I am an avid reader of your landscaping articles and your About.com landscaping web site. When I have a question or need help with a particular plant or project, the first place I look to is your web site.
Recently I read your piece, "Coexisting With Dogs in Your Yard", and although I found it most interesting, I am lucky in the sense that I don't have issues with my dog. My dachshund does love to dig (hence, his name Digger), but I've learned to use this to my advantage in my landscaping projects. I tell him where to dig, and if I let him, he'd probably dig his way to China. He has a particular place that he likes to "do his business", which happens to be down by the septic tank at the edge of our 2 acre property. I couldn't ask for a better pet and gardening buddy.
My problem? We have 6 cats!!! Do you have any suggestions to offer? (Warning: My husband actually adores every one of these cats, so the first thought that comes to your mind would prove to be wasted written words, as they were wasted spoken words when I said them to him.) I tried the Scaredy Cat plant last year, but it didn't frighten the cats in the least. It merely took over the entire bed that I had it planted in, which probably wouldn't have bothered me had it been even slightly pleasing to look at. I've hosed the cats down when I've caught them in the beds more times than I would ever admit to my husband. We even put a sand pit out to entice them to use it as a litter box instead. They do use it, but they continue to use my beds also.
I really don't have a problem with them getting in the beds as they are not destructive... they simply lay under the taller plants for shade. What I'm most concerned with is their excretions and the damage it is doing to my plants and to the soil. Despite our constant attention to watering, feeding and debugging, my bedded flowers are just not as full and healthy looking as those outside of the beds. So, I guess what I'm asking is... What should I be looking or testing for in my soil? And how can I fix any problems I find?
Thank you in advance,
While I'm aware that the experts discourage us from including cat feces in compost piles (because of the parasites they may harbor), I cannot find any reports of cat feces/urine degrading a patch of soil. But still, it wouldn't hurt to have your soil tested, and you can do so by sending a sample to your local county extension. To find your extension, do an Internet search for "county extension X," replacing X with the name of your state university. Your extension's Web site should list its offices' locations statewide.
Regardless of what a test of your soil reveals, you'll still want to take action to keep the cats away (for sanitary reasons). You've tried, without success, three of the tactics commonly used to repel cats (hosing, planting a repelling plant, and providing sand). Here are some other tactics commonly used for existing beds:
1. Use a commercial cat repellent, such as Shake-Away.
2. Sprinkle "stinky" substances like dried-blood fertilizer or ammonia around the problem area.
3. Purchase a product that is motion-activated and fires water at intruders, such as the Scarecrow Motion Activated Sprinkler.
4. Plant a catnip bed in a separate part of the yard, to lure the cats away from the problem area.
5. Cats can be kept away by installing an electric fence.
6. In mulching the problem bed, include bristly material, such as sharp-edged pine cones.
7. Another mulch-related idea is to use stone mulch. It may not be the most attractive mulch for your particular bed, but cats prefer to poop in loose dirt. They're lazy diggers, so they usually won't bother with an area mulched in stone.