Cats In The Garden: Triumphs and Challenges

Cats In The Garden

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Do you have cats in your garden? I do. In fact, I have a few cats who love to spend time in the gardens surrounding my house, and none of them belong to me…technically.

Like many neighborhoods, mine has a feral cat population, and we have had cats come and go – we’ve even had kittens born behind my purple lilac vines. As you might expect, I’ve faced some challenges with cats in the garden, but have recently had several triumphs.

my vegetable garden

Several years ago, the number of strays in the neighborhood increased due to our neighbor feeding them and some of them began to use my vegetable garden as their toilet. 

My attempt to solve the problem was to plant the herb rue, which supposedly had cat-repelling properties. The local cats didn’t know that as I kept finding little ‘gifts’ in the vegetable garden.

After the rue didn’t work, I purchased a motion-controlled sprinkler head, which went off whenever the cats got too near, and that worked quite well at keeping them away. However, it also would go off whenever any of us walked too close to the veggies.

So last year, I decided to try a fine mesh garden netting to cover the vegetable garden with excellent results. It also had a welcome side benefit of decreasing caterillars because the moths couldn’t get in to lay their eggs.

My pots were also a make-shift litter box for my furry visitors. However, this was quickly rectified by placing paver stones on the bare spots in-between my plants, and they also served to cool the soil and preserve moisture in the pots.

my sister's cat, 'Scissors.

What is it about cats and pots? This is my sister’s cat, ‘Scissors.’

'roof cats.'

Do you have roof rats? I don’t. I have ‘roof cats.’ Or, cats that like to take refuge underneath my solar panels. Of course, they make sure that I don’t have any rats lurking about.

Cats In The Garden

For the past year, I have three cats who we have adopted. Of course, the cats don’t know that we’ve adopted them. What they do know is that the orange tree is wonderfully shady in the morning, the patio is blessedly cool on a hot summer’s day, and a picnic table is a great spot to gather with your friends. We don’t feed them, but they are healthy and happy.

One of our regulars visiting with our desert tortoise, Aesop.

One of our regulars visiting with our desert tortoise, Aesop.

Our family enjoys watching their antics through the window and allow them to enjoy our garden. I find myself smiling when I view them together. We have three regulars, a red tabby, a black and white cat, and a small black one.

Cats In The Garden

It seems that we’ve come to a compromise – they leave my vegetable garden and pots alone and only occasionally use my rose garden as an emergency pit stop. I must say that the simple pleasure we receive from our ‘adopted’ cats is worth it.

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, 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."
7 replies
  1. Diana Elizabeth
    Diana Elizabeth says:

    I needed this post, we have to ferrel cats that have decided our backyard is theirs. They have also napped on our furniture leaving fur (which I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t leave their fur behind and I’m horribly sickly allergic). We had to resort to putting spikes on those chairs wahhhh. But the netting thing, I’m definitely going to look into that. We also have roof cats. They leave presents on the roof and that is not fun at all! But if they start to stay out of my garden and leave their gifts I will be happier to see them in the yard, I look forward to then 🙂 Haha!

  2. Ray
    Ray says:

    Have you considered putting out a litter box for them? I know it would create a little extra work, but at least it would be better than having them use the rest of your garden.

  3. Lori J
    Lori J says:

    One solution that has worked for me for years in a very catty neighborhood (TNR, people!) is laying down the thin wire grids that I think are used to reinforce poured concrete. They come in ‘panels’ about the size of a sheet of drywall, and are found in the masonry section of the big box stores. They are easily cut to size with wire cutters and soon patina from a gray to a suitable dirt color. I lay them on top of my garden beds, and place my seedlings in the squares of the grids. They are nearly invisible in use, and I’ve not had one feline ‘gift’ left in my beds for at least 8 years now. I’ve also attached them to my cinder block walls, and then espalier my grape tomato plants.

  4. Robin Ruff Leja
    Robin Ruff Leja says:

    Like you, I don’t care much for the little gifts that neighborhood cats leave. I’m much more likely to find bird guests in my garden. A few weeks back we had robins, sparrows, and mallard ducks all nesting at once.

  5. Sandy Smith
    Sandy Smith says:

    I meant to leave these suggestions earlier but forgot. Regarding the pots, we found using large egg-sized stones works well if you don’t want to use pavers. Many times the cats are smart and can wiggle around the pavers, if you catch my meaning. A layer or two of stones, provided they’re sufficiently heavy, usually does the trick. About sitting on your chairs? Aside from bringing your cushions into the porch, house or garage, Dr. Foster & Smith makes sheets of sticky tape. Cats absolutely HATE touching that sticky stuff! (It’s how I trained my adopted cat not to scratch on furniture). Could you put the sticky stuff on the reverse side? My other idea is rose branch clippings or bougainvillea branches. I know it sounds mean, but it’s extremely effective. You only have to do it for a several weeks, til kitties get the message.
    PS. There’s always the handy-dandy squirt bottle, if you’re quick! 🙂

  6. Ridaksh
    Ridaksh says:

    We have cats in our neighborhood that pay regular visits to our backyard and garden. Sometimes few cats have also managed to sneak in and I found them fiddling with my cat socks lying on the floor. I keep my doors shut since then but allow them to come and eat and litter in my gardens. My children love watching cats in the garden!

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