7 Ways to Make a Cat-Friendly Garden

A cat sitting in a garden

If you want to craft the purr-fect outdoor space for your feline companion, there are plenty of ways to make a cat-friendly garden that will make your little bundle of fluff happy. It’s no secret that cats like looking out at birds and warming themselves in sunbeams. Giving them a space where they can experience that more directly is a great way to provide them with much-needed enrichment.

It can be tough to know where to start when it comes to making a cat-friendly garden. Our pets can’t talk, so we have to guess what they want or feel most of the time. That said, there are a few basic things to keep in mind. Read on for some steps and tips to help you make a meow-velous cat-friendly garden.

1. Plants

Any garden worth its salt has a few plants. Cat-friendly gardens are no different. But there are certain plants that will spell doom for any poor innocent feline who takes a nibble of them. Many plants are toxic to cats and can lead to sickness, hospitalization, or death. These should be avoided at all costs in your cat-friendly garden. 

Which plants are actually toxic, for pets and humans alike, may surprise you. Do thorough research on all the plants in your garden and scan it for any poisonous plants before starting anything else. Here’s a short list of some plants to look out for and some suitable replacements.

Plants toxic to cats

Yellow colored daffodil plants in a lawn
  • Lilies. The entirety of a lily plant is toxic to cats, from the leaves to the stem and even the water in a vase of potted ones. Just grooming themselves after being around them can be deadly for cats due to their pollen or even biting the leaves without ingesting them. No lilies are safe for cats aside from those not considered “true” lilies, such as the ginger lily, sand lily, and red palm lily. 
  • Azaleas/Rhododendrons. All parts of a rhododendron plant, along with their relatives, azaleas, are toxic to cats, though the danger varies with the species. No type is safe, however, so keep them far away. Rhododendrons’ toxin is called grayanotoxin, and Azaleas’ is anthracenecarboxylic acid.
  • Daffodils. Also called Narcissus flowers, this plant is toxic to a variety of animals, including cats. The most toxic part is the bulb, but the entire plant poses a danger. Its toxicity comes from lycorine and alkaloids.
  • Hyacinth. Every part of the Hyacinth plant is poisonous, particularly the bulb. Even inhaling the smell can be harmful. The toxicity comes from a substance known as lactones and alkaloids.
  • Kalanchoe. This plant isn’t as harmful as others, but it still should be kept far away from cats. Their toxin is known as bufadienolides.
  • Oleander. Oleander is a highly toxic plant for both humans and cats. Even a single leaf can be deadly for an adult human. Their toxicity comes from a substance known as cardiac glycosides.
  • Cyclamen. Every part of the cyclamen plant is poisonous, especially the underground tubers. The toxic component is known as terpenoid saponins.
  • Dieffenbachia. All parts of this plant are toxic, but thankfully it’s not as severe as other plants. Their toxicity comes from calcium oxalates.
  • Sago Palm. All parts of this plant are poisonous, especially the seeds. Its toxin is known as cycasin.

Note: The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) provides an extensive list of toxic and non-toxic plants to cats. 

Safe plants for cats

A cat eating cat grass
LisaSympson | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Catnip. Catnip, also called nepeta cataria, is a well-known cat favorite. 
  • Catmint. Catmint is another cat favorite that your feline friend will enjoy in your garden.
  • Cat grass. Planting patches of cat-friendly grasses such as wheatgrass for your cat to eat can give them fiber. Plant it in spring after the frost ends.
  • Valerian. Valerian has the curious effect of making humans sleepy but giving cats energy. It can be a great way to get inactive cats to get some exercise.

2. Enclosure

It’s important to make sure that your cat-friendly garden is a safe place for your feline friends. One of the best ways you can do that is to enclose it. This will ensure that no predators, such as coyotes, can get to them and that they can’t run off into the neighborhood. None of these are foolproof, so always supervise your cat when they’re outside and keep them in after dark.


A good way to keep your cat safe outdoors is with fencing. Surrounding your garden with cat-proof fencing can open it up to your cat and let them enjoy all it has to offer. You can also get screen fencing to install on the top of an existing fence for the same effect. Installing roller bars will also keep cats in and predators out. 


If you’re handy with DIY, building a catio can provide a space for them to get some fresh air, or you can buy a simple enclosure. You can even screen in your porch or patio to allow them to enjoy some of your outdoor gathering places with you.

3. Water

Your cat can work up a thirst when exploring outdoors, especially on a hot day, and keeping them hydrated is vital. Leaving out food is not recommended since it can attract other animals, but providing drinking water is a great way to make your garden cat-friendly.

Let puddles dry

A cat drinking water from a puddle in a lawn.

If given the choice, most cats will drink from natural sources such as a puddle rather than tap water. However, puddles can be dirty and contain harmful pollutants, so make sure that any that develop in your yard dry up before you let your cat outside.

Flowing water

A good way to give your cat water while they’re outdoors is with a circulating bowl. It will run the water continuously so that it never becomes stagnant, which will discourage mosquitoes and help it stay cleaner longer. It will also appeal more to your cat, as felines are attracted to running water more than still. You can also buy a water fountain for your cat that should have the same effect.

4. Shelter

Another important part of creating a cat-friendly garden is to give your cat places to hide. Having a wide open space with no cover can make cats feel insecure and unsafe, so it’s important to give them a place where they can huddle down. A good place for a hiding spot is right by the door outside so that your cat can conceal themselves right away and check the yard for danger.


Hedges and shrubbery can give cats a good natural hiding place so long as there are some gaps for them to get through. Certain plants, such as spider plants, can be added to your garden for this specific purpose. 


Furniture such as tables and chairs can also be hiding spots. Sufficiently durable containers such as boxes and baskets can make for good makeshift hiding spots since, as we all know, cats love boxes.


A cat house can provide a sheltered area to hide in, one that you can stock with whatever you wish. Plastic tubs with holes cut out of them for your cat to get in and out are a good DIY choice. For anything you build, ensure that no nails or other sharp objects are sticking out, as these can do serious harm to your cat.

5. Climbing

Another important part of any cat-friendly garden is places for your cat to climb. Cats like to climb, and having places that are high up can give them a good vantage point to watch the yard and anything beyond it. This helps them feel safe and provides a good area to sun themselves when it’s sunny. 

  • Shelves on your outside walls can give your cat a good vantage point. 
  • Ladders, ramps, and other structures can help them climb up to high places. 
  • Trellises up against the wall can also be a good place for cats to climb and add a flair to your yard. 
  • Cat trees and perches designed for the outdoors are great for cats to climb. 
  • Stumps and tall pieces of wood will also work. 
  • Furniture is also fun for cats to explore, such as tables, chairs, and benches. 

Pro Tip: If you keep your cat on a harness outside, don’t let them climb while they’re wearing it, as it can be dangerous. And ensure that any climbing structure is away from the fence so that cats can’t jump out.

6. Enrichment

Enrichment is another important aspect of creating a cat-friendly garden. As fun as birdwatching and napping in the sun is for cats, they’ll get bored of it eventually, so make sure to have some other things for your cat to do while they’re enjoying their outdoor space. A designated area for this forming a playground is a good idea.


Scratching is a big part of cat enrichment. Cats scratch on things to stretch, maintain their claws, get their scent on things, and express their emotions. Providing surfaces to scratch on is essential for any cat-friendly garden. They may scratch any climbing structures or other things you put out, so if you want to preserve them, provide alternatives. Scratching posts and pieces of cardboard or wood are good choices.


A whiter colored cat resting on mulch
Patchattack | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Another good outdoor enrichment for a cat-friendly garden is a place for them to roll around and dig in. Digging is a natural activity for a cat, just as much as it is for dogs. This might get them a little dirty, but your cat will be happy for it. It will also keep them from digging around in your flower beds. An area of mulch, soil, or sand can do the trick. 

7. Bathroom

Another thing that cats need in an outdoor garden is a place to use the bathroom. A simple litter box will do, but if you don’t want to look at one in your garden, there are alternatives. You can also conceal a litter box inside a box or other container, which may appeal more to your cat as they enjoy a private place to do their business.

The first step to creating a suitable outdoor bathroom for your cat is adding substrate. Kitty litter fulfills this purpose in a litter box. Wood chips or sand will also work well for an outdoor cat latrine. Every cat will have their own preferences, so experiment with different substrates to find the best result. Place this substrate in a private space, such as within some bushes or another hidden area.

FAQ about cat-friendly gardens

What can I do to keep my cat safe in my garden?

There’s no way to completely ensure your cat’s safety while they’re in the garden, but there are ways you can minimize dangers.
If you have a swimming pool in your yard, always keep it covered when not in use. 
Make sure any gardening tools are put away 
Never mow with your cat in the garden, as mowers can kick up debris and hit them. Your cat might also bolt in front
of the mower, which can be dangerous. 
Don’t use pesticides, such as slug pellets, in any space your cat will spend time in, as they are highly dangerous if
If they’re going to be spending time outdoors for any amount of time, keep up with regular flea and tick treatments
and pay attention to signs of internal parasites.

Is building a cat-friendly garden expensive?

It can be. But it all depends on how much you put into it. Structures for cats and fencing can get very pricey, but if all you want to do is walk your cat around your regular garden, you shouldn’t have to worry about spending a significant amount of money.

Why isn’t my cat enjoying my cat-friendly garden?

There could be any number of reasons why your cat is avoiding your garden or hiding away when brought out into it. Something may be scaring them or putting them off of it. Cats are territorial animals, so if any other cats or big animals enter your yard, their scent may be lingering. Set up cameras overnight to see if this is the case.

It’s also possible that your cat simply prefers the indoors. Not all cats like to explore the wilderness. If this is the case, you can bring inside some of the aspects of your cat-friendly garden, such as hiding spaces, climbing structures, and enrichment, so that they can experience them in their preferred environment.

Need purr-fessional help?

If you want to make a cat-friendly garden but find it im-paw-ssible to get right, it may be time to contact a professional. Talk to your local gardening professionals to help you design a garden that will have your cat purring up a storm.

And remember, you can add an extra layer of cat safety to your yard and garden by reducing fleas, ticks, and other pests. Turn to a local lawn care professional who can keep the turfgrass tidy and unappealing to bothersome pests.

Main Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures

Austin Geiger

Austin Geiger is a lover of all things nature. He enjoys writing comprehensive, easy-to-swallow articles about pest management solutions, landscaping tips, and ways for people to help their local pollinators.