Cat-lovers might describe stray cats as hungry and lonely, but when you’re trying to protect your vegetable beds, you might also describe them as tenacious and destructive. Even if you are fond of the felines, you probably don’t love the damage they do to your raised garden beds. To keep them out, create a barrier that cats can’t cross, or lure them away with something more attractive.
Stray cats are usually friendly, although they may be wary and hungry at first, advises ASPCA. Often, they are pets that have somehow lost their families. One of the best ways to keep stray cats out of your vegetable beds is to catch them and find them homes. Friendly cats are easy to capture, but it may take several tries — and some treats — to get wary cats to trust you. Check the lost pet ads or your local adoption center for families who may be missing their cats. Hopefully, once the cats are back at home and well-fed, they will stop roaming around your vegetable beds. Check local laws and resources before you try to catch any cats.
Cats are good jumpers, but a wire fence built around your raised beds should keep them from getting to the vegetables. It will also keep other hungry critters out, such as rabbits. Chicken wire is inexpensive, or you can install a chain-link fence with a gate. If your raised bed is relatively small, try covering it with a wire cage that you can lift off when you need to tend to the plants. A single strand of low-voltage electric wire can also be used to keep cats out and allow you to easily access the vegetables at the same time. Place it 4 inches above the edge of the raised bed and attach it to fiberglass rods pushed into the soil at each corner of the bed. The wires should run to each rod and then to an electric fence charger; some of which are battery-powered. Once the cats learn to avoid the beds, simply turn it off or remove the batteries, if you don’t want to dismantle the fence. This is only a good idea if you don’t have young children, of course.
Cats like soft dirt. They roll in it, play in it and use it as a litter box — and although cat urine won’t damage the soil for future planting, it may injure the plants and ruin your vegetable crop. Mulching your vegetable beds with coarse mulch will annoy cats, as they don’t like the texture. Chicken wire, laid on top of the soil and covered with mulch, will also prevent cats from digging but still allow vegetables to grow, but this must be done in advance. Strong scents may also repel cats, especially citrus. Scatter citrus rinds throughout the area, or sprinkle the plants with crushed pepper — but be sure to wash the vegetables after harvesting them. Cats don’t like water, so if its worth the expense to you, consider installing a motion-activated sprinkler that will blast stray cats with water when they venture near your raised vegetable beds.
Cats are smart. If presented with a better option, they will usually take it. Distract cats by giving them something else to explore, or by luring them away with something more attractive. A sandy area of the yard, for example, makes the perfect lounging space — and possibly litter box. A birdhouse or bird feeder far from your raised beds might interest cats more than your vegetables. Or, offer stray cats some catnip (Nepeta cataria). Plant it well away from your vegetables outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9.