Lifestyle

Gardening: Use some biology to deter those funky felines

Michael Lascelle has a thirty-year background in horticulture. - The News/Files
Michael Lascelle has a thirty-year background in horticulture.
— image credit: The News/Files

I have a cat and his name is Gus.

He was a rescue who was abandoned in Surrey as a kitten, and we adopted him at a local shelter a few years back. Gus was a bit portly as a youngster, so our daughters named him after the chubby mouse in Disney’s Cinderella and unfortunately, he still lives up to his name.

We keep him leashed when he goes outside because the coyote-to- cat ratio in east Maple Ridge is rather high and I don’t think the neighbours would appreciate his version of fertilizing the garden.

I know of many gardeners who are frustrated with neighbourhood cats who insist on using every square inch of dry soil as their personal litter box and their concerns are valid, as the feces do carry pathogens and parasites.

The hard part is keeping them away, because once they have found a favourite spot they tend to keep using it, kind of like marking their territory.

So we are going to address some means of discouraging this behaviour without being cruel to these animals, which are only doing what comes natural to them.

The best place to start is with the cat’s mortal enemy, water.

Start by soaking the dry areas they tend to frequent as this helps to leach the urine and lessen the scent they are attracted to. If this doesn’t work, try being a little more proactive by keeping a super soaker on hand and squirting them as they approach or consider hooking up a ScareCrow sprinkler which has a motion detector and makes an awful racket when dispensing its punitive sprays.

Another strategy is to consider covering up the affected soil.

A temporary layer of chicken wire often works well because cats hate walking over it, as it catches their nails. A more aesthetic approach might be to cover the area with a good quality landscape fabric and some river or lava rock - as they are unable to dig through this sort of barrier.

Another option is to consider repellents such as coyote urine (they will avoid the scent of a predator) or fertilizing with blood meal (at no higher than label rate or it will burn the plant roots), as its pungency usually keep cats at bay.

You can also consider planting repellent herbs such as the ones listed below, provided you have leached the soil thoroughly before planting; these will keep cats away for about a a metre radius.

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) – This strong mint is not recommended for culinary use but it will repel both cats and ants. As with any mint, you may want to contain its aggressive spreading root system.

Scaredy Cat Plant (Plectranthus caninus) – This tropical herb is marketed under many names including Dog’s Gone, Piss-Off Plant and Coleus canina. Its pungent fleshy foliage and lavender-pink blooms are an effective cat repellent, although it will die out with the frosts.

English or Spanish Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and stoechas) – Both these species are fine evergreen ornamentals and will keep cats at bay, although the Spanish lavender has a higher camphor content, making it more effective.

Rue (Ruta graveolens) – This bitter-scented evergreen perennial is a robust repellent but often causes severe skin irritation in people, so wear gloves when handling it.

Golden Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus ‘Aureus’) – Not only is this a great culinary herb for chicken and fish, it is also a beautiful ornamental with a strong lemon scent that cats greatly dislike.

You can find more complete descriptions of the above plants at www.mikesgardentop5plants.wordpress.com.

 

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