Uprooting the Cats: A Survival Manual for Gardeners - Garden Pest Tip
I love cats. My mother hates them.
Mine loll in the catnip and help me dig holes; my mother's neighbor's cats so enjoy littering my mom's yard that she began the modern equivalent of the Seven Year War. Felines are about as welcome as their furballs in her garden. I have had anywhere from one to seven cats at a time since I left home, and I fear that only the 500-plus mile distance between our gardens has kept my mom from disowning me. Hatred of cats all too soon transforms itself into hatred of the people they own. Especially if they mess in your garden.
If you are cat-owned, be warned that as far as your furry friends are concerned, the world is their litterbox. If you don't want neighborhood wars, you can either keep the cats in, or, if they're not amenable to confinement, give them a garden of their own so attractive that they aren't tempted to leave home. Find an out of the way corner of your yard, plant it with catnip and lay down some sand or kitty litter (non-clumping) nearby. If you're lucky the cats will prefer this special corner to your prize plants. They may even invite friends — but they'll stay in their own little playroom.
If you're not cat-owned, however, and suspect that the neighborhood felines spend their spare time plotting ways to drive you nuts, sterner measures are called for.
If you're pregnant or have a compromised immune system, then you have even more reason to be wary of felines, as toxoplasmosis is a very real danger. So you will need a strategy.
The gentlest tactics involve harmless but irritating remedies. Cats are not stupid, and are quite capable of being conditioned to avoid those things that create unpleasantness. Many are repelled by a good blast from the hose. It may take a few squirts, but they learn. Unfortunately, however, some of them enjoy water, especially in the summer heat. For them, you must get sterner still.
Try planting rue. The blue leaves are a lovely garden accent, but cats seem to hate the odor. They aren't terrible fond of rolling in roses, either — the thorns do tend to muss their fur so!
If you think about it, cats rarely roll in plants of any kind.
Unless it's the drug-like catnips and valerians, most cats ignore growing things. It's the dirt they covet. Ready-made kitty litter! So the simple solution is — don't leave any. Plant anything — rue, or roses or whatever you fancy — but don't leave room for rolling. My own cats are too busy napping in the catnip to bother the rest of the yard, but when they do emerge from their stupors they'd rather watch the goldfish than scratch in the few inches of soil I've left unplanted.
Newer, barer gardens, however, call for different tactics.
Some people sprinkle things. Use crushed pepper and you'll get one irritated cat and perhaps a few bonus pepper plants. Or scatter cayenne — but you'll need another application every time it rains. Others swear that ground up grapefruit or lemon rind is effective. An alternate method is to make a tea from any of these ingredients — rue tea, hot pepper liquid or just plain lemon juice and spray your plants. I used to spray with hot peppers and garlic steeped in water, which seemed to not only repel furry critters but also aphids.
And then there's the theory of marking. Cats mark out their territory by spraying, and learn to avoid territories already marked by other felines. Some people have used predator urine on the theory that a cat may wisely choose to avoid a territory seemingly marked by a coyote. The economy version of this theory calls for watering the garden with the urine of 2-footed predators, thus also supplying nitrogen to the soil. Males come equipped with handy little hoses of varying sizes for this purpose; we females may need a very wide-mouthed watering can. And some privacy. This tactic is also rumored to deter deer.
If you are not into homemade remedies, there are commercial cat deterrents available. Australians can buy "Get Off My Garden", odoriferous crystals which will not only not wash away in the rain, but allegedly becomes more effective when wet.
Americans go for stronger medicine, apparently preferring to repel pests electronically. Devices such as Cat Scram, Animal Chaser, ScareCrow and Pest Deterrent use various combinations of sound, light and/or water to frighten the fearsome beasts from your yard.
As a last resort (and to repair to the damage the above repellents may do to a cat's psyche) you can try therapy. Cat behavior modification using homeopathic medicine and flower essences is now just a phone call and $40 fee away! If you need to resort to this, you may also want to consider some online therapy for yourself! Anyone that terrorized by a small furry pet will need it.
As for myself, I prefer the gentle solution. I give my cats their place in the garden, and they give me mine. I have always known that cats can be taught. Mine have learned the meaning of "no." And so we exist peacefully in the garden, they chasing voles and nibbling the nepeta, I digging holes and nibbling the nasturtiums.
But then, I've always been a pacifist at heart.
About the Author Carol is a garden writer and college professor in northeast Pennsylvania. She manages the Gardening section of Suite 101.com, where she also writes the column Virtually Gardening.