Al-cat-traz

I’m not a cat person. I might have mentioned this before… the idea that you can buy and feed an animal then let it roam free without supervision through other people’s property has never made sense to me. Cats are extended liberties denied to other domesticated animals.

Dog fouling, for example, is subject to fines, unlike cat fouling, but cat poo isn’t obviously less offensive and poses its own health risks to humans (toxoplasmosis). Not good when a bed containing root vegetables is being used as a toilet. Especially not good when you have a young child in the garden and cats are by far the most common medium – large animal in the neighbourhood.

This has been an issue with the new rose beds next to our front door. Before the roses went in, after the soil was dug over, they were being used by at least one local feline on a daily basis. Even leaving aside the unpleasantness and health risks of finding a  ew gift ever morning, I also don’t want my new bare-root plants being dug up in the process. Something had to be done.

Options

There are a few things I’ve tried over the years to deter without harming the offending felines. The most common cat deterrents are:

1. Sonic devices

The high-tech solution. They emit high pitched noises that cats don’t like. I tried one years ago, and it did seem to deter cats.

The problem with these is (i) firstly that they only activate when a cat passes in front of them, meaning you need more than one to cover an area, (ii) they’re expensive, and (iii) children may be able to hear the noise and find it unpleasant too. They’re a bit like the Mosquito anti-loitering device.

On the plus side, they may be the only semi-effective solution for larger areas like raised beds where the forward / restricted activation angle isn’t so much of an issue.

2. Physical barriers

For very small areas, physical barriers or netting may be effective. The challenge here is that cats are very good at squeezing through small spaces, so if there are any gaps or  obstacles preventing a tight barrier being made then they might not be effective. They’re also good at climbing and jumping. Just sticking a few bamboo canes in the ground and tying netting to them is probably not going to be effective on its own.

3. Bad odors

Pellets and powders for deterring cats from lingering are commonly sold. These normally have a strong odor (garlic is a favourite) which cats are supposed to dislike. In my experience these aren’t very effective.

Solutions

Al-cat-traz - keeping cats out of the rose beds

Al-cat-traz – keeping cats out of the rose beds

Welcome to Al-cat-traz! Because the rose beds are relatively small, I decided that restricting movement should be enough. In order to do their business, cats need room to dig and squat, so filling the space is an effective deterrent. The plastic netting alone wouldn’t be effective, but I’ve dotted short (blunt) pea canes around in the middle so that any squatting cat will be poked in the behind. As a final deterrent I also used some of the garlic scented pellets. This is a temporary solution since once the roses are established, having a spiny shrub there should be deterrent enough.

Of course, this doesn’t solve the issue of cat poo buried in the middle of my potatoes, which will be an issue again in the Spring. The only solution there might be one of the sonic devices, since the area is too big to successfully make cat-proof with physical barriers.

2 thoughts on “Al-cat-traz

  1. Green pea netting laid over seems to work but the best way for me was a mulch of hay. I had a lot of problems with this issue. If you see a cat then a large water pistol / kids water gun sprayed at them also works. Not having bare soil is certainly a trick that works.

    My biggest problem with my cats is the fact they climb all over my cheap poly tunnel and put millions of little holes in it. If I have to replace the cover I’m going to put pea netting all over that too.

    Our cats have been banned from the house since they brought fleas in, then we had the poo problem, now the poly tunnel problem. If we could find another home for them they’d be gone by now. We only have one immediate neighbour then surrounded by fields but I think every house nearby has a cat because of rats (loads of horses and chickens in the area ). I hate cats.

    • I hve used netting directly over the soil, but the problem is that eventually as the crops grow it starts to get in the way and has to be removed. I haven’t tried hay though – I wonder if other mulches like grass clippings would also work.

      I’ve never had a poly-tunnel so that problem didn’t occur to me. Could you put a wire mesh fence all the way around to discourage them a bit? I’m always surprised that poly-tunnel covers last as long as they do even without the cats.

      The thing for me about cats is their population density. If they were wild animals, they would be relatively rare and their bad habits would be spread over a wider area. I don’t complain about the bad behaviour of the neighbourhood fox because I probably share it with 20 or 30 other people nearby at least. But 70 million British people subsidise the cat population so much that there are now about 9 million of them, most of which are free to roam. I wish that more people kept house cats, as is common in Europe.

      In my case 2 out of 3 direct neighbours keep cats, as does much of the wider neighbourhood. And our relatively large garden has 4 – 5 regular feline visitors.

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