10 Ways to Make Your Garden Cat- and Earth-Friendly

cat-safe gardening

There’s dirt under my fingernails these days as I take advantage of the weather by gardening. I weed, I enjoy the chorus of wild turkeys on the hillside below me, I watch Mao enjoy a sun spot on the deck, and I plan the relandscaping of our back yard.

If I were of an earlier generation, the weeding would be easy. I’d just drown them in DDT. But instead, I water the drought-parched earth and pluck each bunch of weeds out by the roots. It takes a couple of weeks to rid the yard and hillside of the entire winter’s overgrowth, but I know I’m maintaining a wildlife-friendly area.

This year we are refreshing the backyard landscape, retiring the tired plants and planting anew. Years ago I was a prolific botanical illustrator which ignited a love affair with the denizens of my garden. Yet, I’ll never plant some of my favorites like Stargazer Lilies. They are poisonous to cats, and Buckaroo in particular loves to taste every single plant he sees.

I won’t deprive the cats of time outdoors, but I ensure their safety in doing so, including planning my garden to accomodate them. Here are 9 ways to keep your cats (and neighborhood ferals and wildlife) safe without resorting to paving over your property.

1. Just Say No to Poisonous Plants
Many popular outdoor plants are poisonous to cats or can cause significant gastrointestinal upset, including sago palms, rhododendrons, azaleas, lilies of the valley, oleander, rosebay, foxglove, aloe and kalanchoe. For a complete list of toxic plants, check out the ASPCA’s site.

2. Say Yes to Catmint
Despite a longish list of toxic plants, you can find plenty of safe alternatives. Catmint is a lovely perennial that sports purple blooms most of the year on sage green foliage. Most cats go insane when they encounter it. It’s hardy and drought-tolerant. Chickens and Hens provide non-toxic groundcover. Violet Slipper Gloxinias, Bachelors Buttons and Cape Marigolds offer brilliant color. The ASPCA has a list of .

3. Fertilizer Can Be Crappy for Your Cat’s Digestive Tract
Once you’ve selected what to plant in your garden, you’ve got to nurture it. But many fertilizers cause tummy upset (and sometimes, a bowel obstruction) if your cat ingests them. Be mindful of what you put on your plants and stay natural as much as possible.

4. Compost Can be Toxic
So, if you want to limit your use of fertilizers, maybe you want to go the compost route. But if your compost heap contains foods that are toxic to your cat (coffee, moldy food, and some fruits and veggies), that heap could present a heap of trouble. Be aware of what goes in the bin.

5. Pesticides and Pets Don’t Mix
The most dangerous forms of pesticides include snail bait with metaldehyde, fly bait with methomyl,  insecticides containing disyston or disulfoton, and mole or gopher bait with zinc phosphide and most rat poisons. These are not only lethal for pets, but wildlife as well. Seek natural alternatives, like those recommended by the Mother Nature Network, that include laying strips of aluminum foil under vegetables. They reflect light and confuse insects.  But do your research. Chives and nasturtium can keep aphids off rose bushes, but chives are toxic, nasturtium are not.

(Side Note: Roundup may cause human genetic damage, according to a French study, and  AAtrex [atrazine] may be banned by the EPA because of the hormonal imbalances it causes in lab animals.)

6. Use Weed Fabric and Mulch to Limit Weeds
I’m always surprised by how few people know about weed fabric, an inexpensive way to block weeds without toxins. First, you prep the area by removing all weeds, lay down the fabric, top with mulch or pebbles, and you can go a year or longer without spending every weekend weeding. Here’s a how-to vid.

7. Fleas and Ticks: Ick!
Fleas and ticks tend to lurk in tall brush and grasses, so keeping your lawn and outlying areas mowed and trim, and selecting plants that are not flea and tick friendly will help keep them under control. Still, keep up your flea/tick control program, since the outdoors introduces the probability of infestation.

8. Do You Know How Your Neighbor Gardens?
Even if you’re meticulous about keeping a cat-safe garden, your neighbors may not be. Keep your cat out of other people’s yards via cat fencing. It is likely to keep your neighbors happier, too.

9. How about a Catio for your Patio?
Providing a wholly-enclosed outdoor space for your cat is ultimately, the best of both worlds. You can go small with a portable enclosure or build a cat castle fit for a feature in Dwell.

10. Harness-train Your Cat 
Yes, it sounds improbable, but cats can be harness-trained. Best done when they are kittens, walking your cat can be a fun bonding experience that amuses your neighbors. Your cat can experience the outdoors safely with your immediate snoopervision.

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Category: Featured, Home & Garden, Last Week, Lifestyle, zzz Previous 3 cat articles

About the Author ()

Mousebreath Magazine is an award-winning online magazine that celebrates cats and the cat-centric lifestyle. Editor Karen Nichols is a popular conference speaker and writer, whose current project is The Cat Scout Handbook. She is also the denmaster at CatScouts.com.

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  1. 10 Ways to Make Your Garden Cat- and Earth-Friendly | FlipsPops | April 23, 2014
  1. Fud Lady,
    Yoo are furry knowledgable ’bout plants an’ stuff! Fank yoo for sharing!
    Toffee Ripple


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