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Garden Q&A: Tips to keep cats out of garden

| Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, 6:13 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
A Nepeta plant (catnip) in flower

Question: I'm looking for environmentally safe ways to keep cats from “doing their business” in my butterfly garden as well as in the mulch around my trees.

Answer: Cat urine is quite potent. Not only is the odor bothersome, but the salts and nitrogen contained in it can burn plant foliage and roots. Plus, feline fecal matter can contain a number of pathogens, including roundworms, parasitic nematodes and Toxoplasma gondii (a parasite which causes the disease Toxoplasmosis).

Doing your best to keep kitty from using your garden as a litter box is a good idea.

Here are a few possible solutions:

Let's start with two mechanical deterrents.

Motion-activated sprinklers, such as the Scarecrow by Contech (available through Amazon.com, Petco.com, and others), can be hooked up to the garden hose. They send a sharp burst of water whenever motion is sensed in the area, scaring away cats, dogs, deer and rowdy teenagers.

Another idea is a motion-activated ultrasonic device that emits a high-frequency sound whenever movement is sensed in the area, sending cats elsewhere. CatStop is one brand that's available from retailers.

Cats prefer to dig before they “go,” so a simple physical barrier of chicken wire or plastic bird netting laid down over the soil and pinned into place will keep them from digging up the garden. You can cut holes through the netting and plant right through it or just lay strips of chicken wire around the perimeter of the garden. Most cats don't like walking over it, either.

I've heard of people placing all manner of sharp-edged objects in their flower beds in an effort to keep cats from doing their business. I caution you against this, as you don't want to harm the cat or any other wildlife (or children) who might be exploring.

Another commonly touted solution is to spread citrus peels, black pepper powder or crushed cayenne in the area. I haven't had much success with these solutions, but I do know some gardeners who swear by them.

Be aware that you'll need to replace them regularly to aid in their effectiveness. Lastly, I offer what might possibly be the easiest, least-expensive and most effective way to keep cats out of your garden: build them one of their own. Cats love catnip (Nepeta cataria and several other Nepeta species).

Purchase a few plants and tuck them into an out-of-the-way area of your yard. Near the plants, dig a shallow pit and fill it with fine-grained sand. Cats will much prefer to use this new sandbox area instead of your garden.

You might even find them lounging in the catnip on sunny summer days.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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