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Keeping the Pets Out of the Garden!
Q. Mike, do you know any way todiscourage cats from using my garden as their personal restroom? Welive in a rural area, and I love cats, so whenever someone "drops oneor two off" in the middle of the night, we just buy more food andwelcome them to our family. Unfortunately, they 'use' our vegetable andflower gardens, in spite of the litter boxes we provide in the garage.Help!

            ---ZellaStarling; Chandler, OK

P.S. I listen to your show on KGOU, 105.7, from the University ofOklahoma

A. Ha! Nice last name, Zella!(Did you know that despite 'your' reputation as a nuisance, starlingsare the only bird that eats Japanese beetles both ways—as grubs in thesoil and as airborne adults?)

Speaking of garden pests, that bodacious bevy of ferocious felines mustprovide you with the most vermin-free landscape in the state! Ah, buteven the joy of gardening without moles, voles, mice, wabbits and nastypocket gophers probably doesn't ease the "ICK" factor when you reachdown into nice rich soil hoping to pick a peck of potatoes and come upwith a handful of something you definitely weren't looking to grab ahold of. Eeeeuuuu! Sixteen pads of Brillo and those hands STILL don'tfeel clean, do they?

The problem is that loose garden soil is a great place for your felinesto "cover their feces and preserve the species". Predators like catsbury their waste products so that their prey—those aforementionedrabbits, mice, voles, moles and gophers (again, the PLUS side of havingkitties in a kitchen garden) won't know their nemesis are near.

Now, before we name a few things that might allow you to safely keepthe pest patrol portion of this equation without a side of cat scat, agentle plea to everyone out there: DON'T USE MOTHBALLS TO REPEL CATS—ORANYTHING ELSE—IN THE GARDEN! I know some fools endorse using thosepuerile poisonous pellets for such purposes, but having those nastylittle balls of toxic waste around is worse than deep breathing in anasbestos factory! Don't buy them, use them, touch them, or inhale theirdeadly fumes in any way. They are real kidney killers.
Instead, try one of more of these Seven Secrets of Successful PoopPreventers:
•    The horizontal fencing trick. This is the perfecttime of year—before our gardens really get going—to lay chicken wiredown on top of your beds, like a carpet. Spring bulbs and garlic greenscome up right thru it; you can seed crops like lettuce, string beans,and peas right on top; and you can cut holes in the fencing toaccommodate perennials and veggie and flower starts. Cats won't 'go'where they can't 'scratch and cover'—and the fencing quickly sinks intothe soil, so you won't even see it.
•    Appeasement. Keep a covered litter box (they looklike little doghouses) filled with fresh litter out by the garden. Thecover keeps rain out, and single cats will use it instead of yourpetunia patch. Zella—unfortunately, multiple cats will sometimes treateven multiple litter boxes like tribal challenges on Survivor. Each catwill quickly try and mark each box, and then none of them will use anyof them. (This is the only instance where cats act more like men thanwomen.) In a situation just like yours, I'd recommend having a largeload of sand dumped near the garden for them to use instead. In myexperience, if the pile is big enough, they won't treat itterritorially.
•    Deterrents. Spread grapefruit and orange rindsaround your beds. Many of our listeners swear that citrus peels workgreat at repelling cats. Or try a commercial dog and cat repellantspray.
•    Water. Personal: Stand by with a 'loaded' hose or abig Super Soaker type water gun and give every cat what comes near afree bath.
•    Automatic: The "Motion Activated Sprinkler". Youset it up, attach it to your hose, turn the water on full blast,and—nothing happens! …Until someone or something approaches the gardenand actives the sensor. Then the device shoots a couple cups offreezing cold water at them—chasing away, cats, dogs, groundhogs, deer,and tomato-filching neighbors without harming them. (Hang out behindthe curtains and watch!) Available at garden centers and in manycatalogs. (Get it---"Cat" a-logs? Oh—you're all hopeless!)
•    Scent Them Out. Put a "Piss-off Plant" in everybed! That's the name this HEAVILY scented coleus is sold under inEurope, where it's said to be a big hit. Bred to keep cats AND dogsaway (and now bunnies, they newly claim), its called "Scardy Cat" and"Dog's Gone" here in the states. Look for the distinctive large tags ofterrified cartoon dogs and cats stuck into the plants at nurseries andgarden centers. You can check them out on the web at
•    Give Them a Hot Foot…eh, Paw. If all else fails,spread dried hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper powder overtop yourbeds. But please make this a last resort: It won't cause long-termharm, but it could be temporarily painful for the poor kitties, whoafter all, are just 'doing' what comes naturally. (And be aware thatall the seeds mixed in with those dried flakes could well produce apretty little pepper plant ground cover in your raised beds.)
•    Special advice for Wild Cats. If your problem iswith truly FERAL (wild) cats, contact one of the organizationsdedicated to both improving the lives of those poor abandoned kittiesand getting them out of the hair of harried homeowners. I personallyrecommend "Alley Cat Allies" in Washington, DC: 202-667-3630; They have agreat program that offers resources, information, AND a state-by-statelist of people and organizations that will help you capture the cats,get them neutered and vaccinated, and perhaps even put them up foradoption. They're a wonderful, one-stop, pro-cat resource for peoplewith feral feline troubles.

©2004 Mike McGrath

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