Having a green thumb will only get you so far with houseplants if you have one (or more) cats in the house determined to make trouble.
There are potentially a few different problems you can have with cats and plants. The first is that some cats like to chew on leaves, leading to damaged plants or sick kitties.
Next is the simple fact that some cats are nosy and will play around plants, and knock things over for the fun of it.
Another unpleasant problem can be cats who like to dig in the potted dirt and use it as their litter box. This is very unsanitary and will certainly kill your plants if it continues.
So, what can you do to keep your cats out of your indoor plants?
Before you decide between your plants and your pets, try a few of these techniques to help everyone get along.
1 – Use a Spray Bottle
This is the classic cat “training” technique. Have a spray bottle of water handy, and give your cat a spritz when they get near your plants.
You can find low-cost spray bottles online (link to Amazon) or at a local hardware store.
While simple, this technique only works if you are home most of the time and can keep a personal eye on your plants.
Some cats will just get sneakier and make mischief when you are not home, but some will develop an aversion to the plants from this and just avoid them even when you’re not around.
It’s worth giving it a shot to see how your cat reacts, but keep in mind that not everyone thinks this is appropriate.
2 – Try a Repellent Spray
Now we’re talking about sprays you use on the plants to repel your cats. There are a number of strongly scented products on the market that can make your cat turn up its nose when it gets too close, or you can make your own with household ingredients.
A mix of water and highly perfumed soap (like lavender or citrus) can work well, or use a puree of garlic in water for a similar but more pungent approach.
If you need to get more serious, you can sprinkle some hot chili pepper around your plants for a similar effect. Just be aware that this can be painful for the cats if they get too much in their nose or in their eyes. Use very carefully.
Sometimes people recommend sprays with vinegar because of the strong smell. Well, vinegar may be safe for you and your pets, but it is still an acid and will surely kill the leaves of your plants after a spray or two. Definitely avoid this advice.
3 – Add a Layer of Stone Mulch
This is for the diggers. Cats like loose soil to dig in for their toilet needs, which your houseplants will have plenty off.
Try adding a layer of heavy pebbles to the surface of the dirt. As long as it’s not too tightly packed, it should still allow water to seep through to the soil underneath. It doesn’t have the same feel and won’t be as tempting as a litter box.
You could also use large pieces of smooth glass, rough pine cones, seashells or broken ceramics if you prefer a more decorative look.
4 – Alter the Placement of Your Plants
You may have to resort to just moving your plants where your cats can’t get at them, which could be tricky if you have very agile and determined pets.
Hanging baskets that are not close to any other furniture can be a good idea, or even containers that mount directly to the wall (no shelf) and positioned out of reach.
Can you move your plants to a room with a closeable door?
5 – Create Unpleasant Surroundings
Giving your cat a good scare can be a great deterrent, and having something loud and startling happen when they jump up by your plants can be enough to break the habit. This works best with plants on a table or shelf where there is some extra space around the pots to work with.
A few loosely placed tin-foil plates can create a racket if knocked over, for example. You might have to get creative, depending on the area where you have your plants. This technique may need to be reset each day though.
Another similar idea is to create a sticky surface your cat won’t want to walk over. Double-sided tape laid out between your plant pots can be excellent to create a barrier as long as you don’t allow enough space for jumping around between the tape.
6 – Clean the Litter Box
This can be the root cause of why cats are taking to your plant pots to do their business, though some pets will do it just to be difficult.
Make sure their proper litter box is cleaned frequently, and in an easy to access location. Change the type of litter if it seems that the cat is avoiding the box even when clean.
Cats can decide to get picky after years of the same litter products, so don’t discount this as an issue just because things have long been “fine.”
7 – Provide Plants for Your Cats
Sometimes you can distract a leaf-chewing cat away from your houseplants by providing them with some plants of their own.
A pot of catnip would probably be too loved, but you can keep a pot of mint, cat grass (actually a mix of oat or barley grass) or thyme. Cats tend to like these, and they are perfectly safe to be chewed occasionally.
Use a couple of the other techniques for your “real” plants, and your decoy should become the center of attention from your cat.
Watch for Toxic Plants
Until you are 100% positive your cats aren’t going to chew on your plants, you should be very cautious about toxicity. Several common houseplants are very dangerous to pets, and you should be aware of the risks.
A few to keep an eye out for are:
- Aloe vera
- English ivy
- Jade plant
Now they are only poisonous if chewed, so if your particular issue is that your cats dig in the soil or knock things over, there isn’t as much to worry about. On the other hand, why take the risk?