How to Keep Cats Out of Flower Beds the Non-Toxic Way

10 solutions to keep kitties from soiling your soil

cat in front of a flowerbed

The Spruce / Candace Madonna 

Besides their companionship and charm, cats are helpful to the flower garden in that they keep pests like rabbits, voles, and moles away. However, cats can also destroy gardens by digging (and leaving unauthorized deposits), using plants as a soft napping spot, and chewing. Although no direct evidence suggests plants can deter pesky felines, it's worth trying to influence your cat's unwanted behavior with these safe repellents.

Cat Deterrent Scents

Cats have a much better sense of smell than humans. Their sensitive nose figuratively wrinkles around strong scents like citrus, bananas, mustard, pine, menthol, eucalyptus, capsaicin (found in hot peppers), and fresh herbs and aromatics like mint, rosemary, thyme, and lavender.

Safe Cat Repellent Ideas

Try one of these safe odor and physical deterrents, natural cat barriers, or ways to lure cats elsewhere and protect your plants and bedding.

  1. Add Stinky Plants

    Just as there are flowers that attract cats, there are others that drive them away. Flowers with aromatic foliage, like Russian sage and lavender, citronella, and geraniums don’t appeal to cats.

    Flowers with thorns or prickly foliage, like the sea holly, globe thistle, or tropical grevillea, are resistant to cats (and other nibbling animals).

  2. Create a Wall of Thorny Rose Branches

    Old rose branches don’t compost well, but they will make your cat think twice about making a shortcut through your prized dahlia stand. If you only need to temporarily exclude your cats from an area, such as a fresh patch of dirt, cover the canes with mulch afterward to help them break down into the soil.

  3. Set a Motion Sprinkler

    What can you do when the offending cats aren’t yours to train but are a group of marauding neighborhood cats or a feral population? A motion-triggered sprinkler will act as your sentry 24 hours a day.

    The upside of using a sprinkler like the ScareCrow or the Havahart Spray Away is that your flowers will get a drink whenever an uninvited visitor approaches. The downside is that you will get sprinkled if you forget to deactivate the device before you go out to pull weeds.

  4. Create a Tape Barrier

    Tape is nontoxic, cheap, and uses the element of surprise to deter cats. Placing tape balls made of masking tape or duct tape on the soil is an effective strategy for urns or window boxes that the cat has turned into a lookout post. The first time or two the cat deals with these annoying cling-ons, it will be much less likely to jump up, as it cannot preview its landing spot.

  5. Make a Floral Wire Deterrent

    A group of bamboo sticks planted here and there will deter cats from settling down to nap on your petunias, but the green floral wire is less visible, saving your garden from the appearance of a punji jungle pit trap.

    Cut heavy gauge floral wire into 10-inch pieces, and insert at regular intervals in seedbeds, window box perches, and anywhere cats like to laze and dwell. This method is slightly less effective on plants cats relish, like nepeta (catmint).

  6. Use Bird Netting

    You can anchor sheets of plastic bird netting over newly planted beds to prevent cats from digging in freshly worked soil. You can also lay strips of netting between plants to stop digging activities.

    Although chicken wire gives the same effect, it is more expensive and challenging to work with than bird netting.

  7. Use Hot Pepper Spray

    When a kitty decides that your azaleas make an excellent digestive aid, it’s time to go on the offense. After all, azaleas and many other favorite garden flowers like baby’s breath, nicotiana, and lilies are toxic to cats.

    Use hot pepper spray to deter cats with its spicy taste and odor. Some gardeners like to make a spray with peppers they grow, but commercial varieties can have more sticking power due to waxes in the formula.

  8. Attract Cats Elsewhere With a Cat Garden

    A semi-shaded garden bed with a soft mulch of grass clippings can make your cat forget it ever made goo-goo eyes at your roses. Fill this kitty Garden of Eden with safe edibles, including cat grass, catmint, or pansies.

  9. Lure Cats Away With a Sandbox

    Like the cat garden, a sandbox isn’t a deterrent but a lure to give cats a new place to dig. Assemble a simple bottomless box from 2 by 4 lumber cut to the size that will accommodate your size and number of cats. Fill with playground sand, and top off as needed.

    Although it lures cats away, be aware of its downside; it'll become another litter box that needs continual cleaning.

  10. Commercial Cat Repellent

    Commercial sprays and deterrents like Bitter Apple products act as a taste deterrent rather than a complete repelling agent around plants. The product is not rainproof, but it also works on house plants that cats like to nibble on, like orchids.