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Cats in the Garden

By Anne Robin, Master Gardener

I love cats, really I do. Ever since I was five years old and had my first tiger tom cat, many different cats have allowed me to care for them. My last kitty, Helen, passed away peacefully at 18 years of age. She was an indoor cat most of her life, and enjoyed sitting in the windowsill watching the world go by. I am currently cat-less, but I know that will change sometime.

Recently however, I have been having some downright nasty thoughts about felines. My neighbor has the laudable penchant of rescuing shelter kitties…..four at last count. I think this is wonderful. However, they are mostly outdoor cats. They have chosen my gardens as their favorite hang out.

As cute as they are, they do cause just a few wee little problems. For instance, when I stuck my finger into the nice new bed I made for some rhododendrons to check the moisture level, I did find something moist…..and sticky…..and stinky! Yuck! Another morning I went out to take a look at my beautiful five-foot-high Indigo Spires salvias, and found a broken mess of flowers and stems lying all over the ground. And in the middle, one of my neighbor´s cats happily asleep.

Then there are the songbirds. I have several feeders and a couple of birdbaths placed throughout the yard. A number of different bird species as well as a neighborhood doe and her twin fawns visit them regularly. The deer couldn´t care less about the cats, but my poor husband has had to pick up at least 10 dead birds for me since I can´t do it myself. The cats leave the poor little carcasses right where I´m going to water next.

If you have neighborhood cats and want to avoid some of the messier garden mishaps they can cause, here are a few tips. Place some chicken wire around the areas kitty uses as a litter box. Cover it lightly with mulch. When the cat scratches, she won´t like the feel of the wire and will move on. There are some nifty plastic pointed things in a garden catalogue that would accomplish the same thing, and they are probably easier to move around and keep her guessing. Also in the catalogues one can find various repellents. I´m not sure how well they work, but they may be worth a try. Cats don´t especially like to get wet, so a water hose can send a message. But that seems a little too mean…maybe just a good soaking of the bed to keep it damp. Sharp pointed sticks, like bamboo chopsticks, placed around a precious plant may be just enough of a deterrent to keep Miss Kitty from deciding to sleep on it. None of these methods are designed to injure the cat, just persuade her to GO HOME!

According to the Audubon Society, an outdoor domestic cat can kill up to 100 songbirds a year. Just that alone is a good reason to keep cats inside. Between the number of diseases and parasites an outdoor cat can pick up, and the predators (including the four wheeled kind) they can encounter out there, cats live much longer, healthier lives if they are kept indoors. Besides, what is better than sitting on the couch providing lap space for a warm purring critter? Any number of indoor activities can provide plenty of exercise for an indoor cat to keep up her muscle tone. Like scratching in or tipping over the houseplants…..but that´s a topic for another article! Go to the shelter and rescue a homeless kitty….and then keep her in the house! See you in the garden.

Reminder: Master Gardener Demonstrations, Cassina High Dome, 251 S. Barretta Street, Sonora. All demonstrations are held on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. 9/23—“Papering” Your Garden to Reduce Weeds, 9/30—Bamboo Arts and Crafts for the Garden, 10/7—Composting, 10/14—Arbors & Trellises.

Garden Tour Nominations: If you, your friend, or neighbors have a beautiful garden, we´d like to hear about it. Master Gardeners are accepting nominations for gardens to be shown on the 2007 Annual Garden Tour. To nominate a garden, call 533-5696 or e-mail rmcripps@tuolumne.co.ca.us; thank you.

Anne Robin is a Master Gardener intern; she graduated from the 2006 Master Gardener training program in Tuolumne County.