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Cat-proofing your garden

21 November 2022
molly 0024 @maddyirelandphoto
Molly Kelsey, The Cat Counsellor Photo: Maddy Ireland

If cats are prowling where you’d rather they didn’t, it may be time to consider a cat containment strategy. Words Molly Kelsey, The Cat Counsellor

Us Kiwis love our cats. It’s estimated that 41 per cent of New Zealand households are home to at least one fabulous feline. And most Kiwi owners allow their cats unrestricted outside access during the day. This means they often spend a significant portion of their time outside in the garden (and not always our own). Some of us want to make our garden area more enriching and secure for our own cats, while others want to keep cats out of their garden (and away from wildlife) entirely. Luckily there are many ways to achieve these outcomes that are both aesthetically pleasing and safe for cats.

Off-putting scents, surfaces & sounds

There are some scents that are unappealing to cats to dissuade them from going near your garden beds, including:

• Citrus peels: throw directly onto your garden soil. Alternatively, mix a few drops of lemon essential oil with water in a spray bottle and spray onto the soil.

• Brewed coffee grounds (from your machine or local café): sprinkle over the soil.

• Sheep pellets: many cats will take a wide step around this pungent fertiliser.

Cats generally prefer to walk on loose soil and will steer clear of spiky surfaces, such as:

• Pine cones and washed eggshells: place on the soil around plantings.

• Twigs: cover soil with twigs while waiting for spring plants to come through. Small twigs close together work best as they make it harder for the cat to manoeuvre.

• Upside-down carpet runner (prickly side up): use as a garden border that can be easily disguised by a thin layer of soil. • Tinfoil wrapped around a length of string: tie both ends to chopsticks inserted deep into the soil at each end of the garden bed. Plants can hide most of the foil.

• ‘Invisible’ chicken wire: tent it over the edges of a garden bed and secure it to keep cats away from young plants.

Cats have excellent hearing, and some sounds that are pleasant to the human ear can be jarring noises to theirs, including:

• Wind chimes.

• Motion-sensitive bells.

Motion-activated sprinklers

While unpleasant, most cats will avoid your garden if they get rained on every time they visit. I prefer a sprinkler to using anything like a water gun as the cat may then associate the unsavoury experience with a person. Once installed, these sprinklers can be shut off via an app or remotely so you can remain dry. Just be sure to check current local water use regulations.

Cat Fencing

Purpose-designed cat fencing is a simple way to keep your cats inside your garden and others’ cats out. The two most common types of cat fencing are suspended mesh netting (try and spinning paddle styles like the Oscillot system (from The latter is installed on top of existing fencing and prevents a cat gaining the traction it needs to manoeuvre its body over the fence by spinning when a paw is placed on it. You can install these yourself with a helper, a few basic tools and a free weekend.


A catio, or cat enclosure, is a great way to give cats the enrichment of the outside world while keeping them contained. Catios can be built to any size or shape, from tunnels and window boxes to spaces only limited by your imagination. Many people install them adjacent to existing decks, on balconies, in conservatories and outside windows. Materials commonly used include wood, wire or reinforced mesh, plastic shelving and turf. DIY plans are available online (try diy-plans) that can be installed by a trusted contractor – or yourself if you’re up for the challenge. Appletons’ Omlet systems are ideal readymade options (

Cleaning up

Cats will often spray and/or urinate in a specific area they visit often. Make sure you clean the area thoroughly to reduce the chances of them doing so again. Use a highpowered hose to rinse the area and/or an unscented enzymatic cleanser such as Odarid. Steer clear of scented cleansers, which may entice the cat to mask the scent by marking on top of it.'

Ways to make your garden purrfect!

  • Cats love mint, honeysuckle and catnip. Plant some in a soil bed away from plants you don’t want dug up or slept on.
  • Install an outdoor cat ladder such as the NZmade Monkee Tree ( for added vertical territory.
  • Solid A-frame plant trellises can make great climbing structures for cats. Make sure they are stable, with no loose nails, and won’t tip over.
  • Consider added hiding places such as crates that can be hidden with ground cover plants overtop.
  • Ensure there is a nice sunny spot for sunbathing and other important jobs. Some cats will appreciate a dedicated outdoor litterbox – this can help reduce them using your garden beds.
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