Felines in the Garden
Funny story. We rescued our cat a little over 10 years ago. He was hiding on a delivery truck inside a palette of Hudson Valley fans which were wrapped in that clingy plastic. To this day he hates the sound of rustling plastic bags. Nobody at the store could take him, so my partner called me and asked to stop by after work. I was hesitant as we just lost the best cat in the world to old age and I said never again. Well, I ended up going there, picked up the quivering, scared bundle of fur hiding under the restroom sink, and held him on my chest. Needless to say, we went home with Hudson that night.
I’ve always been a cat person—well, any kind of pet, really—but grew up with lots of cats as long as I can remember. Some were outside cats, some indoor cats, many were both. We had a decent size yard and lived next to a creek, so there were many places for them to explore. To this day my brother swears that he saw his cat, Fred, roaming the city streets of downtown Harrisburg, which was a few miles away from our house. I’m not so sure, but Fred lived to be in his twenties, so anything is possible.
Going from a suburban setting to more urban, and then into a more clustered neighborhood with smaller yards, it became evident to me that not all people appreciate our feline friends. They can do some real damage to gardens and become a nuisance to neighbors. What is one to do?
Here are some tips for both protecting your garden from curious cats plus giving them some room to play.
To deter cats from digging up your garden beds, try mulching them with prickly or coarse materials such as pine needles and pinecones, holly twigs, or even a stone mulch.
Placing chicken wire on top of your soil can also help deter digging by cats. This measure has been used for deterring squirrels and other critters as well, making it difficult for them to get to those precious bulbs.
A cat’s sense of smell is much stronger than ours. They tend to dislike strong smelling plants, such as lavender. Lavender is also deer resistant, so a two-for-one deal.
Along the same lines, citrus peels and mothballs can be scattered throughout the garden too.
It’s not a good idea to place food for your pets outside. The smell can attract other wildlife, including neighboring cats. Always clean your grill, too.
Make sure to plug holes or openings under decks, sheds, garages, etc. as they can play host to feral cats or other animals seeking shelter.
If you want to share your space with a friendly feline, here are a couple ways to make that experience fun for all but still steer them away from your special garden spaces.
Place specific species that cats favor, like catmint, in a separate part of the yard. They may make it their home and leave other parts of the garden alone.
Consider installing a sandbox near these plants. Yes, it will be an attractive space for cats to do their business, but better here than in the garden.
Cats, along with gardens, have always provided me with joy. Combining the two may not suit everyone. So, whether you’re the type to shoo them away or the type who wants to share your garden space, I hope these tidbits come in handy. ▼
Eric W. Wahl, RLA is a landscape architect at Element Design Group and president of the Delaware Native Plant Society.