$50, while a mature shade tree could cost several hundred dollars; Cat shelters can be less than $20 for DIY options or around $40-$500 for a model that you buy 

9. Try cat-proof fencing

Cat-proof fencing helps keep your cat confined to your own backyard, which has many benefits. Most importantly, your furbaby will stay safe from threats such as cars and wild animals. Plus, the rest of the neighborhood — birds and other native wildlife, your neighbor’s garden, etc. — will be safe from your mischievous kitty. 

With their jumping and climbing skills, cats don’t even blink at regular backyard fences. But there are three types of specialized fencing that can keep kitties contained:

  • Panels of chain-link or wire mounted on top of an existing fence can keep your cat from being able to jump over or climb on top of the fence. Purrfect Fence and Easy Pet Fence sell kits for this style of cat-proof fencing. 
  • Rolling bars on top of your fence also can keep your cat from being able to climb over. Whenever they jump up to try and grab the top of the fence, the bar will roll continuously and keep them from getting a grip. Oscillot makes this type of fencing. 
  • Electric fences involve a wire boundary around your yard and a shock collar that your cat wears. If your cat crosses the boundary while wearing the collar, they’ll receive a small shock. The shock shouldn’t cause your cat any lasting harm, but it’s still debatable whether or not electric pet fences are humane. Plus, they won’t protect your kitty from wild animals who might wander into your yard. Invisible Fence and Pet Stop are popular brands of electric fencing. 

Cost: $300-$500 for wire panel addition kit for 100 feet of fence; about $1,000 for cat rollers for 100 feet of fence; about $1,000-$1,500 for an electric pet fence, depending on the size of  your property 

10. Protect your garden beds

Cat-friendly landscaping means protecting your cat from danger and protecting your landscape from your cat. Kitties can be especially destructive to gardens and flower beds, where they dig up plants and pee or poo. 

How to protect your garden from your cat:

  • Cover the soil with mulch so your cat can’t dig. Use a rough, uncomfortable mulch such as landscape rocks or pine straw, and your cat might leave the garden alone altogether. Just make sure not to use a mulch material that’s dangerous for your kitty if they take a bite, such as cocoa bean mulch, which is toxic for cats and dogs. 
  • Lay a CatScat mat in your garden so your cat will leave the area alone. The flexible plastic spikes on the mat will irritate your cat but not hurt them. 
  • Plant cat repellent plants in a border around the rest of your garden so cats are more inclined to leave it alone. Rosemary and curry plant repel some cats with their strong scent but aren’t toxic if your cat decides to take a nibble.

For more information and ideas on how to protect your garden from your kitty, see our article on How to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard and Garden

Cost: $4-$13 for landscape rocks; $4-$11 for pine straw (or free if you have pine trees in your area and collect the straw yourself); about $20 for a CatScat mat; $5-$40 for one rosemary plant (depending on size); $40-$90 for one curry plant (depending on size)

11. Choose a hardy grass type

Lawn damage from pet urine is more common with dogs than cats because cats prefer to pee in the dirt, where they can cover it up. But that’s not to say cat urine damage in grass never happens. If you have an outdoor cat, and you see small brown spots in your yard, the kitty could very well be the culprit.

So, what can you do to prevent this damage? For one, setting up an outdoor litter box like the one described above could stop your kitty from peeing on your grass. You also could replace your lawn with a hardy grass type that’s less likely to die as a result of urine or digging. 

According to Lawn Love’s research, these are the best hardy grass types for pets (dogs or cats): 

  • Tall fescue
  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Bermudagrass
  • Zoysiagrass

Cost: New grass seeds cost about $2-$6 per pound (depending on the grass type), and one pound of seed usually covers about 100-500 square feet (check the seed package label); Establishing a new lawn from sod typically costs about $3,000-$8,000 per ⅕ acre (8,712 square feet)

12. Avoid poisonous plants

We’ve talked a lot about what you should do to make your landscape more cat-friendly, but now for a note on what you shouldn’t do. Never plant anything in your yard (or your home, if your cat comes inside) that could hurt your kitty if they brush against it or nibble on it. Cats LOVE to nibble on plants. 

Many common landscape plants are poisonous to cats. To name just a few of the most dangerous ones you should avoid:

  • Yew
  • Lilies
  • Sago palm 
  • Autumn crocus
  • Foxglove
  • Oleander 

See Common Indoor and Outdoor Plants Poisonous to Cats for a more extensive list of plants to avoid and information on what to do if your kitty encounters a poisonous plant. 

Cost: Free unless you have one of these plants in your yard and have to hire someone to remove it; tree and shrub removal can cost anywhere from about $100 to about $2,000 depending on the size of the plant

Keep your kitty safe from strays 

Your cat isn’t the only one who might fall in love with your cat-friendly landscape. If there are a lot of stray cats (aka feral cats) in your area, things like smelly catnip plants or outdoor litter boxes may bring them wandering curiously into your yard. 

To keep the strays away, confine your cat-friendly landscape features to the backyard and surround the yard with catproof fencing. 

If you don’t mind making some new feline friends, let them come! But keep an eye on them to make sure they get along with your own cats. Most importantly, get your cats fixed and stay up to date on vaccinations. That way, you won’t end up with a surprise litter of kittens or a kitty with an infectious disease such as rabies or distemper.

Need help implementing these cat-friendly landscaping ideas? Reach out to a landscaping contractor near you. And when it’s time to turn your attention from the landscape to the lawn, Lawn Love’s local lawn care pros can take care of that for you, too.

Main Photo Credit: lequangutc89 | Pixabay

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.