12 Ways to Make a Cat-Friendly Garden

cat in garden

Cat owners know these two things well–– cats believe they are in charge, and cat owners are actually more like cat attendants. And it’s not unusual for cat attendants to feel the need to create cat-friendly gardens. Here are 12 ways to make a cat-friendly garden to help you get started. 

Some simple but well-considered changes to your garden will enable you to create a cat paradise or, at least, a cat-friendly haven for your favorite feline(s).

And if it’s done right, you’ll find the cat master will allow you to share the space when you’re both outdoors. 

1. Open Space and Sheltered Space

There’s nothing a cat likes more than sunning itself… unless it’s hiding out, enjoying privacy in a place of his or her own.

So, when planning your cat-friendly garden, devote part of it to an open, sunny area where your cat can stretch out and absorb all that warmth. And devote part of it to trees or large shrubs that can provide open-air shelter.

2. Hiding Places

Photo Credit: Pxhere

Indoors or outdoors, cats like to find spots where they are all but invisible.

You can create such a space with a few boards put up in the shape of an open-ended teepee or spend a few dollars on a garden umbrella that can be on its side, anchored into the ground.

Alternatively, you can plant heathers and lavenders in combination. When they mature, your cat will have the ability to make life better by rustling into their own private “forest.” 

3. Plan For Privacy

Any cat-friendly garden is going to be appealing to cats other than your own. To make this a more private garden for just your cats, putting a strip of plastic mesh atop your fencing will be a deterrent for neighborhood cats and will discourage your cat from leaving the garden.

4. Scenic Viewing Spots and Climbing Areas

Cats are big fans of getting a little above the fray and looking down on all they see; the scenes of Mufasa and Simba from The Lion King got that right.

For your own Mufasa’s pleasure, you might want to provide an area with several height options, perhaps with some different sized logs or perhaps putting together a frame made of fence panels.

These additions will add to the friendliness of your cat garden. 

5. Cat Scratch Fever

Photo Credit: Sandy Schultz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Unless your cat is declawed–– in which case you probably don’t want to risk outdoor adventures–– they will scratch. They love sharpening their claws, and scratching has the bonus of leaving their personal scent on the area scratched.

Ornamenting the garden with surfaces on which the cat can scratch is essential. Left to their own devices, cats will scratch on climbing structures, trees, and fencing. So to preserve them, dot the landscape with scratching posts, pieces of cardboard, or bits of wood to make suitable scratching areas.

If you tie these wood or logs together with sisal rope, your cat will find the rope itself cat-scratch worthy. 

6. Watering Holes

Given their druthers, most cats would drink from puddles, but those can be dirty and/or polluted, so adding a water source is an excellent idea.

A fountain or a pond will appeal to your cat, and if you have a pond with fish, you can install a net just under the water’s surface to keep your cat from getting at the fish.

In a smaller space, you might want to turn to a circulating bowl to keep the water flowing. By running the water continuously, it will discourage mosquitoes while giving your cat easy access to flowing water. Most pet stores can provide cat water fountains, some of which can be used outdoors.

7. Kitty Toys

Have a cat? You need cat toys, even in an outdoor space like a cat-friendly garden. Cats are like their humans in that they need both physical and mental exercise to be at the top of their game.

Getting that workout in the form of toys will reinforce the cat’s best habits and will leave your cat less apt to having behavioral problems like aggression during playtime and scratching at surfaces you want to keep pristine.

The best cat toys will engage the cat’s natural instincts of chasing, pouncing, scratching and climbing. Almost anything that can be attached to a string and batted at makes for an item of play. Attach the string to low-hanging spots around the garden and when the wind blows, your cat will have something to bat at and chase.

Some types of toys to consider for this outdoor paradise include balls, wands and cardboard boxes.

8. Toilet Options

Photo Credit: Natasa Ivancev / Canva Pro / License

Most cats who spend time both indoors and outdoors will learn to use the indoor litter box without much fuss. That doesn’t mean that they will be indoors when nature calls, however.

You and your cat can get by with a regular litter box, but you might not like the look of that. There are options if a litter box isn’t to your liking.

One option is to carve out a space in which to recess the litter box so that it doesn’t stand out. Another option is to conceal a litter box inside a large box or container that is part of the garden, giving your cat the privacy cats like when doing their business. Putting a concealed litter box under a bush or in an otherwise hidden area will add to the sense of privacy.

While you can use regular cat box filler, other options include wood chips or sand.

And if there are areas you’d prefer your cat not convert into a private bathroom, you can lay down some wire mesh under the dirt, sand, mulch or compost. That will serve as a deterrent and will encourage your cat to use the restroom you’ve provided.

9. Catnip Central

We’ve gotten all this way talking about a cat-friendly garden without talking about plants with which to populate the space. That ends now. 

We’ll start with catnip because, well, cats love themselves some catnip. Known scientifically as nepeta cataria, catnip can be grown in sunny areas with well-drained soil. This plant, a member of the mint family, has essential oils which tend to bring out euphoria in cats.

Other plants in the same family, cat grass (Dactylis Glomerata) and catmint (Nepeta Mussinii) will do much the same. Both can serve as edging or ground cover.

In the case of all three, most cats will chew on it, roll around in it, and lie in it, depending on their mood.

10. Plants to Avoid

While catnip and its family members tend to move cats into the euphoria zone, there are a whole slew of plants that shouldn’t find their way into your cat-friendly garden. Some are poisonous, some can have thorns and spikes that might be eaten, and some can be skin irritants.

Stay away from these plants, at least in your cat garden:

  • Alstroemeria
  • Brugmansia
  • Conium
  • Daffodil
  • Daphne
  • Euphorbia
  • Foxglove
  • Hemlock
  • Henbane
  • Laburnum
  • Lily
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Morning Glory
  • Oleander
  • Nightshade, woody and deadly
  • Poppy
  • Potato
  • Rhododendron
  • Ruta
  • Tomato
  • Yew

11. Create a Chemical-Free Zone

Gardening and chemicals go together, and have done so for millennia. But many of those chemicals are dangerous to cats, so doing what you can to create a buffer against chemicals will produce the best kind of cat-friendly garden.

Stay away from as many pesticides and weed-and-feed products as possible. And while organic pesticides are good for what they do on behalf of the land, they may harm cats if they brush up against it, then lick it off.

Other chemicals to avoid:

  • Slug pellets. Unless the product says it is safe around cats, slug pellets are toxic to cats.
  • Insect and rodent bait. Good for what they do, but bad for your cat.
  • De-icing salts. There’s a chance your cat will walk through it, then lick it off their paws.
  • Bleach, detergents, and household cleaners.
  • Fertilizers. Most of these can lead to health problems, including vomiting, bowel obstruction, labored breathing, and cardiac arrest with your cat.
  • Flea and tick medication designed for dogs. These include pills, collars, sprays and shampoos.

12. The No-Go Zone Option

Helichrysum Italicum
Photo Credit: Gertjan van Noord / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

If you don’t want to give your yard totally over to your cat, there are options that will tend to keep your cat engaged elsewhere.

You can find a segment of your yard and plant Plectranthus Caninus, (better known as the scaredy cat plant) or aromatic herbs like lavender, rosemary, or curry (Helichrysum Italicum), which some–– but not all–– cats will dislike and show their dislike by staying away.

Cat-Friendly Tips to Keep in Mind 

  • If your cats are going to spend lots of time outside, it’s important that you provide regular flea and tick treatments for them.
  • In your garden, keep all tools and chemicals like herbicides and fertilizers stored safely away.
  • When mowing, using the leaf blower or an electric or grass edger, herd the cats into the house. Those tools are fine for what they do, but they can spit out debris that could hit and hurt the cats, and they won’t be tempted to run around you while you’re doing the kind of work that could see them injured.
  • If you have a swimming pool, keep it covered when not actively using it. As for garden pools where fish live, place wire mesh just under the surface of the water to keep the cats away from the fish.
  • And remember that cats are carnivorous. Your cat-friendly garden may be friendly to birds, too, so remember to keep them safe. Some options include bird houses or bird feeders placed where cats can’t reach them. Another is a bell attached to the cat’s collar, which will raise the alarm so the birds can get out of harm’s way.    

Connect With Local Pros

You’re going to want to make your cat-friendly garden look as beautiful as possible, both for your favorite feline and for your own pleasure. Parts of the design and layout can be a DIY project, but you may want to talk to a pro.

A local landscaping professional may have ideas that haven’t crossed your mind and has the skill and expertise to do those things you might not be up for.

And you might want to bring aboard a lawn care professional who can keep grass and plants tidy, making it a less inviting place for fleas, ticks and other pests that will make life uncomfortable for your favorite feline. 

Main Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures

John Hickey

John Hickey

John Hickey, contributing writer at LawnStarter, has been around sports as a writer and blogger since the earth was young. He's worked at the Oakland Tribune and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, for AOL/FanHouse and Sports Illustrated. As he writes this, he looks out his window and sees a lawn badly in need of mowing.