Plant questions and answers! This week: Neighborhood cats are using my garden as a litter box. How do I stop them? Good question! (Ask your plant or gardening question.)
There are a variety of reasons to keep cats out of garden beds. First off, their waste is very acidic and changes the chemical composition (PH) of the soil. Excessively acidified soil can kill plants, and if you’re growing vegetables, you also don’t want the increased risk of bacterial contamination in your finished product. Second, when cats are digging around in your nicely cultivated topsoil, they often disturb seeds and uproot seedlings that you’ve planted. Naughty kitties! But they’re just doing what they do, and you’ve given them some nice fluffy soil to do it in, so, now to find a way to encourage them to take their business somewhere else.
Cats are very clever (I have three, so I know this as truth!) Even if you do devise a way to keep cats out of your garden, it might work for a while, but one cat or another will figure out how to defeat it and then the game’s over. So here are a few ways I discourage the little poopers:
Plant A Stick Forest – This is probably the most successful technique I’ve found for keeping cats from digging up my new transplants. It’s pretty simple… just plant your transplants and gently pack down the soil. Gather several handfuls of 6-inch long twigs (just junk twigs from trees will work perfectly) and jab them randomly into the ground around your transplants. Space them 2 to 3 inches apart and make sure they’re securely in the ground. Cats don’t like the feeling of the sticks on their paws and will go find somewhere else to do their business. (For potted plants that are getting mauled by cats, I’ll sometimes create a “Toothpick Forest.”)
Deer Net – You may have seen this mesh in the garden section. It is made out of fine strands of plastic that are hooked together in 1×1-inch squares. It’s typically used as a netting to put around or drape over plants to protect them from foraging deer. If you’re growing plants that won’t have stalks that get larger than 1 inch in diameter, you can set a strip of this netting down on the ground after you plant your seed. The seedlings will grow through the net, but cats won’t like the feeling of the net when they try to dig. For seedlings or plants that will get stalks larger than 1 inch in diameter, you can place the weed net on the ground beside and between the plants. Or if you have some hoop stakes, you could even drape the net over your whole row until the plants are large enough to withstand any cat attacks. 😉
Leaf Mulch – I don’t just say mulch, because not any old mulch will work. In fact, quite the opposite… Some materials used for mulch (bark-o-mulch comes to mind) are cat magnets instead of cat deterrents. I’ve found that cats don’t really like leaf mulch, though. It could be that the bottom layers get compacted and are less pleasant to dig in, or maybe the crackling noise of the top leaves is annoying, I’m not sure, but wherever I put the leaf mulch, the cats seem to avoid (for the most part). Also, the mulch is good for holding moisture in the soil. And next year, when you turn in the old composted mulch, it makes your soil better… so why not mulch?!
I hope that some combination of these works for you! Good luck!