have a problem in my garden.  The suspects who wreak havoc on my vegetable gardens are furry, have tails and whiskers.  On the surface, they are very cute, but wild on the inside and shy away from contact with humans, except for the neighbor who feeds them.

Now before we go further, I must tell you that I like cats – a lot.  I don’t mind them in my backyard and enjoy watching them stretch out in the sun on a winter’s day or enjoying the filtered shade from my trees in summer.  What I don’t like is that they use my raised vegetable beds as a litter box.

To help deter them, I added a motion control sensor that is attached to my hose, which sprays anything that gets too close to the garden (including me if I forget to turn it off before working in the garden).  This has helped, but there is still half of the garden that the cats continue to use as a toilet.  Not a place I want to grow vegetables.

I had done research on plants that may repel cats, and the herb ‘rue’ (Ruta graveolens) kept coming up.  The problem was, I had a hard time finding it as it’s an old-fashioned herb, and isn’t used much anymore.  

Nursery visits have become more frequent for me lately as I am preparing for a visit from a magazine and a wedding that will be held in out backyard.  So, I’ve been giving my garden a little more attention, and that means plant shopping!

While I was browsing through the aisles at the nursery, I spotted a tray filled with rue plants.  I must admit that I could hardly contain my delight and bought seven without a second thought.  Of course, I also came home with several other plants for the garden too.

I was so thrilled to have found some rue and have a chance to see if it would keep the cats out of the garden.  The dried leaves from rue are also purported to keep cats away, so I can harvest the leaves and use them in other areas if I need to.

The plant itself is attractive with lacy foliage, and the leaves smell just fine to me – cats just don’t like it – hopefully.

I am somewhat hopeful that this will do the trick, but I am also a bit cautious as not all surefire solutions work.  I’ll be sure to let you know if it works to keep the cats out of the vegetable garden.

**Have you ever had a problem with cats in your garden?  What did you do to get rid of them?

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

19 replies
  1. ladyhawthorne
    ladyhawthorne says:

    I cover my raised beds with chicken wire until I plant, that keeps the cats out for a while. I have use orange peels and they work for a very short time. I like the idea of planting plastic forks, tines up but it’s not very pretty. Let us know how the rue works for you!

  2. Cheryl Ann
    Cheryl Ann says:

    My neighbor HATES cats and she threatened the 2 feral kittens that a mother cat had a year ago with a shotgun. I reported her to Animal Control and they came out and had a little “chat” with her. She CANNOT shoot a shotgun and she certainly can’t kill the cats. We live within city limits and that sort of thing isn’t allowed.

    Just keep scaring them off. They’ll get the message.

  3. Mary G. M.
    Mary G. M. says:

    I have had a problem with squirrels digging in my large pots and flower beds. I have used the chicken wire method for more than 15 years now with very much success. They don’t like to catch their feet in the wire. Lay the pieces of chicken wire flat across the soil. You may be able to cover it with some mulch too, if you want it to look nicer.
    I also worked in a Garden Nursery for a while. They used to sell cocoa shell mulch in bags that they recommended for cats problems. The shells are kind of prickly and they don’t like it. And is DOES have a cocoa smell. Also any trimmings from a prickly shrub, like roses or holly for example, will work. Just lay the branch clippings across the soil. Maybe just start with laying it in the pathways & see how it goes. The cats will just go elsewhere. Good Luck

  4. Diana Elizabeth
    Diana Elizabeth says:

    I did not even think of cats in the garden! I was thinking maybe we had rats or something eating our goodies. Hmmmmmm!! PS – I can’t seem to find the comment link to your post when on the main URL, have to open up the post to see it.

  5. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello Mary,

    Thank you so much for sharing your helpful hints. I’ve used chicken wire in the past in regular garden beds and it has worked well. Unfortunately, it’s not practical for a vegetable garden when you need to sow seeds and pull out ripe veggies later. I wouldn’t mind a cocoa-scented vegetable garden though 😉

  6. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hi Cheryl,

    Oh goodness…I am glad that she now knows that she can’t shoot those poor cats. Our feral cats are rather brave and scaring hasn’t worked too well. I’ve taken to letting my little dog out in the backyard from time to time and that has helped.

  7. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hi Helen,

    We caught 3 cats that way, but then the neighbor began to feed them and we went weeks without catching one. I do like to see them in the garden as I really do like cats, just not pooping in my garden.

  8. Amanda S.
    Amanda S. says:

    The only cats that come through my yard are the occasional bobcat from the nearby McDowell Mountain preserve. But that’s pretty rare, haha! I am having a frustrating pest problem though — very large weeds that have been allowed to grow up through several of my texas sage bushes. They are really hard to remove once they’ve been allowed (by a previous homeowner) to flourish inside the ball shape of the sage.

    I recently did a major prune of the sages and want to allow them to grow back with a natural shape. But the well-established weeds are growing back too and seem to have a pretty robust root system that is intertwined with the sage at this point. Any suggestions on how to kill the weed without killing the sage? Thanks!

  9. Lace Faerie
    Lace Faerie says:

    I’ve used citrus peels to keep neighbor’s cat from using my raised beds as a litter box. Unfortunately, it isn’t a long lasting solution. My daughter has had success using a costco size carton of ground black pepper to keep the cats away from her veggie patch and I successfully used black pepper to ward off a skunk that was stubbornly intent on digging under my house’s foundation.

    I used a sprayer bottle of water to which I added an entire bottle of peppermint extract to spray the window sills and thresholds of my father’s home to keep the spiders out last autumn and it really worked! I wonder how cats feel about mint!?!

  10. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hi Amanda,

    It can be very difficult to get rid of weeds that have been allowed to grow through established shrubs. Because of your location, I suspect that you have desert broom growing within your shrubs. The only way to get rid of it is to dig it out, which may not be feasible if its base is intertwined with your shrubs. The best thing would probably be to simply manage it by pruning the weed back at its base every month or so. I wish there was a better way, but you should be able to keep it under control this way. I hope this helps.

  11. Amanda S.
    Amanda S. says:

    Thank you Noelle! We trimmed the weeds back down to their wood nubs (yes, they were THAT big) and spent some time trying to dig out the roots but discovered exactly what you mentioned about them being intertwined with the sage roots. We’ll keep on top of it with regular pruning now that we can at least see where the weeds end and the shrub begins. Thanks again for the response.

  12. Kate
    Kate says:

    Hi, I know this is going back a bit, but I just found this post about using rue to deter cats. We have a cat problem as well in our garden and I was wondering if the rue worked?

  13. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello Kate,

    I wish that I could say that it worked well, but it didn’t. What did work was having a motion-detector sprinkler that went off when the cats got near my garden. You can find them on Amazon.

    I hope this helps!

Comments are closed.