Critters In The Garden FAQ
Fred's design of a highly successful deer fence
Cats! How do I keep them out of my plants?
(3/19/01) "I just recently discovered that you have a website which interests me greatly. I've been searching but don't seem to find anything on how to keep cats away from houseplants. Mine, since the day we brought her home when she was about ten weeks old, attacks my houseplants! She mostly goes for the soil but also the leaves. I have had to put all my plants in one room and shut the door to keep her away. I love plants so I wonder if you have a solution. I recently bought some cat grass which I haven't dared to try yet, being afraid that she'll tip it over and spill the soil. So, if you have any advice, it would be much appreciated! Thank you. Cheryl."
Cats! Actually, Cheryl, you may already have the only solution: put all your plants in one room and shut the door. I might add that a sturdy padlock opened only by a complex key would insure that your clever and determined young feline cannot gain access. . .unless she's a Siamese. In that case, all hope is lost!
In my many years of life-experience much of it enjoyed in the company of felines the one constant that precedes all others is the ever-present and disappointing fact that there is very little any human can do with an aberrant cat.
Having said that, it must be admitted that cats have an uncanny instinct, and an inherent perception of their own physiological needs. So, here I go, off on a rather wild and speculative diagnosis: Is it possible that your cat's diet may be lacking in one or the other mineral which it (or its mysterious mind) perceives might be available in potting soil or leaves? That being the case and this is really stretching perhaps a vitamin/mineral supplement suitable for cats would be in order. And go ahead with the "cat-grass" but put something really heavy in the bottom of the pot for stability. You might well consider placing that grassy-plant near her usual sleeping place so it'll be the first thing she sees on arising, or you might watch her normal pattern of attacking plants, and place "her" grassy-plant in the immediate path of that normal pattern.
Is it possible that she's trying to use potting soil as "potty" soil? Cats'll do that if their regular potty is just simply too totally disgusting. If that were the case, the solution is revealed by logic and a pressing sense of guilt.
Another possibility: there may be tiny, flying insects on or near your plants, the presence of which fascinates your furry little friend. Probably not a likely scenario, but worth further investigation methinks. Even those thoroughly disgusting and clumsy cluster-flies in winter windows would draw most active cats to sills festooned with plants. Fungus gnats and shoreflies, while tiny, could also qualify as culprits.
Yet another possibility: boredom. Cats normally sleep away about 80% of their lives. When awake, they seem dedicated to making up for lost time, and often launch into what most people label "cat-fits" of undisciplined, chaotic (and unbridled) destruction. Appropriate "toys" on the floor at the other end of the house might occupy her little mind and "wear" her out before she spots the plants.
Despite their tenacity and fervor, however, cats cannot abide a scent of the essential oils of citrus, a little-known fact that may work to your advantage. Most pet stores sell repellants. An aerosol of citrus-based material is often used to prevent catly excursions onto furniture and away from outdoor shrubbery. Perhaps if used judiciously it might keep your cat away from "her" plants. Be very cautious about getting the aerosol onto tender houseplant leaves, however, or you might see chemical damage worse than existing cat-damage. A possible option would be to place some orange- or lemon-peel shavings on the soil surface. They'll lose their effect in a day or two but, if you stay on the offensive, your cat may develop a new more acceptable pattern of behavior.
A new introduction into the plant world is a green-leafed variety of coleus with a pungent-and-repulsive -to-cats-and-dogs odor that may deter nibbling without offending the noses of humans. Most garden centers will have it in the spring of 2003 under the names "Scardy-Cat" and "Dog's Gone". Better for outdoor planting, it just might work the same way indoors. It's difficult, however, to imagine a marginally-attractive green plant with tiny, unimpressive flowers, as a houseplant. Worth a try? Maybe.
A close friend suggested inserting sharp toothpicks into the soil sticking up an inch or so to discourage digging. That, however, won't stop the nibbling of foliage, and might be more than an inconvenience for the cat and you.
As with all things related to feline behavior and personality, you are starting out along a lengthy road of trial and error, ending (hopefully) in well-earned experience. Patience, of course, is prime...but so also is persistence. Even if all efforts are futile in that process of attempting to adjust behavior, you will doubtless enjoy her antics for years to come.
Finally, if she were my cat, I'd. . .I'd. . .I'd. . .probably 1) bite the bullet and relinquish full control of all houseplants; and 2) keep a broom and dustpan handy.
Additional info regarding cats in houseplants and gardens
Cats! Keeping neighborhood cats out of my garden.
(6/1/03) "Hi, please help us out. Our neighbor's cat comes over and uses our yard and bushes for all purposes. Our shrubs and front porch smell horribly. I have talked with the cats' owners but that was of no help whatsoever. Their cats are still coming over. They also get into my tomato plants. Is there a non-poisonous spray that I could use to get rid of the terrible odor from the cats spraying our plants etc.? Would appreciate all help. Cannot even open the front windows as the odor is terrible from the cats. Thanking you, Tab.
Greetings, Tab! Thanks for your question. I'd like a quarter for every email I get about invasive neighbor's cats! The odor is essentially ammonia-based...in a concentrated form. It is "volatile" in that, given time, will evaporate/dilute/neutralize. We had a similar problem with a dog who during the winter never got far from the back door because of the deep snow, and left vast amounts of urine odor after melt and as the weather turned hot. It took weeks of daily flushing with water to finally dilute it away. I also found "Odor Destroyer" at http://www.odordestroyer.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv (Line of odor-removers and animal repellants) that's about as good as you can get. A bit pricy at $18 for a quart...but when you consider the alternative...... I recommend the orange scent. There's also a spray called "Boundry" (from them...but you might find it at a local pet supply store) to discourage future intrusions into the garden. You might also take a peek at http://www.extension.umn.edu/info-u/pets/BB634.html (Removing cat odor indoors) for a little insight.
(Read Tab's reply)
Dogs in the Garden
3/1/01 How do I keep dogs out of my flower beds? Cindy
Cindy: Unleashed, undisciplined and untrained dogs of all sizes have been the exasperating and frustrating bane of gardeners since the two hobbies were aligned centuries ago. Fences and leashes seem to be the most effective, though some gardeners have been driven to near insanity and have been known to employ sticks, whips, shotguns, traps and poisons as (unacceptable) alternatives. Even I was tempted to employ a rather sharp spade on the toothed-end of a challenging and threatening dog-intrusion a couple of years ago.
I've trained our sheltie, Harry, to walk only (only) on the paths....and relieve himself only (only) away from the garden - back in the weeds and woods. Visitors to our more-or-less public gardens are always impressed - sometimes amazed - at how he never sets foot on tilled earth, even to retrieve a ball or toy thrown there. He was 3 years old (a "rescue" at age 3) when I introduced the concept of unquestioned obedience....and this phase of his training was complete in less than a week. (Harry had been severely mistreated as a young dog, then generally neglected during his 3rd year, when we found him. If this pitiful wretch could learn....any dog can learn.) Harry is gone now; there's more to his story.
Now, a neighbor's dog...that's an animal with a different wag. While you can't train him (the dog...not the neighbor; well....maybe the neighbor could be trained), you can make your garden environment very unpleasant - from a dog's point of view. They DETEST the odor of citrus (try offering a piece of orange or lemon peel to a dog and see the immediate revulsion!). Most large pet shops and well-stocked garden centers carry aerosol sprays of citrus for use in repelling dogs (and occasionally) cats. While pricey and only temporary (rain or sprinkling washes it off and time weakens its effect), the material will repel most dogs.
Most communities have "leash-laws" - though they're rarely enforced - and animal control officers. You might consider contacting your local authority and letting them know a problem exists. You're paying their (albeit meager) stipend...use their services. A local or regional "campaign" to tactfully encourage pet owners to accept responsibility for their dog or cat's (or multiples thereof) actions and influence on the rights and turf of others might also have a long-term impact on the quality of your (and your community's) gardens and property - if not the personal safety of you and your family. The trick, of course, is to somehow convince the dog-owner - and the authorities if all else fails - that a problem, threat or annoyance exists. No simple task in some cases.
Sorry to be so wordy.... intrusions into my space by the uncontrolled and undisciplined domestic pets of others - including neighbors - has become a subject about which I feel very deeply. A bit more information on the subject of deterring garden-intruders can be found in "Archives." Look for "Repelling The Rascals". You'll also find more on the subject in: More About Dogs in Gardens.
Finally, you might check your local nursery for a new introduction: a green-leaf coleus marketed under the name of "Dogs-Gone" and "Scardy-Cat" that're said to repel both dogs and cats when planted about every 4 feet in the garden but without any objectionable odor for us. I haven't tried it yet; I plan to.....we'll see how true the claims are. Fred.
Here's a recent email (1/30/06), probably from California, asking about dog repellants:
"I'm looking for a home remedy mixture to spray on the ground to repel neighborhood
dogs and keep them from "pooping" in our yard. Can you give me any suggestions or
ideas? Thanks for your time. J."
Response: Dogs, being dogs, are attracted to just about anything that smells....well....foul or rotten...or really unpleasant to humans. Like dog poop or its persistent residues, dog urine or its persistent residues......or anything dead or its persistent residues... you probably get the picture (and, consequently, the answer to your question).
On the other hand, those objectionable and tenaciously-persistent odors might (and I emphasize might) be masked by an equally strong and persistent odor of clean....fresh....but nothing that smells of food (virtually anything except tar, metal, plastic, or glass).
Most large pet stores sell (at outrageous prices) a citrus-based spray that stands the best chance of maybe (emphasizing maybe) discourage a dog that's generally more mentally challenged than the average canine.
I personally think you're trying, in a rather futile sort of way, to douse a huge forest fire with a thimbleful of water.
A fence might do the trick, though. So, also might a frank but forceful exchange with the offending dogs' owners. Good Luck! Fred
Skunks! Getting Rid of Them (Maybe) (6/1/01)
This question was a response to a recent article (Skunks! A Question of Common "Scents"). I had referred to friends who'd hired someone to remove them from beneath their porch. "d" wanted to know who that brave soul was.
"d"......thanks for your inquiry. Those friends with a pesky skunk problem have since sold-out and moved to a retirement community in North Carolina (a move, incidentally, encouraged by the challenges of living in rural Maine - especially during winter). I was never given the name of the man who trapped and hauled away their skunks....but, I'd guess that your community Animal Control Officer (an elected official) would be able to guide you to an equally adept and fearless candidate. The State Dept of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is also a viable resource. Game Wardens and Forest Rangers know just about everybody! Unless I miss my memory-guess, I think that's how my friends found their man.
Well...Keep your cats indoors! (7/5/03)
A comment from a visitor who has the solution to (all of our) cat problems: "I have a suggestion about cats in the garden.....keep your cats indoors. Really, all cats seem to do is prowl around "relieving" themselves in everyone else's gardens...I know dogs are a lot more work because you actually have to clean up their poop, but if people would keep their cats indoors, this would alleviate all of this.
I have nothing against cats (other than being allergic to their dander) but I think owners should keep them indoors. I know people have cats because they are very easy (they poop everywhere but at home) but it isn't fair to everyone else. I know, my garden is full of cat poop and I do not want to use cayenne or any measure that could harm them. Thanks. (Anonymous)
Thanks for your input! Yes...that would make life more pleasant (and possibly healthier) for those of us with "neighbors" who heretofore allow their pets to roam freely. I can, however, hear the objections coming from all sides..."Well, MY sweet kitty ALWAYS uses the cat box! Even when she's outdoors, if she has to go...she comes in through her cat-door, then goes back outside again." (Yeah, right!) Here's a good one: "It's a free country (!)...and my cat has the right to not be locked in the house all the time!" (Where in the Constitution is that right guaranteed for any animal? I don't think so!). Cat door manufacturers would do a fair amount of whining as well.
It's a fair suggestion, though...but, given the overwhelming majority-attitude in our "free" society, it's not going to happen in our lifetimes. But perhaps your suggestion may encourage a few cat-staff (the real title of cat-owners) to assume a bit more responsibility...to our eternal gratefulness! Fred.
Bats In Maine 7/1/03
Are they year round residents? Do they hibernate if they stay in the winter? Joyce S.
Virtually all of the most common bats found in Maine spend their winters here -- in protected locations like attics (which they seem to be able to get into through the tiniest hole), barn rafters, sheds, garages, sometimes cave-like enclosures, and in well-made bat boxes. Strictly speaking, they don't hibernate...but their metabolism slows down and it might seem they do. When we lived in a much turn-of-the-century home in Searsport, we had bats in the attic all year round....and when we opened the hatchway during the worst of winter, we could both hear and see them "rustling" and watching us. Sadly, we were finally forced to evict them because of the odor of droppings during warmer weather. For more about bats.
Cucumber Beetles - Garden filled with them! 7/1/03
My garden is filled with cucumber beetles. I have used row covers. But now they're off for pollination. I try picking them off each morning and evening. Very time consuming. This does nothing for the larvae in the soil. Can you suggest a remedy and how often it is needed. I read about lime and wood ashes. Is this going to kill the insects on contact or when they eat the plant? I think some type of dust that would kill them when ingested would work. I gather that dust needs to be applied each time it rains. Please help! They destroyed my entire crop last year, (melons included), and I'm determined to win the battle this year! Many thanks. James.
Greetings, James! Thanks for your question. You'll need to act fast: Apply rotenone dust at 5-day intervals. Repeat after a rain. Or apply sabadilla. (Sabadilla is highly toxic to honey bees, so apply in late evening.) Sabadilla might be tough to find locally, and you don't have the luxury of time to mailorder it....so rotenone dust is best. Avoid breathing the dust...and apply it very early in the a.m. or in the evening and, if there're weeds around the perimeter of the garden, a light dusting of them as well will give you better control. If it were me, I'd continue to scout and hand-pick along with the rotenone...because, of course, they have wings and will fly in from neighboring areas. Good Luck!
More "Keeping cats out of houseplants" 10/9/2005
10/9/2005 "Loulou" adds these additional comments in an email (Thank you, Louise!):
"I have 3 solutions that work to keep cats out of houseplants.
1. I put large gravel over the earth. It keeps the soil moist and the cats away from spreading the earth all over my floor. They can't dig in the gravel...it is too heavy for them.
2. The gravel solved the problem for one plant but then I bought more plants and they made a mess (I have 3 cats). Someone told me to try Gold Bond medicated powder. Well, I bought some and sprinkled it on the bottom of the plants and that was a success. The cats do not like the smell as it is strong on their nose. They stay away from my plant.
3. I had heard of another solution and tried it and it worked too. I put moth balls on top of the soil and, yes, that works too...but I do not like the smell of moth balls but outside that is a perfect solution.
Have a great day and enjoy your plants and your cats. Louise"
(I'll add only that the practice of scattering mothballs around the garden, while doing so may deter the presence of and digging by most small animals, the practice has the potential for unnecessary and easily avoidable soil/groundwater/environmental contamination. Admittedly, it would probably take a lot of mothballs to cause significant contamination since the chemical component is volatile...meaning it is released [evaporated, so to speak] into the atmosphere where it is presumed to be dissipated quickly and harmlessly by the wind. No thanks...I'll stick with an enduring "general rule" If something has an objectionable or offensive odor...it is entirely possible that it just might result in an equally or worse objectionable or offensive unanticipated side-effect down the road. Oh...and I would never apply or bury mothballs beneath the soil surface...like around planted bulbs, into ant nests ,or down "critter" burrows. Fred)
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