Keeping cats out of the vegetable garden (by a cat lover)

Growing up, we had dogs. But later in life, my family adopted a stray cat where the owner was nowhere to be found. And ever since I have enjoyed having a cat as a companion. And Dasiy is today a full member of our family.

This does not, however, mean that I tolerate cats using my garden as a backup litter box. And as feral cats are curious, I have, over the years, used 3 different methods to keep cats away from my herb and vegetable garden beds.

This article will explain three methods that are proven to work. We will also debunk some common myths you may have heard about.

3 sure-to-work methods to keep cats off garden beds for good

These methods achieve a good balance between results while keeping cats out of harm’s way. The difference between the methods comes down to cost and how easy they are to implement.

And even if you are less concerned about the cat's welfare, please try these methods first, as they do work and are often cheaper to implement than buying commercial solutions like cat deterrent sprays.

1. Cover ground with chicken wire

My favorite method and the cheapest to implement.

Cover your garden bed with a layer of chicken wire and fix it to the sides or use stakes. Your plants will grow through the chicken wire, but cats cannot dig the ground.

Cats do not like garden beds covered with chicken wire
Cat hesitates to enter garden bed with chicken wire

This method is simple to implement, last several seasons, and does the same job as a cat scat mat at a fraction of the cost.

Effect: Works great and is easy and inexpensive to implement

2. Cover garden beds with bird netting

Covering your garden beds with bird netting or chicken wire is a more costly but effective way to keep cats away.

I have found bird netting more effective as cats seem weary of getting caught. The net is soft and does not invite climbing.

Do not feed visiting cats, and please keep bird food off the ground. Cats are hunters and there is no reason to invite them into your garden.

On the other hand, chicken wire is sturdy and can entice feral cats to climb the structure.

As a bonus, bird netting and chicken wire keep other unwanted predators like squirrels and birds at bay.

Effect: Works great; however more costly and takes more work to implement. Bonus, it keeps other predators away

3. Motion-activated sprinkler

I have only seen this method at my friend’s house, but it has proven very effective.

Cats do not like a sudden spurt of water; when triggered, the sprinkler will squirt a small amount of water toward the trespasser.

The method is effective but also more costly to implement. And besides getting wet (yes, you will get wet), you may find that you overwater certain plants if covering a heavily trafficked spot.

Effect: Works great but can be costly and complicated to set up.

Things that give temporary relief at best

There is a lot of advice on keeping cats away that does not work or gives short-lived relief. Here is a list of some of the most common.

1. Forks, toothpicks, and other spiky implements

Placing chopsticks, toothpicks, or forks with tines up all over your garden is one of the more popular methods on the internet.

But cats push them aside unless you anchor them solidly into the ground. And placing them too far apart will have no effect, as cats are gracious and seem to love finding their way.

You may also find yourself chasing plastic forks around your garden for a long time.

Effect: none to limited

2. Covering the ground with eggshells

Covering garden beds with egg shells has no effect, as the shells crumble under the weight of most adult-sized cats.

Effect: none

3. Growing strong-smelling plants

I grow garlic, aromatic herbs, the Limoncello variety of lemon balm, lavender, and other so-called cat-deterring plants.

Cat relaxing in a garden bed full of garlic plants
Cat relaxing among garlic plants

When I take out our indoor – and sometimes in the garden cat – for a walk, these plants cause her no discomfort.

Effect: none

4. Mixing cat deterrent spray

Homemade cat deterrent sprays do work but not for very long. Most recipes call for vinegar, lemon juice, and water. And the mixture does not have to smell strong to work, as cats have very sensitive noses.

But unless you plan to spray your garden several times daily, this fix will not do much for you. The scent evaporates, and you need to start all over again.

Effect: temporary, if any at all

However, vinegar and water mixtures can be a great way to keep cats away from certain pieces of furniture. Place a small container with your mixture and watch your cat find other places to play.

5. Lemon or citrus peels among your plants

Lemon and citrus peels do give off a scent that cats dislike. And placing peels across your garden beds may seem like a great idea. But don’t.

Cat next to Limoncello (lemon balm) plant
Cat comfortably around Lemon Balm plants

The scent disappears quickly, leaving your garden with old, rotting citrus peels. And if you are unlucky, they attract all kinds of pests and flies as they mold and rot.

Effect: temporary, if any at all

6. Place prickly branches on the garden bed

Cats are excellent at navigating through hazardous areas with a grace few humans can imagine. And prickly branches can keep cats away if placed densely to cover every open spot.

But remember, you also need access to your garden bed. Do you want to deal with prickly branches every time you garden?

So yes, this method can work, but I feel it is too impractical when more straightforward and effective methods exist.

Effect: can work but not practical

7. Covering the garden bed with pine needles and pine cones

This method does not work. And again, I speak from experience.

We have an abundance of pine needles and cones where I live. And pine needles are one of my favorite mulches.

And I have not seen that pine needles or pine cones have any deterring effect on feral cats.

Cat restring in a garden bed full of pine needles and pine cones
Not too worried about pine needles and pine cones

Effect: none

Worried about pH levels and that pine needles will make your soil acidic? The pine needles are pH neutral by the time they are broken down and incorporated into the soil. I have used pine needles as mulch successfully for years and here is a source that explains how it works. 

Summary and my recommended method to keep feral cats away

There are many ways to keep cats off your garden beds. But the most talked about solutions you read about online does not work for lasting success.

If you are looking for an effective and inexpensive solution, nothing beats covering your garden bed with chicken wire.

Cats like to dig before they poop, and the chicken wire will prevent feral cats from turning your garden bed into a litter box.

Mattias Magnusson: Hello, I'm Mattias, a passionate and experienced gardening enthusiast. I am the creator of, your guide to year-round herb and veggie growing. Let's simplify green living, no matter your space or location.