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Cats, cabbages and conflict

Alice Spenser-Higgs

Alice Spenser-Higgs

April 16, 2013

Here are six practical tips for keeping cats out of freshly worked beds, and in favour with you! Being equally passionate about gardening and animals can be a recipe for conflict. Picture this: A constructive morning spent in the garden, digging lovely, crumbly home-made compost into the soil, planting seedlings or sowing seed. Despite the aching back I look at the patch and already see it filled with flowers.

Nemo, King of the Vegge Patch

Nemo, King of the Vegge Patch

My cat companions on the other hand see a different picture; lovely crumbly soil that is perfect for digging, the equivalent of 2-ply toilet paper. As they position themselves there is a scream, ‘Getttt outer there’ followed by a shoe or any other missile to hand.

The result is hurt feelings and anger all round.

Anti-digging steel mesh on soilBut, as the animal behaviourists say, one must always see it from the animal’s perspective. It is natural for cats to toilet by digging. They don’t know why we get angry, and we actually have no right to get angry. If we don’t want them to dig in our precious beds then we have to encourage them to dig elsewhere. And we have to make sure that there is plenty of elsewhere for them.

Over the years of gritting my teeth I have found the following, humane, strategies to protect my newly planted beds and still be on good terms with the cats. I would be grateful to know of any other strategies that work:

Plastic protective anti-digging mesh on soil

1. Protect seed beds with plastic or steel mesh

After sowing the seed, lay plastic mesh over the soil. Secure it in place with stones, bricks or pegs. Once the seeds germinate, lift the mesh. For the first two or three weeks I keep it just above the beds by supporting it with twigs pushed into the ground. As you can see from the pictures I have also used plastic coated steel. Both are very effective.

Lettuce and sticks


2. Surround plants with twigs/sticks

When pruning or trimming shrubs don’t throw away any twigs. I place mine around the seedlings in such a way that it forms a ‘laager’ around the plants. In other words, the sticks encircle the plants, forming a barrier. Because there is no space to walk or dig, the cats don’t go there.


Old bird cage covering beans

Caged beans

Bird cage on balcony3. Old bird cages

This is the best protection of all and it’s actually quite funky. I am building up a collection of old, bottom-less bird cages that just go over the plants. I also have a wire sculpture that acts like a cage. It doubles as garden decoration.

Citrus peel


4. Citrus peel scattered in the bed

A friend told me that she scattered orange or naartjies peels in the bed and it kept the cats away. I tried it in the beds and it worked, but only for a limited time. I think it is the smell that repels them, so the peels need to be regularly replaced.

5. Plastic snakes

I have not tried this and I know that it works on monkeys but that you have to keep moving the snake around. My former-ferals would probably try and kill it. But it is worth a try.

Moveable fencing6. Moveable fencing

This is more effective for keeping small dogs out but it does help as an extra barrier especially when the plants have grown and filled out the space.

None of this looks very pretty but it works. You also have to keep an eye on it and make sure everything is in place. But it doesn’t take much time and I’ve really found that cabbages and cats can co-exist.


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Sandra Pullman
11 years ago

I can sympathise, I tell Ms. Fluff to get her big bum off my garden. I have tried the stick trick and it does work where they are but she moves on to another patch. So the sticks move about a bit. But I can’t complain really she doesn’t do a lot of damage.

11 years ago

Do you have any solutions for slugs, snails, etc – I’d rather not use snail bait as I don’t want to harm the lizards, etc.

Alice Spenser-Higgs
Alice Spenser-Higgs
10 years ago
Reply to  Marlene

Hi, snails are also the bane of my life and I have mixed success with controlling them. If you live in South Africa I can recommend an organic snail bait called Ferramol. It is not poisonious but works on the snails metabolism and it stops feeding and dies. It will not affect other animals or insects.

Home remedies that I have come across are:
• Put black refuse bags next to a bed or on the lawn. After eating at night the snails go under the black plastic to hide and in the morning you can lift the bags and collect the snails underneath. Kill the snails by putting them in salt water. Crushing the snails spreads the eggs.

• Snails and slugs apparently love oats porridge and if they eat enough of it they bloat up and die. In the evening, spread dry oats around new plants or along the border of a bed. If it is slightly mounded it will be more difficult for them to climb over. They will be picked off by the birds and the snail shells can go onto the compost.

• Put a sauce of beer in the garden. Make it level with the soil. The snails like beer and will fall in and drown.

• Dried, crushed eggshells sprinkled thickly around a plant. They don’t like to go over the eggshells. The line must be unbroken.

• If you eat grapefruit for breakfast keep the hollowed out halves, make a small entrance hole (like an igloo) and put it in the garden. The snails go into the ‘igloo’ but cant get out.

• Trap crops like clover and marigolds. They will then leave other crops alone.

• Handpick – go out at night with a torch and pick off the snails. Some people sprinkle them with salt to kill them.

10 years ago

If having problems with cats in the veg garden have you tried Napthleen, hope that is the way to spell it. It could be kept in a tin with holes drilled in the sides and a plastic cover, just shake it a few times as you walk past to stir it up. It stinks and cats and bugs don’t like it. Don’t think you would leave it ou there all the time or you might deter the bugs we need. Sometimes we just have to change the habits of a cat or dog then they leave that space alone. Regards Jan B

Alice Spenser-Higgs
Alice Spenser-Higgs
10 years ago
Reply to  JaniceBarry

Hi Jan
I googled Naphthalene and found the following info. Seems like it is rather poisonous:
“Naphthalene is used in the production of phthalic anhydride; it is also used in mothballs. Acute (short-term) exposure of humans to naphthalene by inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact is associated with hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver, and neurological damage. Cataracts have also been reported in workers acutely exposed to naphthalene by inhalation and ingestion. Chronic (long-term) exposure of workers and rodents to naphthalene has been reported to cause cataracts and damage to the retina. Hemolytic anemia has been reported in infants born to mothers who “sniffed” and ingested naphthalene (as mothballs) during pregnancy. Available data are inadequate to establish a causal relationship between exposure to naphthalene and cancer in humans. EPA has classified naphthalene as a Group C, possible human carcinogen.
Poisoning from naphthalene destroys or changes red blood cells so they cannot carry oxygen.

Catherine Stewart
10 years ago

I did try some naphthalene flakes around my garden once, when the neighbour’s old cat kept coming in and crapping all over my carex plants, which seemed to be a most satisfactory feline substitute for toilet paper. Cat was undeterred but the passers-by would get about half way along the front fence, and suddenly stop, obviously very puzzled at what flower could possibly smell like their grandma’s wardrobe. Now my cat deterrent is much easier – a cat of my own.

Jan Barry
7 years ago

Apart from many barriers is there anything that smells bad enough to deter bandicoots, I have nearly run out of small mesh and patience. My back orchard looks like a mob of feral pigs have been digging. I thought I might have to buy new small netting and going around my whole back fence, which would be a bit drastic to save a few lettuce etc.
Has anyone tried those Electronic devices they say will deter possums and rats???? Thought I could give them a go as we have had a real plague of rats and mice this year. They are costly also, specially if they don’t work.

Catherine Stewart
7 years ago
Reply to  Jan Barry

Hi Jan,
My sister recently trialled an electronic possum deterrent but with little success as she found that she would need quite a few of them to protect the areas she wanted to save from the marauding munchers and, as you say, they are fearfully expensive.
I have saved my front garden from being constantly dug up by bandicoots and bush turkeys by covering the ground with chicken wire with a thin layer of mulch spread on top. It means I have to take wire cutters as well as my spade out when I want to plant something new, but it does work. Bandicoots don’t like bright lights so an automatic garden sensor light is another possibility. You could also make a vegie-growing cage which will at least save your lettuces.