ndsucpr_L_sm.jpg (11690 bytes)
hort_Logo_Lg.jpg (10387 bytes)


ISSUE 14  AUGUST 5, 1999

 

FELIX DOMESTICA AS A GARDEN PEST

    Being the dubious owner of 4 of the above beasts, I feel somewhat qualified to write on this particular
subject! Like most of you, I attempt to maintain a fairly decent garden, and my neighbor has an outdoor
sandbox for the daycare kids that come each weekday.

    No matter whether or not the cats in your region are domestic or feral, they can cause real problems
for anyone with a garden. Cats can destroy transplants and mess up seed beds; they defecate and urinate
in the garden soil (and outdoor sandboxes!) Making these places an unpleasant and unhealthy mess.
Cats can serve as a reservoir for disease that include histoplasmosis, leptospirosis, mumps, plague,
rabies, ringworm, sallmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch fever and distemper. Cat feces can contain
parasites that can affect the health of people. It is in the interest of every gardener to keep them out of
the garden!

    The following are some strategies that you may want to consider:

Barriers:

    Chicken wire fencing can be laid on the ground in the garden to prevent digging by cats. The wire can
be held in place by cutting old wire coat hangers in half and pinning them down. Most plants will grow
through the wire, and it can be covered with mulch.

    Another barrier is to use hardware cloth with about a 2" by 4" opening and bending it to the shape of
your flower or vegetable beds. This is only good initially until the plants get too tall for containment under
this barrier. It at least allows you to get your plants off to a good start.

    Single or double strands of electric fence at low voltage can be used to teach cats that the garden is
not a place for them. Polywire strands or ribbons are attached to short fiberglass rods. The polywire is
durable and will last several years with care. As a substitute for polywire, one could also use 22 gauge
galvanized utility wire. The wire should be placed at heights of four and nine inches. A single strand could
be placed at a four inch height. Fence chargers can be purchased from farm and feed stores or from farm
supply catalogs. One style of electric fence charger is powered by flashlight batteries. The fence can be
turned off after the cats have "learned" to avoid the area. This same barrier can help keep woodchucks,
raccoons, and skunks out of the garden.

Repellents

    Rough textured mulch is uninviting to cats. Cats are attracted to garden soil with the same texture
as kitty litter, so use mulches that are coarse.

    Rue, a hardy blue-green herb, is said to repel cats.

    Dog hair spread on the ground or hung in onion bags around the garden could work to keep the cats
away. Some cats won’t go near dog hair.

    Anise oil, Ro-pel and Thymol as well as other repellents sold at pet stores and garden centers may be
effective in repelling cats. Be sure to follow label instructions, as some may not be labeled for use around
food crops.

Other Techniques:

    Keep cats indoors or negotiate with neighborhood cat owners to do so. If cats continue to show up
on your property, call you local animal control.

    Avoid feeding pets outdoors. Food is an invitation for stray animals and neighborhood pets as well
as wildlife.

    Remove brush and other cover where animals are apt to hide or live. Keep the vegetation in the area
clipped.

    Some animals are attracted to compost piles. When composting, use a covered and walled compost
bin. Bury fresh materials in the pile.

    Try placing loaded mousetraps under a layer of newspaper in and around the garden to teach the cat
or cats to stay out.

    Plant a "trap crop" of catnip mint. If your pet cat should get out, that is likely the first place it will run
to, making it easier for you to fetch it back in. Keep the catnip away from your normal gardening area.

Practices To Avoid:

Don’t use mothballs or flakes to try and repel cats and other pests from the garden. They generally don’t
work, and when they come into contact with water, they dissolve and may contaminate the groundwater.

Final Thoughts:

    If you are "new parents" it will be normal for your children to want to grow up with a pet like a cat.
Unless some unplanned fate takes it out of circulation earlier, this can be a 12 to 16 year relationship!
Cats are naturally curious and will enjoy exploring the unknown if allowed. They also gain comfort
from routines. The trick then is to train them early on that being outdoors is not an option! They will
be most tempted to run out in the early morning or evening hours. If they prove too fast for your reflexes,
be sure to freshen the repellents and prepare barriers for use during those times.

    To avoid contamination by cat feces, wear gloves when gardening. Or be sure to completely wash
your hands when gardening without gloves or after cleaning a cat litter box.

Ron Smith
Extension Horticulturist and Turfgrass Specialist
ronsmith@ndsuext.nodak.edu


cprhome.jpg (3929 bytes)topofpage.jpg (3455 bytes)tableofcontents.jpg (4563 bytes)previous.jpg (2814 bytes)next.jpg (1962 bytes)