Cats in the garden

By on September 4, 2017

People have strong feelings about animals in the garden – both domestic and wild creatures.  Animals can destroy your landscape and managing the damage they do is part of growing successful gardens, but if you have cats that enjoy some time outside, you can create a special place for them which might even help to keep them out of garden areas you want to protect.

“Sparky Lyle” the kitty-cat, employs a weed suppression technique of his own devising in the garden. K. Gabalski photo

“Sparky Lyle” the kitty-cat, employs a weed suppression technique of his own devising in the garden. K. Gabalski photo

Joanne Brown, a Master Gardener in Frederick County, Maryland, writes that cats can be helpful in the garden by keeping rodent populations in check.  She says the famous Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania includes cats on their payroll as part of their Integrated Pest Management Team.

You probably don’t want to pay your cat for mousing work, but here are some ideas and tips about planting a spot in your garden for your feline friends.

Cats like to dig and roll around in the soil, so a garden play spot for them might best be located behind a garage, shed, or tucked in a corner. You probably also want to consider a spot that is away from your favorite vegetable and flower plantings as well as bird feeders and bird baths.

Dr. Leonard Perry, extension professor, University of Vermont, recommends preparing the site as you would for any new garden – adding organic matter and fertilizer into the soil.  Compost is helpful to both clay and sandy soils.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) and catmint (Nepeta mussinii), not surprisingly, are mentioned as favorite plants for cats because they trigger a strong response from felines who like to roll about in the foliage.  Not all kitties respond enthusiastically, but catnip and catmint grow well in sunny conditions and produce tiny lavender and white to dark blue flowers.

Cats also crave grasses which provide them with roughage and vitamins including folic acid.  Grasses help kitties with their digestion and assist in the removing of fur balls.

You can grow special cat grasses or simply allow a patch of  grass to grow un-mowed for them.  My cats are drawn to tall grass during hot weather as a place to hide and cool off as well as to snack.

Experts also suggest cat thyme (Teucrium marum) – a member of the mint family and related to Germander, not the herb thyme; and valerian (Valeriana officianalis) or garden heliotrope. Valerian is attractive and has fern-like foliage with fragrant pink, white or lavender flowers.

Your kitty garden could also include a small shelter and water – cats are especially drawn to moving water for drinking.

If you want to keep kitties out of your garden, Extension master gardeners suggest spraying the intruder with water from your hose, planting thorny roses, placing mats in the garden which have soft, upward facing points, spreading ground-up grapefruit or lemon rinds, or try planting rue.  Rue is an herb with very attractive blue foliage (the design for the club suit in a deck of playing cards was inspired by the shape of rue leaves).  Cats do not like the odor of rue and using it around the perimeter of your gardens may help to deter them.


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