We share our gardens with wildlife and pets as well as with family and friends. This garden article is dedicated to cats and cat-lovers – and even the neighbor’s cats! If you live near open land, you may need to keep your catindoors to be safe from all the clever predators in our wild environment. Some few felines become canny survivors and know how to outsmart coyotes and owls, but for most, safety resides in the house. Coyotes have no problem hunting on asphalt streets after dark, either. Even in the more built up city areas, cats are safer indoors away from dangerous traffic or wandering dogs. As a result, house-bound cats need certain concessions to compensate for their lack of freedom. Cats and the garden can be safe and thrive together.
Many cats will nibble on your indoor plants – if you have them. Perhaps it is the fact that in nature cats would normally consume a basic amount of plant matter inside the bodies of a wild prey diet. Greens are important in the feline diet to aid digestion, help in eliminating fur balls, increase roughage and to provide vitamins in the form of folic acid. Some cats seem more attracted to grass than others. Many of our house plants are attractive but toxic to both pets and children so they should be kept out of exploring mouths.
Bringing in outdoor grass or plants may also include pesticides and other harmful materials you need to be aware of. If you want to keep your cat happy, healthy and protect your indoor plants, you might want to grow your own cat grass. You can invest your money in buying ready-made kits, or you can buy wheat grass, rye, oat or barley seed and grow your own. Growing your own grass is remarkably easy as most seed germinates very quickly when sprinkled on damp soil in a pot. Keep the pot on a window sill where it gets some sun until you see the grass growing to an inch or more, then move it to a counter where it will get good light – preferably some sun — and is more convenient for feline munching. Do make sure the soil is kept damp as the grass will shrivel quickly if the pot dries out. Seeds are usually available in garden centers or on the Internet.
Another plant to grow for your cat is catnip. Although some people fear catnip can be dangerous like some human addictive chemicals, the feline response is not the same as a human’s is to drugs. And catnip is a natural plant with no addictive attributes. Cats vary remarkably in their reaction to catnip. It seems to be a genetic thing that some cats have and others don’t. Some have no interest while others become excited and still others simply dissolve into fits of blissful delight. The response is an olfactory one and it is something our comparatively inadequate noses can not relate to. Catnip is completely safe and if your cat enjoys the stimulation, you can rest assured it is natural and harmless. The chemical nepetalactone in catnip triggers the response. Interestingly enough, even some large cats like tigers are capable of the same responses.
Catnip is the common name for an herb in the Nepeta family. Nepeta cataria is most commonly grown for cats, but the N. grandiflora is also used to produce this pheromone-based intoxication. There are a number of other varieties of catnip that can also stimulate your feline friend. Most of these plants are actually very decorative and look great in the garden. They are remarkably drought-tolerant and don’t even mind poor soils. Since the stimulation only lasts for a short time before the cat becomes accustomed to the effect, catnip is most effective when used for limited periods of time. Your cat may very well return a while later ready for another short indulgence, however. So you might just as well grow Nepeta in your garden where it can be a highly decorative contribution to your garden as well as fun for your cat(s). Just avoid using insecticides or other chemicals on or near the plant.
All Nepetas have long spires of massed flowers that make the plants colorful. Nepeta racemosa, N. faassenii and N. reichenbachiana all have named varieties in blues, purples, pinks and whites. And if you think the plants are somewhat reminiscent of mint in look and scent, that’s because they are in the same family. Nepetas, however, tend to grow in thick, low mounds that are much more ornamental than most of the invasive mints. If you live in an area where there are other roaming outdoor cats, you may occasionally find your lovely plants steam-rolled into a flat mat from a joyfully tipsy feline invader. Even so, they are likely to rebound quickly (the plant, well, and maybe the cat, too!). And these Nepetas are very decorative in the garden.
If you allow your cat outdoors during the day, you might want to design in a sand box for his or her use so the cat doesn’t dig up the garden for elimination needs. Try laying some chicken wire – rather like mulching – over the topsoil where you don’t want a cat to dig. It’s hard for paws to scoop out soil and claws find the metal wire disturbing. This will work well to discourage neighboring cats as well. To keep indoor cat boxes from becoming offensive, consider adding some herbs to the litter or drying out some fragrant flowers and leaves from the garden for a scented sachet or potpourri. Rose petals, sage leaves, lemon balm, rosemary, lavender and a host of other plants offer possibilities. You can hang branches upside down fresh or lay them out in a thin layer on paper or in straw baskets to dry.
If you want your cat to go outdoors safely, you can build a cat run that functions like an extended porch. By screening in a pen or creating a screened in pathway, your pal can bask in the daytime sun without being endangered by predators or other outdoor threats. This is a safe way to have cats and the garden coexist.
The garden can be a wonderful place for you to relax by yourself, with friends or family. It’s a great place to play with canine friends, too. But just because it is safer to keep your feline pals in a more protected environment doesn’t mean your garden can’t be of benefit to them as well! Design your garden for pets and you can both enjoy being outdoors. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you share your garden happily and safely with your cat or cats.