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last updated Oct 30, 2013
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Garden moggy

Cats are much-loved pets but they can be the bane of gardeners, whose plots they use as toilet areas.

What are cats? Back to top

Cats are familiar pets that roam freely through gardens.

Symptoms Back to top

Where cats frequent gardens you will likely notice one or more of the following problems:

  • Holes are scraped in flower and vegetable beds to bury excrement but sometimes it is deposited on lawns or paths
  • Tomcats scent-mark their territories by spraying urine, which can scorch foliage
  • Damage to the bark of trees and shrubs, caused by cats sharpening their claws, is another form of territorial marking
  • Cats have a habit of sunbathing in inconvenient places, crushing plants in the process
  • Problems are most severe in high-density housing areas, where cats are numerous and gardens small
  • Some cats are serial killers of garden birds and small mammals

Controls Back to top

Cats roam freely through their territories and are too agile to be excluded by fencing or netting. However:

  • Netting may be effective in keeping cats away from small areas within the garden
  • Flower borders densely planted with perennials are less appealing as toilet areas – no bare soil to scratch
  • Keep seed rows well watered as cats dislike wet soil, preferring loose, dry earth and mulch
  • Use one or more of the cat deterrents on the market. They fall into two groups: repellents that offend the cat's sense of smell or taste, and electronic scaring devices. Neither type causes harm to animals


  • Products include: pepper powder (Bayer Pepper Dust), naphthalene (Vitax Scent-Off), aluminium ammonium sulphate (Bayer Cat-a-Pult, Growing Success Cat Repellent, Vitax Stay Off) and methyl nonyl ketone (Vapet Get Off). Such repellents give only short-term protection and need frequent re-application. Remove any cat excrement before use
  • A cat repellent plant, Plectranthus ornatus in RHS Plant Finder but sold under the names of 'Scaredy Cat' or Coleus canina, is available from some garden centres or by mail order. The foliage produces an unpleasant smell when touched. This plant can be grown out of doors in the summer, but needs frost protection in winter

Electronic devices

  • These can be purchased in garden centres or by mail order, so look for advertisements in The Garden and other gardening magazines
  • Most produce ultrasonic sound (barely audible to human ears) when triggered by a motion sensor. Some cats flee when they come within range, while others, perhaps the more dominant local cats, hold their ground and carry on regardless
  • The best results are in open gardens where the ultrasound is not baffled by shrubs or fences
  • Place the speaker at one end of the garden as sound travels away from the device in the direction it is facing

Quick facts

Common name: Cats
Scientific name: Felis catus
Plants affected: Flower beds and vegetable gardens
Main symptoms: Excrement left on the soil surface or partly buried, often with a pungent smell
Most active: All year round