Gardening with Cats
First-hand advice from a Grump who loves both.
Judy and I treasure our two cats, Ivanka, the Russian Blue (that’s her amid the roses) and her companion, Jean-Luc, the French Chartreux. We think they are the most wonderful animals Our Lord ever created. We’re aware, however, that some of you loathe cats, and urge you to seek immediate treatment for this serious character flaw.
Cats are easier on gardens than dogs because they’re smaller and seldom grind plants into oblivion. However, they do cause problems from time to time, the nature of which depends on whether they outdoor cats, indoor cats, or a mixture of both.
Outdoor Cats and the Garden
Our cats spend most of the day romping through our yard and gardens, playing chase, stalking squirrels, and smelling everything. We trained them from kittens to stay inside our property lines and if they stray, one word of rebuke brings them hustling back. Roaming cats get in cat fights, resulting in vet bills that we don’t want.
I know at this point some of you are outraged we allow our cats outside. “Cats are exterminating birds, lizards, and all other forms of native wildlife,” you scream. “Keep them indoors, you eco-terrorist!”
Save your breath. We hang birdfeeders well up in the trees where our cats can’t reach. Down below, Ivanka and Jean-Luc do an excellent job of dispatching rodents such as voles, mice, and chipmunks, for which we’re grateful. Why are we grateful about the cute, little chipmunks? Uncontrolled, their numbers skyrocket and they damage gardens. For example, they built such as elaborate network of burrows under our side garden that big camellias sank into the ground. No more.
WATCH: Study of 900 House Cats Reveals What They Do When They Go Outside
The main complaint I hear about cats and outdoor gardens is when the felines use the neighbor’s garden beds for litter boxes. I get this. It’s pretty disgusting. One way to discourage this behavior is by making the surface of the ground unpleasant for cats to walk on or sit down. My mother used to cut branches from a very thorny climbing rose and lay them atop the flower bed. It worked. You can also mulch your beds with sweet gum balls and pinecones. Or you can try various cat repellents, like coyote urine. (Seriously. Don’t ask me how they collect it.) Don’t put down mothballs. Mothballs are quite toxic to both people and animals and aren’t intended for outdoor use.
Indoor Cats and Houseplants
Face up to it now. If you have small houseplants, they are unlikely to survive in a house with cats for long. For one thing, cats love to brush up against everything. It gives them pleasure. So when they rub against that little plant on the windowsill and send it crashing to its doom on the floor, they receive a rush of serotonin. But the plant doesn’t have to be on a windowsill. I’ve given up trying to grow Christmas cacti in any room where a cat has access. Christmas cactus branches are very brittle and a rubbing cat quickly reduces the plant to a pile of shards.
In addition to smelling and rubbing on everything, cats like to taste houseplants. Unfortunately, many can sicken or kill a cat. (No dead cat jokes here or you’re toast.) Click here for a list of plants toxic to cats.
A final plant problem related to indoor cats is that if you have big pots, cats may decide to “dig” (aka “poop”) in them. The solution is pretty much the same as for outdoor cats digging in the garden. Cover the soil surface with something they don’t like, such as stones or pinecones.
Cats are wonderful. Plants are wonderful. Let’s all enjoy them together and make this a purr-fect world.