Finding the right plants for your cats

Finding the right plants for your cats

by Ellen Goff

MY FRIEND, GEORGE, owns a very sweet cat named Sooty whose naughty, often destructive antics quickly forced him to learn how his plants could coexist happily with this new creature.

The first step is to make peace among the houseplants. One of Sooty's bad habits (her daily sprinkling of urine) will eventually kill most potted plants. To prevent your houseplants from being mistaken for a litter box, fill the top of the plant container with large, chunky bark mulch. You can discourage recreational digging by covering the pot's soil surface with decorative stones.

If you'd like to grow something that your cat will enjoy, try catnip. Nepeta, a member of the mint family, is easy to grow, drought tolerant and resistant to both deer and disease. It stands up well to the intense heat and summer humidity of the Southeast. The plant contains many chemical compounds including nepetalactone, the substance that attracts and stimulates many cats to sniff, lick, shake their head and roll around in ecstasy.

"Cats are so emotional," says groomer Karen Helm of highly rated Preferred Pets in Charlotte, N.C. "Catnip can be good recreation for them around the house where they feel relaxed. It makes them feel sexy."

For cats that are attracted to the foliage of houseplants, a pot of cat grass can be a safe alternative. Oats (Avena sativa) is the seed usually sold as cat grass. It germinates within a week and is ready for nibbling after it's grown a few inches. Be sure to limit your cat's grazing to just a few minutes a day to prevent overeating and vomiting.

Photo courtesy of Ellen Goff | Sooty enjoys the occasional snack of cat grass that’s grown indoors by her owner, George.

Cats in an outdoor garden may be bliss for some cat lovers and big trouble for others. For starters, many cities and county municipalities have ordinances against free-roaming cats, so check the laws in your locality. Secondly, according to the American Bird Conservancy, millions of birds are killed by cat predators. They urge owners of the country's 90 million pet cats to keep them indoors.

Despite your best efforts, you may find neighborhood cats digging in the flower beds. Dissuade them with small pieces of chicken wire placed at intervals on top of the soil. Cut pieces that are easy to handle and fit into open spaces between plants where digging has occurred. Cut a few of the cross wires and twist several down to secure it into the ground. Twist a few up as an obstacle to walking or digging.

Today, I share my home and my yard with three cats. While they each have their own idiosyncrasies, thanks to a few small adjustments on my end, the garden and potted plants continue to thrive undisturbed.

Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She's passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.

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