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Growing Scaredy Cat Plants: Coleus Canina Plant Repellent

By Anne Baley

The scaredy cat plant, or Coleus canina, is one of many examples of gardener's traditions and tales that aren't always exactly true. Read this article to learn more about the plant and its legend.

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Where to grow

Plectranthus caninus (Scat) will reach a height of 0.45m and a spread of 0.9m after 1 year.

Suggested uses

Beds and borders, City, Coastal, Containers, Cottage/Informal, Greenhouse, Underplanting

Cultivation

Plant outdoors after danger of frost has passed in well-drained soil in full sun. Treat as an annual or overwinter indoors. Reported to repel cats and rabbits in the garden.

Soil type

Soil drainage

Moist but well-drained, Well-drained

Soil pH

Light

Aspect

Exposure

UK hardiness Note: We are working to update our ratings. Thanks for your patience.

Indoor unheated (H2), Tender in frost (H3)

Companion plants

We do not currently have companion plants added for this plant.

Botanical name

Other names

Scat, Scaredy cat, Scaredy plant, Cat repellant plant, Dogs be gone coleus, Coleus canina, Piss-off plant, Coleus spicatus, Dogbane

Genus

Species

P. caninus - P. caninus is a tender, mat-forming, stem-rooting, evergreen perennial, typically grown as an annual, with whorled, unpleasantly aromatic, narrowly ovate to spoon-shaped, sparsely-toothed, wrinkled, light green leaves and upright stems bearing racemes of whorled, tubular, violet-blue flowers in summer.

Foliage

Habit

Mat Forming, Erect flower stem

Toxicity

All parts are poisonous if ingested. Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction. Pollen may cause allergic reaction.


Keep cats out of your garden

What all these steps boil down to is simply making your garden less inviting to cats – without making it unattractive to anybody else.

First Steps

These are fairly easy tasks that don’t cost you anything, but may be inconvenient.

  • If they poop, get rid of it. This reduces their sense that your garden is their litterbox. Also, because cats are carnivores, their poop can pass on to humans any diseases their prey had. You really don’t want cat poop in your soil, especially if you’re growing food.
  • Most cats don’t like water or mud, and there are a couple of humane ways to use this to your advantage. Do not shoot directly at them with a garden hose – it can be forceful enough to hurt a cat. Keep a toy water gun handy and shoot at them with that. In a pinch, you can shoot just in front of them with the garden hose, creating a wet spot they won’t want to cross.
  • Dump used tea black leaves on the ground. Cats dislike tea, so rip those bags open and spill the leaves around your garden. (Tea leaves are a good compost material, anyway.)
  • Put large flat stones around your garden to make it harder for cats to go digging.
  • Decorative pine cones can be pushed down into the soil around your plants to make your garden less comfortable for cats to dig in.

Next Steps

These steps may cost a little money up front, but work effectively without any effort on your part beyond set up.

  • If you’re just starting to plant, put a sheet of chicken wire over your soil or mulch before you begin to plant (with wire cutters, you can open up sections of the chicken wire, plant your plants, and then close the chicken wire back down). Cats don’t like walking on chicken wire, so it will take a pretty big temptation for them to bother getting that close.
  • Cats also don’t like citrus, particularly orange, so spray some orange oil around areas you want them to leave alone. This is a safe product that actually repels cats effectively, although you will have to re-apply it every few weeks.
  • You can also dust the ground with ground plants cats dislike. Like cayenne pepper, black pepper, dry mustard, lavender, rue, peppermint, geranium, lemon verbena, absinthe, pennyroyal, lemon thyme, garlic and citrus rinds. You can also plant any of these plants in your garden to keep cats out of your garden.
  • Plant Coleus canina,otherwise known as “scaredy-cat plant”, in your garden. It puts off a smell that doesn’t agree with cats at all.

Techno Steps

These steps involve technology.

  • Of course you can’t always be around when the cats visit. You can get motion-activated sprinklers that sprinkle your garden every time something moves. To a cat, it will seem like a tiny localized rainfall – gentle, but repulsively wet.
  • Or use ultrasonic motion-activated animal repellentsthat emit a sound which startles cats but is inaudible to humans. I’ve found these really help to keep cats out of your garden.


Ultrasonic devices emit a high-frequency alarm that is inaudible to humans but highly irritating to cats. You can situate the device so that it faces toward the garden when its motion sensor detects an animal’s presence, the device emits the startling noise. Most ultrasonic devices have limited range, so their effectiveness is debatable. Some devices also include flashing strobe lights and optional audible alarms.

Catnip plant © Muffet / CC-BY-SA-2.0


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