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How To Keep Cats Out Of The Garden

Updated on February 22, 2016
Bugsy hanging out in the garden
Bugsy hanging out in the garden

I Like Cats....but

I have always loved cats and had several throughout my childhood. Once I had my own kids, I had to carry on the tradition. We started out with an indoor kitty, but due to allergies, he quickly turned into an outdoor kitty. I also love to garden so now I had a dilemma. Cats and garden soil DO NOT mix. Especially with my cat. My dear kitty has gone to such lengths as to poop in one inch of dirt left behind in one of my plant containers!

So, I naturally called up my mom, my go-to advice giver, who has her own outdoor kitty as well as a gardening hobby. She told me that pepper had been very effective in her garden. I tried it with my own feline. He walked right through it. I searched the web and found the usual "cat deterring" plants I could try to mix in with my regular veggies, as well as citrus peel, essential oil, coffee grounds, tobacco, and even human hair. All of these things required maintenance. If it rained it would have to be done again, if any of it worked at all. And I had serious doubts that they would. Human hair? It sounded a little like voodoo.

There was also the ultrasonic noise maker, which looked promising, but too many of these had negative reviews. The only thing I came across that I figured was a sure thing was the motion sensor water sprayer. While I would love to see this in action, they all seemed to be about $40. Buying a few of these would be over my budget.

Close up of the burlap
Close up of the burlap
Close up of the fabric (or landscape) staples
Close up of the fabric (or landscape) staples

Weed block? Not quite

After talking to my mom again, she suggested weed block. I decided that would be the best option, so I headed off to Home Depot with my husband to buy some square foot gardening supplies - and weed block. Next to the regular week block was something I had never seen before. Burlap! It came in rolls just like the weed block and was four feet wide, which was perfect for my square foot garden. Even better, the burlap manufacturer claimed that seedlings could grow through it and that over time, the burlap would start to decompose on its own, making it better for the environment. Win, win!

I was still a little doubtful this would work but decided to give it a go. We bought all the materials to build our two garden boxes, plus one roll of burlap and a box of fabric (or landscape) staples.

After our garden boxes were put together and filled with dirt, we unrolled the burlap and stapled it to one of the short ends of the garden box to keep the burlap stable. Before pulling the burlap over the box, I planted all the seeds. Then, I covered the box with the burlap and inserted the staples through the burlap and into the soil all along the edges of my garden box. The more staples you put, the less your kitty's head will be able to poke around underneath it and find a way into your soil. We also laid a few long pieces of rebar all along the edges of the box to prevent any cat snooping. I had some plants that had already been started from seed, so in order to put those into my garden box but still maintain the protection of the burlap, I cut a small X in the burlap, pulled back the cut edges, dug a hole in the center of the X where the soil was exposed, placed my plant into the hole, then put the burlap back into its place. To really tamp it down, I suppose you could carefully (because of the plant's roots) push a few more staples around the sliced burlap, but that's something that I haven't bothered with.

Does it Work?

It took a little extra money and effort, but I had high hopes for this new idea we had stumbled upon. After watering the garden boxes, I waited for my curious cat to go digging. Of course he came to check it out, sniffing mightily, walking on it. Cringe. But...after figuring out he could not get to that fresh dirt, he quickly moved on. Now it has been several months since our garden was built and he still has not found a way into that dirt! Needless to say, I am impressed with this stuff!

I had one more concern regarding the burlap, and that was whether or not the seedlings would really make their way out of it and not look gangly and twisted. The burlap has tiny holes in it so I figured it was plausible, but I wanted to see for myself. I had beets, carrots, lettuce, and onions planted. When the beets started sprouting, they appeared to be trapped under the burlap! A few days later, however, once the seedling straightened up and their leaves started growing, they managed to make their way through. There were some stubborn ones that looked like they would rather hang out under there. Luckily, it is easy to gently spread the burlap apart to allow the stubborn ones to come through. They may have eventually made it out but I was impatient for them to be freed.

After being for the most part awesome, the only drawback to the burlap is that it is harder for large leafed seedlings such as cucumber and green beans to come through those little holes. However, it is an easy fix to pull the burlap apart a little or cut a small hole for the seedlings.

Carrot seedlings emerging through the burlap
Carrot seedlings emerging through the burlap
Onion seedlings emerging through the burlap
Onion seedlings emerging through the burlap
Burlap was used in this pot.  Holes were cut in the burlap to place the strawberry plants, then staples and part of a tomato cage were pushed into the burlap for extra protection.
Burlap was used in this pot. Holes were cut in the burlap to place the strawberry plants, then staples and part of a tomato cage were pushed into the burlap for extra protection.

Potted Plants

Burlap also works great for potted plants. Just cut the burlap into a properly sized circle or whatever the shape of your planter is, and place the burlap on top of the soil. Use the same method as with the garden boxes. Either lay the burlap over your seedlings or if you are working with mature plants, cut X shapes in the burlap where you want your plants to go into the dirt. Either way, make sure to use the staples around the edges so that the burlap will stay in place. An added cat deterrent is to cut the bottom part off of a tomato cage and push it through the burlap in your planter. A cat will think twice after getting poked on its bottom!

Another tip to help keep the cats out is to water your plants every other day. Cats will usually avoid water and wet things.

Cat Deterrent Success!

Overall, my experience with the burlap was a success. Here are a few points to remember when considering purchasing it for your garden:

  • There is a little extra cost involved compared to having no cat deterrent, but it may be well worth it.
  • Burlap is bio-degradable, and better for the environment than weed block, which is made of plastic and can last for many years.
  • Weed block will always have to be cut to allow seedlings access to sunlight and water, whereas burlap does not.
  • Small seedlings will come through, but you may need to cut or pull the burlap apart a bit to help large leafed seedlings fully emerge to the surface.
  • Just laying burlap over your garden area will not keep out the cats. You must push several fabric or landscape staples through the burlap all around the edges.
  • I have not had experience using the burlap in rowed gardens, so it may not be as effective. It's definitely worth a try. If you have a rowed garden, more staples may be needed.
  • I have no knowledge of whether burlap is effective against dogs, armadillo, and other garden pests. There may be other deterrents on the market that work better than burlap for these unwelcome guests.
  • Harvesting root vegetables and pulling up spent plants may severely damage the burlap, making it unusable. More burlap should to be purchased to replace the old in order to maintain soil protection.

In conclusion, whether you love cats or hate them, having them in your garden is in no way beneficial. The digging can uproot plants and cat waste can make you, your family, and your plants sick. This idea has worked in our garden. Hopefully, it is something that can help in yours!

Which one of these methods have you tried to keep cats out of the garden?

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