Keeping Cats Out of Gardens & Yards

One of the most common sources of hostility towards feral cats are people who don't want them in their yards, gardens or other parts of their property. Trying to convince them the cats have every right to dig up their plants is probably not going to do much more than start a long-running argument. A better approach is to respect their views and offer to work with them to keep the cats out. Below are numerous products and techniques worth attempting. The one we have found most effective at Neighborhood Cats is the motion-activated sprinkler.

1.  Motion-activated sprinklers

Motion activated sprinklers use infra-red to detect when an animal enters a defined territory. When a cat enters the infra-red field, the sprinkler shoots out a burst of water for a few seconds in the general direction of the animal. The effect is to frighten the cats rather than soak them, but they quickly learn not to enter the area. After a while, the sprinkler becomes unnecessary. It doesn't work in winter conditions, as the water will freeze, but if you introduce the device in warmer weather, by wintertime you'll have trained them.


The ScareCrow, made by Contech, has been personally tried and proven by us. It costs $79.00 if you purchase it directly from Contech. To order, click here or call 1-800-767-8658

Buy it for less! Check out the price for The ScareCrow at Safe Pet Products ($53.95 + free s/h). To order, click here or call 1-888-977-7387


Havahart manufactures two motion-activated sprinklers. Like the ScareCrow, Spray Away attaches to a garden hose. Cost is  $69.99 ($60 each for two). Spray Away Elite has its own water reservoir so it's hose-free and portable. $179.99 includes shipping. To place an order with Havahart click here.

2.  Ultrasonic devices

CatStop contains a motion sensor and, upon being triggered, emits a high-frequency alarm imperceptible to humans but highly annoying and startling to cats. The key with CatStop and other ultrasonic devices is to make sure you have enough of them for the size of the area you're trying to exclude the cats from. CatStop reportedly monitors 330 square feet.

The respected feral cat group IndyFeral swears by CatStop which, like the Scarecrow, is manufactured by Contech. IndyFeral has come up with some creative uses for the device, such as using two of them to guard a property line. One device is placed at each end of the property line and then positioned so that their motion sensors face each other. Whenever a cat crosses the line, one of the devices goes off. CatStop can also be mounted high up off the ground and positioned to "cover" a car parked below, keeping cats off the vehicle. It can be used in any weather, though the battery will likely need to be replaced more often in cold temperatures.

Order CatStop directly from Contech for $59.99. AC adaptor available for additional $20.80. Click here or call -1-800-767-8658

Buy it for less through Safe Pet Products for $48.90 ($44.90 each for two or more; AC adaptor for additional $16.95 per unit).  To order (and view installation instructions), click here. Or call 1-888-977-7387.

Bird-X YG Yard Gard  from Bird-X, Inc. is another device that uses ultrasonic sound waves (silent to humans) to harmlessly repel cats and other animals. Bird-X is motion activated and is triggered when an animal moves into its coverage zone. Available in 110v for $98 or 220v or 240v for $118 (plus s/h). For additional product information and ordering click here or call 1-800-735-0496. Bird-X YG Yard Gard is also avaialble at discounted prices on amazon.com

3.  Scent repellants

Reports on the effectiveness of scent repellants are mixed, sometimes working quite well and in other situations, not at all. Repellants should be sprayed or placed around the edges of the yard, the top of fences and on any favorite digging areas or plants. Sprays need to be replenished after rain.  Naturally-based products include:

  • The Coleus Canina plant, a weed originating in Europe, is known as the "Scardy-Cat" or "Pee-off" plant because it emits an odor offensive to cats (but not to humans) and deters their presence. Recommendation is to plant them three feet apart around the area to be protected. You may need to order cuttings or seeds from a nursery or dealer.  Do a Google search for the plant to find a dealer and compare prices  - one dealer when last checked is Rosy Dawn Gardens.           WARNING:  There are many varieties of Coleus plants, so make sure you order the correct one - Coleus Canina.  Order early in the spring planting season before dealers run out of stock.
  • For protecting gardens or flower beds, common household items may be effective, including the herb rue, either planted or sprinkled in its dry form. Other suggestions for garden areas are orange and lemon peels (cats dislike citrus smells), cayenne pepper, coffee grounds, pipe tobacco, lavender oil, lemon grass oil, citronella oil, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and mustard oil.
  • Havahart Dog & Cat Repellents use capsaicin, pepper and oil of mustard as its active ingredients. It repels by both taste and odor, has a lemon scent, lasts 7-10 days and needs to be reapplied after rain or new growth.

4.  Physical barriers to digging

Gardens and flower beds can be protected from digging through a number of means:

  • Cat Scat from Gardener's Supply consists of plastic mats that are pressed into the soil. Each mat has flexible plastic spikes and is cut into four pieces. The spikes are harmless to cats and other animals, but discourage excavation. Item No. 31-954 is $26.95 for a set of five, $25.00 per set when ordering two or more.
    Online: click here
    Phone: 1-888-833-1412

  • Cover exposed ground with rough surfaced rocks.

  • Lay lattice fencing on the ground prior to planting, then plant flowers and seeds in the openings.

5.  Make an Outdoor Litterbox

A sandbox will tend to be an attractive place for cats to do their thing. Take a very large Rubbermaid plastic container and fill it with regular "kiddie sand box" sand. If you can, put a couple of pieces of the cats' poop in it to attract them. The cats will enjoy digging in the fine sand and will shift to using it. Scoop occasionally and once a month or so, dump and replace the sand.

If you want to be extra neat, use a large Rubbermaid storage container for the box, filling the bottom with several inches of sand. Then cut a door in one of the sides, above sand level and approximately 8 x 8 inches. Keep the container covered.

To be even neater, take the Rubbermaid storage container, turn it upside down and cut a hole in the side. Place a normal litterbox with regular litter inside the container.

Another method is described by Audrey Boag of the Rocky Mountain Alley Cat Alliance: "For caretakers in the right circumstances, cats love a pile of peat moss (4 feet square, 8 inches deep) in a corner of the yard, replaced once a month or so. It's very cheap, easy to handle and dispose of, keeps the smell down, and is far more attractive than the neighbor's garden."