Keeping Kitty Out of the Houseplants
By Marva Marrow
To many cat lovers, the idea of a cat household with plants is an oxymoron. I have always loved the idea of having part of the outdoors, indoors. Although I live in a climate where outdoor living and green plants are a year round thing, I recall living through the gray winters in cold climates where the geranium or African violet on my indoor windowsill was the only reminder of the promise of spring to come.
My cats also "love" my plants -- but in an entirely different way that I do! They love to nibble on leaves and tender shoots, knock planters to the floor, dig to "China" in the earth of the larger planters -- strip, shred, scatter --in other words, DESTROY!
After years of giving up the fight, I recently purchased a beautiful, large palm to grace my living room. I had forgotten what beauty and warmth a large plant can bring to a room. However, the new arrival soon attracted the attention of the Cat Plant Brigade. I didn't mind the leaf nibbling so much, since I know this particular plant is non-toxic to my cat-children, but the dirt scattering — now that is another matter!
After trying to cover the soil with aluminum foil and then trying bubble wrap (both useful in deterring naughty scratching on couch legs) without success, I appealed to an on-line cat fanciers’ newsgroup for suggestions. My fellow breeder/exhibitors were extremely generous with their time-tested solutions for keeping cats out of the houseplants and I would like to share some of them with you!
Stones for hard-headed felines
Ellen Crockett offers a suggestion echoed by several others: " I put large rocks on top of the soil in the pots. It looks pretty and the cats can't dig in the dirt. Water passes between the rocks -- and the best part is that the rocks are FREE in my yard!"
Ann Segrest recommends fist sized rocks that have the added advantage of keeping moisture in the soil.
Traci M. Jones follows Ellen's cue, but purchased lightweight but bulky lava rock at her local fish store. She says she and her vacuum cleaner are very thankful to Ellen for the original suggestion!
Cindy Stryker added that broken clay pot shards can be used in place of the large rocks. Vikki Valentine and Helen Thom like the smoother, heavier river rocks for the same purpose. Lisa Aring, Marj Baker, Alida Delport and Dawn Friedman also cast their votes for the stones and say they look great too!
Alida Delport adds that nicely shaped dry wood pieces can also do the job. Shaleen adds that placing the rocks in the pot, rough edges up, will deter the cats from walking on them.
Seashells not by the seashore
Ron Davidson says," We have had luck using oyster shells ... we place them upside down on the plant bed ... the outer side of the shells have small pointed extrusions which are irritating to the cats paw pads ... We are near an oyster area and can pick them up locally for free from a seafood restaurant which features oysters ... or go to the oyster beds themselves where the operations throw them into a dumping area to naturally decompose ... to clean them up simply run them through the dishwasher (not too many times ... the washing dulls the pointed extrusions).
Alida Deport adds, "For smaller pots, I cover the soil with seashells, which my children collect from the beach.
Plastic or Wire Screens
Nancy Welch says, "Put landscape type screening or the landscape cloth you put down to keep weeds out over the dirt in your plant. This stuff does allow water to penetrate but will keep the four footed kids from having fun ... Now, then ... get them their own indoor sandbox to play in and they'll probably stay out of your plants..."
Kris Willison and Helena Thom also suggest wire mesh or screen poked down over the dirt, fitted just inside the rim of the pot. Cindy Sullivan varies this theme a bit suggesting putting chicken wire just under the top of the soil and covered with pea gravel or a few small rocks.
Sheila Dentico's take on this idea is to use needlepoint "fabric" -- coarse stiff netting -- cut out fit the pot.
Sheila Dentico adds, "The double sided tape stuff (Sticky Paws) that I got for my daughter to use on her new living room chair has a form for use with plants. I don't exactly know what form it's in, maybe a circular pattern?
Pine Cones Do Double Duty
Jan suggests, "I had very good results using large pine cones packed/wedged on top of the soil. Since they come slightly curved it’s easy to fit them in a round pot. You can water through them and toss them when they get dusty. In all the years I had large plants and lots of cats only one little stinker managed to dig out some cones to play with. Most didn't like the feel or smell of them. Of course this didn't stop them from snacking on the new palm shoot tips!
Dawn Friedman suggests, " For smaller plants, I have a wicker étagère reversed against my sliding glass doors, like a birdcage with shelves. If you happen to have a decor that allows it, it's great -- but I remember that some people have had problems with cats eating wicker."
Helena Thom says, " I used to train my cats to stay away from my plants by spritzing a little lemon oil around the pot edges each morning for a couple of weeks."
Shaleen sends another thought, " I wonder if a plant in a large hanging birdcage would work? It might look nice and would be easy to water. The only thing that would be necessary would be to fasten the plants' pot to something so that if the cats jumped and swung on the cage, the plant would not slide from side to side. Or fasten the cage to the wall. I've seen some decorative half rounds that would look gorgeous with a plant in them."
Grow Plants for the Cats
Marj Baker offers an alternative, "I have lots of plants and the cats generally leave the house plants alone, but there is always one kitten who can't keep his paws or jaws of any green growing thing. I have never had a cat poisoned by any of my plants. I know some cats are extremely sensitive to plants though. Grow special plants for your cats to "have", such as barley, catnip, and other grasses for them to munch on. I also grow herbs and many of my cats will "chose" an herb if they are not feeling well. My cats with upset tummies will gravitate to the mints and I have one cat who is very high strung and will head for a nibble of valerian in the summertime. My arthritic cat sleeps under the sage plant and they all love the rosemary.
Alida Delport, who lives in Cape Town South Africa, continues on this theme, "One can plant grass in a pot for the cats to eat, and make the "grass"-pot part of the plant display. They tend to prefer this above most of the other plants, although the love palm remains a favorite with my Chinchilla. I plant sesame from seeds for the budgies. It grows within days, and the cats enjoy nibbling at that too. Having so many plants, I had some lovely moments with one cat who was absolutely fascinated when I watered the plants. The moment I started watering, he would follow me from pot to pot, got on his hind legs, rested his fore paws on the pot, and watched the proceedings. I do believe he was truly fascinated by my amazing ability to "water" in one pot after the other, without me emptying my red plastic "bladder!"
The Perfect Solution?
An unnamed friend swears she has found the perfect solution -- silk trees! She says, "Silks are great, non toxic, washable and they come in all shapes and sized...hanging, large, small, etc. Some even come with the moss at the bottom wrapped in clear plastic. Normal folks remove this (I've heard) — cat folks don't — they consider it a blessing!
If you decide on large "specimen" type trees, pay attention to what is above them...they can be nice jumping off platforms for points upward! And I do mean ceiling fans, light fixtures, high beams, etc.!
By the way, it takes four 12-week-old kittens at the top of an eight-to-ten foot weeping fig tree to balance it properly. Five is just too many and the tree falls. After removing some of the leaves, the kittens go to the next one while the dog drags the discarded one into a different room and eats half the basket at the bottom (and chews the trunk just a little). Then it is back to the room with the cream colored new carpet to upchuck the basket — and the odd leaves that got in there by mistake.
Well, these are some ideas that WORK, and I know what I am going to do this weekend. Anyone else like to add his or her two cents??