Wednesday 7 December 2016

When the cat's away: How to keep your pets out of your flower bed

From pepper dust to clever planting, top ways to keep fouling felines out of your flower beds

Diarmuid Gavin

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

From pepper dust to clever planting, top ways to keep fouling felines out of your flower beds
From pepper dust to clever planting, top ways to keep fouling felines out of your flower beds

Many people who garden do it as a chore - they've inherited green spaces to the front or back of their dwelling and simply require that it fits in with neighbouring properties and looks neat.

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Each week the lawns are cut, pots and hanging baskets watered, windowsills washed and dead leaves cleared.

Coleus canina
Coleus canina
Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon

Sometimes these suburban gardeners can be kept busy by a very odd preoccupation - the invasion of cats. These four-legged creatures - beloved by so many in the country - have the power to drive gardeners to distraction.

I was giving a talk at a garden centre recently, when a man in the audience had a problem he needed solving - unwanted visitors of the feline variety who leave their calling cards all over his beautiful garden. Stray cats who dig up his newly-planted cabbage plants, dislodge his runner beans and do things to his strawberries that render them inedible.

Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon
Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon

A tame robin who used to come and feed at the bird table has disappeared, at best scared off by the cats, or worse, became their supper.

As gardeners, we are constantly striving to achieve a balance between the wildlife we want, such as butterflies, birds and bees, and the not-so-welcome visitors, such as slugs and snails. Cats, depending on your viewpoint, can fall into either category. So, is there anything you can do to discourage them from your patch?

Well, you could try sonic cat/ animal repellers. These emit unpleasant noises, ones that aren't audible to humans, but that keep uninvited visitors away. Just make sure that you are not scaring birds, which can be so attractive to gardens and so good for our eco system and environment as well. If you are worried about animals fouling your vegetable patch, use fine netting to keep them away. Maybe a large fruit cage could be constructed to go over all your beds.

Some people are convinced that the smells emanating from lemon rinds left in areas that are soiled by cats act as a deterrent. On that basis, there are lots of products on the market that could do a similar job. Pepper dust is a solution that's often put forward. However, it doesn't seem good value as it can be so easily washed away with rain. Rather intriguingly, manure infused with lion dung is offered as a solution - the idea is to trick cats into thinking that this may be the territory of a much bigger cat and so they scramble away to safety.

Motion-activated water sprinklers could be a good option for specific areas - cats hate having a shower. It's also a good idea to try and avoid having bare patches of earth, which are ideal places for cats to relieve themselves. So achieve good ground cover with dense planting and make any remaining bare patches unattractive by covering with piles of twigs - not a comfortable place for a cat's posterior. You can plant Coleus canina (pictured), a plant sometimes known as Scaredy Cat, which gives off an unpleasant scent when rubbed - again, making the area unattractive for moggies in search of a restroom.

I grew up on a street full of suburban gardens with lawns, cherry trees and borders filled with bedding plants and roses. In my teens, on my journey to school, developing an interest in gardening, I'd look at what everybody was up to. Oddly, on my road and in the gardens of many in our greater locality, there was a feature that existed which I found fascinating. One of those large plastic green bottles, the type that would be bought in the supermarket filled with 7-up or Sprite, would lie on each and every lawn half filled with water. This was to deter cats. This may sound like an old wives' tale, but it seems to be extremely effective. Why it works is unclear - one theory is cats can see their own reflection in it and get a fright.

So, if the local tabby is the bane of your gardening life, try some of these remedies and see what works best in your plot.

Irish Independent

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