How to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard

Cat on a fence

They love your yard. They are lounging on the freshly cut grass, digging in your flower beds (and leaving gifts for you in the dirt), and they are stalking the areas around the bird feeders. Outdoor cats can take over your lawn space.

“Cats may be attracted to a particular yard or area as a result of the resources that are there,” says Jocelyn Strassel, an applied animal behaviorist at the nonprofit MSPCA-Angell in Boston, the second-oldest humane society in the United States. “If the resources are plentiful and readily available to them, they may start coming around more frequently.”

No one wants to hurt any animals, but there are plenty of reasons to deter them, including cats. For example, cats’ fundamental nature as predators makes them unwelcome guests if you’ve turned your backyard into a certified wildlife habitat. Or you may be allergic to cats. Or you simply don’t like cat poop in your fall bulb garden.

Whatever the reason, the overall solution is the same. “To deter any cats from choosing your yard to begin with,” Strassel says, “you can make the environment less appealing to them.”

Cats used to live completely outdoors and help reduce the rodent population around farms, homes, and businesses. But then, someone invented kitty litter, and the rest is history. Cats became, for the most part, “inside” pets.

But some purely “outside” cats remain. Other owners allow outside access to their indoor cats, and they can also claim a stake in your yard. A population of stray cats still live within communities and call no one house their home. These feral cats are usually not socialized to people.

If you are not keen on putting a feral cat on your payroll, and you just want to keep them out of your yard, here are steps to take:

Cat Repellents Based on Plants, Odors

Should unwanted cats turn your flower bed it into an outdoor litter box:

  • Use scents that deter cats. There are prepackaged products on the market that claim to be stinky to cats  (and other critters, including humans).
  • DIY your own natural cat repellents.
  • Cats seem to dislike the scent of orange or lemon, so sometimes scattering lemon peels or other citrus peels can help keep them away. Spraying citrus-scented oils may also do the trick. But rain, snow, or wind can mute the scents, and some cats just won’t be bothered by the smell.
  • Avoid using cayenne pepper, as the ground spice can burn the cat’s tongue or feet when they walk through it. Pepper flakes? They’re OK since they’re less likely to be ingested.
  • Let them smell the coffee beans. Some gardeners have had good luck sprinkling whole coffee beans or coffee grounds among the plants.
  • Blood bank. Blood meal smells terrible, and cats dislike the odor as much as we humans do. Scatter in soft soil areas to keep cats from digging.
  • Rue the day. The rue plant (Ruta graveolens) is a shrubby plant that can grow to around 3 feet and has a scent that cats abhor. Other possible cat-deterring plants include lemon balm, Coleus canina, lemongrass, absinthe, citronella, pennyroyal, rosemary, lavender, and curry herb. Essential oils from these plants can be turned into a spray.

Physical Cat Deterrents

  • Make it ouchy. Scatter pine cones in the mulched areas as a cat deterrent. You could also use office chair runners that have plastic spikes to hold carpet. Place them upside-down in your beds and cover with soil. Remove them when you are working in that area, and replace when you are finished. Or purchase a cat Scat Mat which discourages the digging. You could also use chicken wire or plastic lattice fencing in the same way.
  • Rock it, baby. Cover the ground with large river rock instead of mulch. It deters cats as well as weeds.
  • Bottle it. “It is also believed that half-filled water bottles placed around the edge of your property or garden may deter cats due to the unpredictable reflections they create,” says Strassel.
  • Give them an alternative. If cats just can’t resist your soft garden beds and are using them for a litter box, give them one that is more attractive. Till a spot of soil that is out of sight, or offer a sandbox that is just right for kitty paws. Rake and clean up the poop regularly to keep them interested.
Cat in a yard
Not everyone has cuddly thoughts toward cats — especially if they do damage to your landscape.

Hang Out the Unwelcome Mat

Don’t let your yard be a hangout for neighborhood cats. Make them unwelcome.

  • Get rid of the gravy train. Take away any food sources.
  • Don’t grow catnip.
  • Cover and secure trash cans where cats can nab a free meal.
  • Monitor bird feeders and place them in an open area where cats can’t stalk and surprise the visiting birds.
  • If your neighbors are feeding feral cats, ask them if they will keep feeding areas away from property lines.
  • Put up a noisemaker and turn the unwanted visitor into a scaredy-cat. Install a high-frequency noise maker to repel cats from gathering on your lawn.
  • Just add water. You can put in a motion-activated sprinkler that will activate with the movement of a cat or other animal.
  • Find cover. If you find paw prints on your lawn mowers or other lawn care products, says Strassel, cover with a less comfy alternative, such as a sheet of chicken wire or an upside-down spiky plastic chair.
  • Bar the door. Always close and lock outdoor sheds, and cover holes or openings with chicken wire or fencing to stop cats from entering. However, make sure there are no cats or litters of kittens inside these areas before closing them to the outside.

If your kitty visitors are truly feral, Strassel suggests reaching out to a local humane group or animal control for help. “There are many non-profit organizations that will assist in managing feral cats in a humane manner. Trap neuter release (TNR) programs have been shown to be effective in decreasing the feral cat population in communities.”

Rosie Wolf Williams

Rosie Wolf Williams

Rosie Wolf Williams has kept bees, grown vegetables and flowers for farmers markets, and never misses an opportunity to have a conversation with an interesting tree.