No matter if they’re neighborhood cats, feral cats, or your own cats, the last thing you want is to have them in and digging up your garden. If you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle with keeping the cats out, it’s time to look for cat repellent plants. You should note that there is no 100% guarantee that this will keep every cat out of your yard, it’s worth a try. Many cat repellent plants share the same features, and this makes them easy to mix and match and plant together.
For example, they can have stronger scents that are pleasant to humans but cats can’t stand them. We’ve picked out 15 cat repellent plants for you to consider adding to your garden, along with a few spray ideas and we’ll also explain why you don’t want them hanging out in your garden in the first place below.
1. Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Since the majority of cats are highly attracted to catnip, you may be confused as to why we included it as a cat repellent plant. However, there is a method to this madness. You see, catnip attracts cats to a specific area of your yard, so you should plant it in a space far wavy from your garden or plants. It falls into the mint family, and this plant has an aroma that drives cats crazy.
Catnip, even when you sprinkle crushed leaves in parts of your yard, keeps your planters from getting used as litter boxes. When you plant it, make sure you put it in an area that has plenty of room for the cats to go around, and they’ll need space to roll and rub in it without hitting anything else. It’s a low-growing perennial that will die back in the winter and pop back up in the spring. Putting chicken wire around the base of the plants helps prevent accidental damage.
2. Citronella (Pelargonium graveolens citrosa)
Also called the mosquito plant, this cat repellent plant works to keep both cats and those pesky mosquitos far away. Citronella is a geranium that releases a nice citrus-like scent that humans may enjoy, but mosquitos, cats, and other insects despise it. It works in containers or garden beds that you place along your patio or walkways where it releases the scent each time you brush by it.
Make a point to not over-fertilize citronella plants as the higher amount of nitrogen will reduce how fragrant the leaves are. Although it’s a perennial, this cat repellent plant is very fragile and won’t survive in colder climates. Always bring it inside before the first frost of the season or treat it like any other annual you have. This plant prefers to be in partial shade, and it needs light, well-draining soil that you keep on the drier side.
3. Common Rue (Ruta graveolens)
Common Rue emits a very unique musty odor that keeps cats away, and the leaves also have a very bitter flavor profile to them that works to make it an even more cat repellent plant. This shrub is actually poisonous if you ingest it, to be careful about planting it where your pets or kids can get at it. This is an evergreen shrub that does very well in dry to medium-moist soil that drains very well between watering sessions. It loves to be in full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade and poor soil conditions as long as the soil drains very well.
This cat repellent plant grows very well in zones four to eight, but it requires mulch in the winter months, and it won’t tolerate wet soil. Common Rue is popular to use in flower beds to deter cats, and you should put it in the middle or front row as it only gets up to three feet tall and wide at full maturity.
4. Curry Plant (Helichrysum augustfolium)
In areas where this plant grows wide, a lot of people see it as a nuisance, but this very strong-smelling cat repellent plant is very useful. This shrub requires a space that gets full sun each day, and it gets two feet high by three feet wide. When you plant it in gardens, you should give this plant protection from the wind and wetness.
Not only does this work as a cat repellent plant, but it’s also a deterrent for deer. The Curry Plant gets sold as a shrub, and it has smaller yellow flowers that do well in zones 8 to 11. If you ever want to remove this plant for whatever reason, it can be very difficult to get it all out. Although the plant does have a slightly curry smell to it,it’s not a herb and has zero use in the kitchen. It does well in dry conditions with very poor soil.
5. Geraniums (Pelargonium)
Geraniums are a fantastic choice if you’re looking for a cat repellent plant that adds pops of color to the landscape. For humans, any geraniums you choose to plant will emit a pleasant odor, but most cats find the scent very unpleasant. Geraniums are usually an outdoor plant, but you can keep them indoors during the cooler months. With enough care, your geraniums will bloom all winter long.
When you take care of your geraniums, it’s important to water them in very small amounts and only when the leaves start to droop. Cut off any dead, old leaves as you see new growth taking hold. Before you water it, allow the soil to dry out and cut back your watering sessions during the winter without allowing the roots to dry out. Pinch the stems to promote a bush-like look and deadhead the blooms to encourage new ones.
6. Lavender (Lavandula)
While most people adore the scent of lavender, it’s not a favorite for cats. So, it makes sense that lavender would make the cat repellent plant list. Shrubby lavender plants are not just a great deterrent for most cats, but they are also one of the top plants used to repel deer and insects. When you use them to keep the cats away from your garden, you should plant them in a line to form a wall.
One big problem with lavender is the sheer amount of choices available. All can help to keep the cats out, but taller varieties are usually the most effective choices. Cats are jumpers by nature, but if the bush blocks their line of sight as a taller plant can, they’re not nearly as curious. Planting lavender along borders also helps to keep cats out as these bushes release the strong fragrance every time someone brushes up against it.
7. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon)
Lemongrass tends to grow grassy, tall clumps and gets up to five feet tall at full maturity. This tropical herb’s appearance is very similar to many ornamental grasses, so many people use them for this purpose in their garden beds. As a herb, lemongrass has a lot of benefits attached to it, and one of them is being a cat repellent plant as it releases the strong, fruity, lemony scent.
You should never plant your lemongrass in clay-based soil. It’s a tropical plant that enjoys moisture but it’ll die very fast if your soil lets the water puddle around the roots. When you plant this cat repellent plant, pick a location that has full sun, enve in hotter planting zones. It requires a very well-draining soil with steady moisture to ensure the roots don’t dry out. When you plant it in a container, get one that is a minimum of 12 inches in diameter and use a high-quality potting soil.
8. Orange Jessamine (Murraya paniculata)
This pretty plant is native to the southern portion of Asia, and it’s a very tall perennial that is perfect for adding height to your garden or landscape design. This plant features a shrub-like form and reaches 23 feet tall in the natural habitat. In US growing zones, it grows as a slightly more compact medium-sized shrub that is great as a boundary plant or hedge.
It produces fragrant cream or white-colored flowers with green elliptical leaflets, and you may see spurs with red berries once in a while. Throughout the summer, the flowers will release a fragrance that is a mixture of jasmine and orange, and cats despite both and avoid them anyway they can.
9. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
It’s not just a cat repellent plant that you’ll get when you plant oregano as it is also great for warding off other pests. To take full advantage of your cat repellent plants and to maximize your efforts, you should plant it as one component in a thriving herb garden that includes other cat deterrent herbs like lavender, rosemary, mint, lemon balm, and lemongrass. Not only will this ward pesky cats away from the area, but it also enhances the flavors of your meals. Just be aware that this herb is toxic to any cat that ingests it, even if most cats won’t chew on it.
10. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Pennyroyal is the smallest member of the mint family, and it’s a great cat repellent plant that also works on insects like flies or mosquitoes. If you like using the plants that you grow in your garden, this herb is a great choice as it is much more potent and stronger than other mint herbs you could pick out.
In extract form, it’s common to use pennyroyal in teas. You shouldn’t confuse American Pennyroyal with European Pennyroyal though. The low-growing plant has hairy stem roots that grow up to roughly a foot tall. It works great as ground cover flowers, and it’ll root wherever it touches the ground. The newer Pennyroyal plants work well as border plants, and it enjoys being in spaces with full sun. However, it can tolerate partial shade without any issues, and it grows best in zones five to nine.
Pennyroyal by Melissa McMasters / CC BY 2.0
11. Rambling Roses (Rosa multiflora)
You should note that most cats are contrary creatures that can easily ignore the more popular cat repellent plants and stroll right into the garden. However, plants with thorns are a different matter. If the neighborhood cats are coming over the wall to get into your garden, planting a pretty thorny rambling rose species could be the answer to keeping them out. There are many styles, sizes, colors, and fragrances to choose from, and you can even mix and match them to get a stunning display.
12. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a Mediterranean woody perennial, and it’s a wonderful cat repellent plant that is also very useful when it comes to flavoring your dishes. When you plant this herb, you should keep in mind that it grows best in a relatively warm and dry climate, and it won’t tolerate colder temperatures or soggy soil for long.
You want to use a high-quality compost with a pH range of 7 or higher as rosemary prefers neutral to alkaline soil. If you live in areas colder than zone nine according to the US hardiness zone map, you should plant your rosemary in containers and move it inside when the weather cools off. Rosemary also works well as a summer annual instead of a perennial plant. Putting containers filled with rosemary along your patio or flower beds can deter the cats as it’s the scent the plant emits that chases them off.
13. Scaredy Cat Plant (Coleus canina)
Although the name would lead you to believe that this is the single-best cat repellent plant on the list, and it’s up there due to the smell. These are plants that will keep both cats and dogs away as neither likes how they smell. They emit a very strong pee-like odor, so most people don’t like them either.
When you plant Scaredy Cat Plant, put it directly in front of your problem spaces in a line or in a ring. Cats won’t walk around them to reach the other parts of your garden. This is a very low-maintenance plant that doesn’t require a lot of work from you for it to thrive. They do very well in dry climates, so if you have cats using specific areas in your yard as the litter box, plant one of these right in the middle of the space.
14. Thorny Hedges
Traditionally, mixed thorny hedges made up of hawthorn, holly, wild roses, and blackthorn were used as something that was wildlife friendly. They also helped to prevent flooding, but they also act like a natural fence to keep cats out. You can use thorny cuttings to block any entrances into your yard. Thorny shrubs and bushes are great security plants to help protect your property from pests. Prickly plants that have thorns give you a natural defensive barrier around your property, and this is how they work as a cat repellent plant.
Also, any evergreen shrubs that have thorns offer year-round privacy due to the spines, dense foliage, thorns, and prickles. The best thorny hedges should have stiff or strong spikes or spines on them. You can pick out flowering shrubs with thorns on the stems, prickly plants with berries, or plants with jagged leaves. Spiky plants can easily complement your landscape design, especially the following:
- Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata)
- Chinese Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
- Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
- Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)
- Spiky Blackberry Shrub (Rubus fruticosus)
- Thorny Firethorn Shrub (Pyracantha)
- Thorny Rose Shrub (Rosa rugosa)
15. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
The final cat repellent plant we have for you on the list is thyme, and this is a wonderful herb that will grow in virtually any garden. It has natural antibiotic properties too. It’s best to grow it in pots, like lots of herbs, and this allows you to move it around your yard as you see fit to help protect your plants or nesting birds from the cats. It also functions as a natural mosquito repellent. Thyme isn’t a fussy plant to grow, and it’s usually fine with being moved around. But, if you want to grow it as a small hedge, it’s easy to grow cuttings so you can get a lot of plants without spending a lot.
Why You Want Cat Repellent Plants
You may wonder why people want to have cat repellent plants in the garden in the first place. Doesn’t everyone love cats? Unfortunately, while cats are undeniably cute, their waste products can have a very negative impact on your garden as a whole. Contaminated soil is a big problem for gardeners and plants, so it’s best to prevent it from happening if you can.
Cats are also known to dig into the soil before they go to the bathroom, and this can be detrimental to any plants or crops you have growing in this space. Rather than having to inspect your flower beds every day and removing unwanted gifts from the cats that pass through, many gardeners try to keep the cats out using natural methods like cat repellent plants.
Why Use Plants to Deter Cats
If a cat is using your garden as a bathroom and it’s your cat, keeping it inside probably doesn’t sound like the fairest option. It would also be difficult to try and tell your neighbors that they can’t let their cats outside if it’s theirs. It’s also not very practical to buy a fence for your entire garden off to the degree you would need to keep the cats from finding their way in. Cats are generally very agile creatures, and they can jump up to eight feet in the air. So, unless you want to surround your garden with a privacy fence, many people choose cat repellent plants and sprays. The scent can be enough to convince them to move on.
How to Stop Cats from Eating Plants
Maybe you want to figure out how to get the cats to quit eating your plants. Again, there is no 100% failsafe means here, but there are a few options you can try. First off, cats hate getting wet. So, if you can catch them in the act of eating your garden plants, you could spray them with the garden hose or a water gun to help reinforce that the garden is a place they don’t want to be.
Learning how to effectively repel cats is another option. You can choose to pick out cat repellent plants and add them to your garden as the cats don’t like the taste or the smell. For instance, some plants emit citrus-like scents that people find pleasant but cats hate. We listed 15 great options to consider earlier in the article, but you should make sure that you can tolerate the smell yourself as some of them are unpleasant.
Eight DIY Cat Repellent Sprays
Maybe you want to beef up your security by making homemade cat repellent sprays. Not every home remedy will work on every cat. You may have to try a few and experiment, but offering healthy, natural ways to ward away the cats is much safer than bringing in chemicals that can harm the cats. Cats detect odors or smell roughly 14 times stronger than a human does. Making a repellent spray will rely on the cat’s keen sense of smell. If one recipe doesn’t work, move on to the next one.
Recipe One – Vinegar and Water
The first recipe involves straight vinegar. You want to mix equal parts water, hand soap, and vinegar in a bowl. Once it’s mixed, spray, wipe, or pour it over any areas you’re concerned with to keep the cats out.
Recipe Two – Pepper, Garlic, and Lemon
You mix garlic, pepper, and lemon with water to create a deterrent spray. Some people will add “hot” pepper to the solution but this can hurt the cat because most “hot” solutions aren’t cat-friendly. If you decide to do this, use a very little amount of the “hot” pepper as a little goes a long way. Garlic should get crushed very well, and you mix everything and allow it to sit for 24 hours to get stronger. Strain the solution into a bottle and spritz it around your garden.
Recipe Three – Rosemary
Plant your herb near where the cats are causing issues in your yard or garden. Rosemary acts like a natural cat deterrent. You can crush some of the leaves and allow them to soak in water for 24 hours before pouring it into a bottle and making a spray too.
Recipe Four – Herbs
When in doubt with your cat repellent plants, grow herbs. To follow this recipe, put rue, citronella, rosemary, chives, or garlic into your herb garden. You can pick them, boil them, allow them to sit for 24 hours, and strain it out to get a powerful spray.
Recipe Five – Citrus-Based Juices
This liquid herb supplement can feature orange juice, lemon juice, and cranberry juice mixed with rosemary extract in a small amount of water. Mix everything, strain it, and put it in a spray bottle. The herbal, citrusy scent is one cats will avoid.
Recipe Six – Coffee and Orange
A second liquid fusion is one you can make by mixing strong coffee with juice from a green orange. This is a great cat deterrent when you spray it around. You can also grind or chop up the citrus rinds and use the coffee grounds in your garden soil to deter cats from coming in.
Recipe Seven – Citronella
Citronella oil is a great cat repellent that many people find great success with. Citronella is a very well-known mosquito repellent, but cats also find the odor of the citronella plant or oil to be distasteful. All you have to do is mix one part citronella oil to four parts water and pour it all into a spray bottle. Spritz it around any problem areas.
Recipe Eight – Lemon and Eucalyptus Oil
The final cat repellent spray involves filling a spray bottle with ¾ water and then adding a few drops of clear dish detergent. You want it to be clear so that it doesn’t color-stain your fabrics. Add in 10 drops of lemon essential oil and 10 drops of eucalyptus essential oil. Replace the lid, shake it well, and spray it around.
We outlined 15 cat repellent plants you can easily add to your yard or garden to keep the cats away and your plants safe. We also touched on why you’d want to use these plants and a few DIY repellent sprays you can make to maximize your chances of success.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.