Nothin'll Grow There - Because of Zorro!!!

Nancy Delcher
Carroll County Master Gardener

No - I don't have Antonio Banderas or Guy Williams locked in the guest room (that would be particularly weird for Guy Williams). I do have a small guy, dressed all in black, who fights the good fight, killing intruders and only taking enough in return to survive - and, his name is Zorro! He's warm and fuzzy and I love him. But he does have a couple of nasty habits that I'm after him for - and it's not about robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. He's a cat. He loves to relieve himself in soft warm mulch or freshly dug earth. Luckily, he's not a Great Dane but it's still not fun to come across his little presents while gardening. If I catch him in an attempt to decorate my garden, I'll tell him 'NOT THERE' - he looks up as if he understands and moves - but only about 2 inches - and then he looks up again as if to say 'Here?' - I roll my eyes and give up! Well, not quite give up.............I have my ways.

Cats love clean litter boxes. However, they also love freshly potted indoor plants and freshly mulched garden beds. There are 3 basic rules for keeping cats from using your plants and beds for bathrooms:

  1. Keep the litter boxes clean.
  2. Remove any cat odor from places you don't want used for that purpose.
  3. Make the kitty 'toilet seat' uncomfortable.

Making indoor plants inhospitable to cats is easy (after 20 years of experimenting). Remember that cats can smell about 20 times better than you can - the smell of their own urine is enticing and says to them 'This must be where she wants me to go, it smells like my stuff.' To remove the temptation from pots and soil that have been used as a litter box, you must throw out the soil, clean the pot with a NON-AMMONIA based cleaner or throw it out, and cover the new soil with something the cat won't like to dig. This also means you must have a clean litter box for each cat where there's no competition (for example, if one cat likes to bop the other cat while they're indisposed, that's really not going to be conducive to the bopped cat wanting to use the litter box - believe me, this happened!).

Clay pots suck up moisture and odor - if you insist on keeping a 'used' and 'abused' clay pot - scrub it, rinse it repeatedly, and soak it in vinegar to remove the ammonia-based urine smell. When the plant has been repotted, cover the soil with anything that makes it awkward for the cat to perch or squat over the plant. My most successful and decent-looking cover is pine cones - large seashells are great - garden stakes cut to about 8" and stuck all over the pot work - rocks with sharp edges and large enough that they can't be moved by the cat also work. Just remember - any inch not covered is a purr-fect excuse for digging! Build the soil cover deep enough to come about a 1" higher than the rim of the pot - this discourages those acrobats who want to perch backwards on the edge of the pot to do their 'thing'.

Outdoor garden beds are harder for me to control because I let the cats outside when it's nice and they love that beautiful black mulch. I also don't like the idea of mothballs to make them avoid an area - the other repellents have to be re-applied frequently and that's a nuisance to me. I have found that cats don't 'go' where there are plants over 4-5" tall (it rubs them the wrong way). Sticks or seashells or big rocks or chicken wire staked into the ground also keeps cats from using an area. My advice - expect to find their handiwork and wear gloves all the time! Pick up all the solids, flush the 'used' area with water, and fill the area with inhospitable items like larger rocks or seashells until the plants get bigger. Of course, you could always build your cats their very own sandbox outhouse............but who would end up cleaning it? I know the answer to that one!

Read other articles about controlling insects & garden pests

Read other articles by Nancy Delcher