How to deter neighbourhood cats from your garden – 7 harmless tips from experts

Annoyed with the neighbour's cat leaving their business in your garden? Animal welfare experts share harmless tips for deterring them

picture of tabby cat in garden near flowers to support harmless tips for how to deter cats from your garden
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Whether you're a cat lover or not, it can be a little frustrating finding their faeces and leftover digging in your garden. So what can you do to divert their attention away from your flower beds and keep them out for good? 

It's all well and good following garden trends but when a cat comes along and digs out your seedlings and goes to the toilet on your freshly planted flower beds, it slightly ruins the result. 

In the same way, you may want to know how to keep pigeons out of your garden, finding gentle harmless ways to deter cats from your outdoor space might save you a headache or two. 

Of course, the cat's health is always the top priority so we asked vets and garden experts for their most effective harmless deterrents that will make cats reconsider visiting your garden without causing them upset. 

How to deter cats from your garden 

It's extremely common for cats to roam around their neighbourhoods and explore different gardens surrounding their homes. Similar to looking to keep foxes out of your garden,  there are personal reasons you may not want the furry visitors making it a habit – especially if you have a dog patrolling the borders.

If this sounds like you, try out some of these expert-recommended tips that will deter any curious cats. 

1. Don't offer them food

picture of cat waiting for food

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Food is the number one reason that animals will visit your home, taking this away is the best first step in warding them off. The same goes when it comes to how to deter rats from your garden

Whilst it may be tempting at first to offer the cat some treats or perhaps a little bowl of milk this will only guarantee a second visit and third and so on.

"This might seem obvious, but be sure to keep garbage cans sealed and avoid composting food scraps in your garden," says Nick Pulsonetti from Excel Pest Services"Even leftover barbecue scraps can be an attractant."  So it's even best to make sure there's no trace of discarded food.

2. Plant aromatic flowers

A great way to deter cats naturally is to use their super-sensitive noses against them. Some of the best fragrant garden plants can double up as feline deterrents if they have a particularly potent smell. 

"I would suggest planting herbs like lavender or rosemary around the perimeter of your garden. Even citrus peels scattered around can be a turn-off, " says Nick. "There are also sprays available with scents that mimic predator urine, which cats naturally avoid".

Turns out there's really no limit to the ways you can use orange peel in your garden. Ensure you know how to prune lavender if you choose to grow it, to keep it under control because it can be a vigorous growing plant.

3. Add mulches on top of soil

garden mulch

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Another non-invasive way of putting cats off your outdoor space is by covering the soil in different types of mulches. 

Speaking to PDSA nurse, Gemma Renwick, she suggests, "Try using mulches such as chippings, small pebbles or twigs to cover the ground, which they often don’t like to walk on. Be cautious of using bark chippings though, as some can contain cocoa shell which is toxic to dogs if eaten in large amounts."

Mulch is also a great way to keep your garden healthy while you're on holiday too, so it's a win-win. 

4. Plant more shrubs

Cats are particularly drawn to large empty expanses of soil so covering any gaps with plants is a great way of minimising the little intruder's interest. You can do this in a number of ways but why not choose alluring plants to liven up your garden?

Gemma recommends planting shrubs and bushes close together as well as incorporating ground plants as these will make it harder for cats to dig in. As discussed above, any remaining empty gaps can be covered in bark which will also deter the cats. 

5. Cover any litter tray alternatives

picture of cat sniffing ground

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This tip may force you to temporarily think like a cat and spot any places in your garden that would make a perfect litter tray alternative. Similar to how you would stop rats from coming into your house, removing an enticing element of your garden like a shelter or a place to do their business is extremely effective. 

"It's a good idea to make sure any children’s sandboxes are covered, as this can look like a big litter tray to visiting cats!" says Gemma. This also applies to empty flower beds, gravel pathways and any sanded areas you may have in your garden. 

If you cannot cover them due to functional or aesthetic purposes then use the previous tip of citrus smells and use a lemon spray on these spots in particular. 

6. Use motion sensor sprinklers

Needing something a little more drastic? Aside from buying ultrasonic animal repellent, which can be famously ineffective, investing in motion sensor sprinklers can be a great idea. 

Tom Clifford, Garden expert at Gardenstone, says, "Install a motion sensor sprinkler within your garden, this will spray a light sprinkling of water when motion is detected and deter cats. The water should be enough to scare the cat away without causing them any harm." 

Try the Gardigo Water Jet Animal Repellent Motion Activated Sprinkler, £39 at Amazon. Sprinklers will also help you with the annual problem of how often you should be watering your lawn

7. Restrict access to your garden

cat walking on garden fence

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A quick fix you can do to your garden immediately is to search for any possible entry points the cats might be using. Whether that means heightening your garden walls or finally getting around to mending that hole in the external fence. 

"Cats are able to jump up to 8 feet so it's a good idea to ensure that your fence is over this height to prevent them from climbing over," says Tom. "If you have a wall in your garden you can spread a variety of plant pots across the top of the wall to deter cats from jumping up."

Even larger cats are nimble enough to fit through tiny spaces so keep on top of your garden maintenance and get those gaps sealed. 


What attracts cats to your garden?

Several things might attract cats to your garden, along with natural curiosity a cat's interest can be piqued rather easily. 

Nick says that cats tend to be attracted to open compost bins with overflowing food scraps as well as active bird feeders. As natural predators, felines can be drawn into your garden by the simple flap of wings so it's also a good idea to keep your bird feeders as high as possible. Keep those deadly paws well away! 

"Certain plants within your garden may attract cats, the most obvious being catnip as there has been research showing that the herb targets the happy receptors within a cat's brain. In fact, the smell of mint closely resembles catnip so if you have any plants within the mint family in your garden, cats will likely mistake it for catnip and enter your garden often," explains Tom. 

So perhaps it might be best to keep an eye on what herbs you're choosing for your garden. 

What damage can cats do to your garden? 

Luckily cats aren't too destructive when they invade your garden, unlike leatherjackets on your lawn. Instead they usually only disrupt plants and leave some rather unwanted business in their path. 

Tom says, "Cats can damage the trees in your garden by scratching the base of them and removing the bark. In addition, they also like to mark their territory by urinating over plants and foliage, or even rolling across them when lying in the sun." 

So whilst you might not like them visiting, there's no risk of irreparable damage and anything they do disturb can heal and or be fixed. They come in peace, it's important to remember that.

Whilst you may want to deter cats from your garden Gemma highlights an important thing to keep in mind. She says, "It is extremely important to use safe methods to deter cats, doing something that could potentially harm them would not only be cruel and may cause them suffering, but it’s also against the law."

Cats, as well as all animals, are not only protected by the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 but they also have a right to roam and are legally allowed to wander into your garden if they wish. This is why deterring them has to be done gently and without causing harm. 

Emily Smith
Digital lifestyle writer

Emily joined woman&home as a staff writer after finishing her MA in Magazine Journalism from City University in 2023. After writing various health and news content, she now specialises in lifestyle and home writing where she covers all things cleaning, interiors and homeowning.