How To Keep Cats Out of Garden Mulch (10 Safe Ways)

Even if you’re a cat lover, there’s one place you don’t want to see your furry friend, and that’s in your garden! Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, cats love to dig in garden mulch. This can become an even bigger problem when it’s not only your own precious kitty plundering through your tulips and tomatoes, carrots and chrysanthemums, but stray cats who suddenly view your carefully tended garden beds as a feline rest stop.

How to keep these intrepid visitors from destroying your gardens, without resorting to harmful tactics? This article will reveal the many options available for keeping cats out of your garden mulch.

Why are Cats Attracted to my Mulch?

Cats are very inquisitive, somewhat aloof (compared to dogs), and creatures of habit. Add these traits to their natural desire to dig, and you’ve created the perfect storm.

Not only will your own kitty be dying to know what’s so special about your garden bed, that you spend hours at a time tending it, but stray cats may become repeat visitors once they’ve identified the area as non-threatening. And since cats never seem to feel remorse when they’ve displeased their human counterparts, a good scolding is not likely to do the trick.

Mulch areas can become a place for comfort, on a hot day mulch can feel cooler than other surfaces. Along with temperature regulation, mulch beds can attract various insects and rodents making it a really good location for hunting opportunities. Cats are natural hunters, if they know a mice is in the mulch they will go after it!

Unfortunately, along with the desire to dig and hunt, comes the instinct to use the newly turned soil as a litterbox.

So, how can you keep your cat and other out of your mulch beds?

10 Animal-Safe Ways to Keep Cats Out of Garden Mulch

Don’t despair! Try the following tips for making your garden mulch less appealing to cats in search of a place to dig.

1. Use a Top Layer of Pinecones, Holly Leaves, or Thorny Branches

Pinecones, Holly Leaves, or Thorny Branches for cat prevention in garden

Cats have very sensitive paws, and they love soft dirt. It’s not too much trouble for them to dig through most mulch material to get down to the soil, but if you make the top layer a bit uncomfortable, they may give up and go elsewhere. Prickly branches or leaves may make a garden bed less appealing.

A variation on this idea would be a Spiked Scat Mat, which is a lattice type mat with flexible plastic spikes that is laid directly on the mulch around your plants. This model by One Sight is very affordable. It measures 78” x 11” and can be cut into sections to custom fit the area. It won’t hurt your cat’s paws, but stepping on it will be uncomfortable.

2. Use A Natural Cat Repellent Spray

Use A Natural Cat Repellent Spray

Cats have very sensitive noses. A cat has 200 million odor receptors in their olfactory system, compared to humans, who only have 5 million! So, battling cats with scents is a good option. There are many sprays sold in pet stores that can be used as deterrents (marketed for keeping cats from jumping on furniture or scratching carpets) which use a combination of herbal scents and diluted essential oils that cats detest.

There are also products made from predator urine, such as coyote, fox, and bobcats, that come in different forms, including granular pellets that you can sprinkle directly in your garden. These are organic, non-toxic, and won’t hurt your plants.

3. Grow Cat-Repelling Plants

Citronella (Mosquito) Plant for cat prevention

Along the same lines, you can grow certain plants like citronella, lavender, lemon thyme, pennyroyal, and rue, tucked between your flowers and vegetables. An additional benefit is that both rue and pennyroyal also repel certain insect pests. Another plant that is reported to deter cats is Coleus canina, also known as “scaredy-cat plant”. But some users say this plant is too pungent, smelling like skunk spray, so it may not be the right choice for you.

4. Use Rock Mulch Instead

Use Rock Mulch Instead

You may choose to change the type of mulch you’re using. Softer mulches like grass clippings, shredded leaves or newspapers, straw or pine needles won’t deter a determined feline trying to get to that soft dirt underneath – but switching to rock mulch (especially if it has uneven edges) might do the trick. Of course, be aware that rock mulch grows very warm in hot weather, and tender, young plants may not tolerate this at the root level.

5. Use Chicken Wire as a Barrier

utilize chicken wire to deter cats from digging

There are two ways you can utilize chicken wire to deter cats from digging. The first would be when planting your garden.

If you lay a section of chicken wire over your prepared soil, many plants can grow right through it. For larger plants, you can cut spaces. Cats won’t like the feel of the wire against their paws when they try to dig.

The other way to use chicken wire would be to attach it to posts set in the ground at the bed’s corners, making an impromptu fence. To prevent cats from jumping over it, construct it to be at least three feet high. If you’re dealing with a feral cat problem, a temporary fence might do the trick, causing the cats to move on and seek an easier place to dig, at which point you may be able to remove it.

6. Install Motion Activated Sprinklers

Install Motion Activated Sprinklers for cat prevention

This is reported to be one of the most successful methods of keeping cats out of your garden mulch. Most of us know that cats can be trained away from jumping on counters or furniture with a few, well-aimed squirts from a plant mister. You can use the same principle with a hose, of course, but there will be many times that you’re not present when the offending kitty approaches.

Using a motion-activated sprinkler might just do the trick. It’s not so much about the accuracy of the spray, as the element of surprise. Cats hate surprises.

7. Install Motion Activated Lights

Install Motion Activated Lights

Although some cats, especially domesticated cats, may not be consistently deterred by flashing lights, feral cats could well find this terrifying. And even if they persist, if your garden is close enough to the house for you to see the lights come on, you’ll be alerted there’s an animal in the garden and you can take further measures.

8. Make Some Noise

noise to keep cats away in garden

This is a method I currently employ, not only to keep cats away, but also to deter rodents. I use a motion-activated, ultrasonic pest deterrent, which both flashes lights and emits a high-pitched frequency sound, undetectable by human ears. There are many on the market, and I’ve used two different brands successfully. The better ones have dials to fine tune the frequency to certain animal groups, such as small rodents, large rodents, and cats and dogs.

Solar Ultrasonic Animal Repeller - Outdoor Animal Repellent with Motion Detection and LED Flashing Light to Repel Rabbit, Squirrel, Skunk, Cat, Raccoon, Dog, etc.

There are solar-powered models available, which is marvelous! Read the specifications to be sure your garden is far enough away from your home. You don’t want your own pets in your yard to hear it if it goes off. 

Another sound-based deterrent you could consider are wind chimes, which might make a nice addition to your garden, anyway!

9. Add Some Motion

Add Some Motion with aluminum pie pans 

Try hanging disposable, aluminum pie pans on stakes in or near your garden beds. This is an old trick to spook deer that may work on cats, especially feral cats. The reflective lights as the plates catch the sun, combined with the rattling noise they make in the wind as they clatter against the post or each other, might cause enough of a disconcerting atmosphere that the offending kitty moves on.

10. Create a More Welcoming Space Elsewhere

Create a More Welcoming Space Elsewhere

If you absolutely adore cats, don’t mind them being on your property, but just need them to stay out of your garden, you could create a special area (away from your gardens) that caters to things cats like. A sunny, quiet spot, away from dogs and traffic, planted with catnip might turn their heads.

You might even want to dump a bit of soft dirt or sand in that area, to make it their go-to place to go. Be aware you might have to clean up the spot from time to time.

Read our related post “How to Keep Cats from Peeing on Outdoor Furniture?” here.

Cat Deterrents You MUST Avoid

In your quest to make your garden unappealing to cats, you may come across certain methods that are now considered dangerous. Please don’t use any of the following to deter cats from digging in your garden mulch.

  • Red pepper flakes – can cause severe damage to the eyes of any nearby animal or human when blown by the wind.
  • Mothballs – if eaten, mothballs are toxic, and they’re also bad for the environment.
  • Undiluted essential oils – according to the ASPCA, certain essential oils, such as wintergreen, peppermint, pine, eucalyptus, clove, tea tree, citrus (especially those containing d-limonene), ylang-ylang, and cinnamon can be toxic to animals when used full-strength.
  • Wildlife traps – if you suspect the cats in your garden are feral, call the animal services department in your area. Leave trapping to the professionals.

So, there you have it! A variety of solutions to help you keep cats from choosing your garden as their personal sandbox. Just as most things in life, it may require a little patience, and some trial and error before you see results. Just remember, cats are creatures of habit – once you’ve broken the cycle, and trained area cats to avoid your garden, the battle is, for the most part, behind you.

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