January 22, 2015

Don’t get me wrong: I like cats—especially farm cats. They’re extremely adept at catching mice, voles, moles and other pesky critters. However, outdoor cats can be quite troublesome to the garden. They catch and kill beneficial, pest-eating songbirds and love to use freshly tilled garden soil as a litter box. Cat urine certainly has a bothersome odor, but more importantly, the salts and nitrogen in it can easily burn plant foliage and roots. Not to mention that their fecal matter can contain nasties like roundworms, parasitic nematodes and Toxoplasma gondii (the parasite that causes the disease Toxoplasmosis).

Keeping kitty out of the garden whenever possible is a good idea. However, this is a task that’s often easier said than done. There are, however, a few clever ways to prevent cats from using your garden as a waste disposal site.

1. Motion-Activated Sprinklers

These devices, such as the Scarecrow by Contech (available through Amazon.com, Petco.com and others), can be hooked up to your garden hose. They send a sharp burst of water whenever motion is sensed in the area, scaring away cats, dogs, deer and even sneaky teenagers. The downside is that they don’t work in the winter when water lines are frozen.

2. Motion-Activated Ultrasonic Device

These little gadgets emit a high-frequency sound whenever movement is sensed in the area, sending cats elsewhere. People can’t hear the sound, but cats can. Most brands are battery operated, so it’s important to change the batteries every few months to keep the device operational. CatStop is one common brand that’s available from retailers, including Amazon.com and others.

3. Physical Barrier

Because cats like to dig before they “go,” laying a sheet of chicken wire or bird netting over the soil will keep them from digging up the garden. Be sure to pin it in place with landscape pins to keep the cats from shuffling it out of their way. You can cut holes through the netting and plant right through it, or just lay strips of chicken wire around the perimeter of the garden. Most cats don’t like walking over it either.

4. Natural Deterrents

Some folks say that citrus peels, black pepper powder and crushed cayenne will eliminate cat problems. They believe that spreading these items out in areas frequented by cats, sends them packing. I haven’t had much success with these solutions myself, but I do know a few gardeners who swear by them. Be aware that you’ll need to replace the items regularly to aid in their effectiveness.

5. Spray or Granular Deterrents

There are numerous commercial products available that are marketed as cat repellents; some are labeled for use indoors and others for out. I prefer the granular formulations to the spray ones, as they tend to last longer and are, in my opinion, easier to use. Simply sprinkle the granules either in the cats’ preferred “potty area” or around the perimeter of the entire garden. Some are also labeled for repelling dogs and other animals. Different brands have different ingredients. Some are made from essential oils and plant products, such as hot peppers, while others contain predator urine (such as coyote or fox) and other ingredients. Shake-Away is one popular brand, as are Critter Ridder, Boundary, Scram and Keep Off. Please be sure to follow all label instructions carefully so no animals are harmed. Also, keep poultry and livestock away from the area to prevent accidental ingestion.

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