Cats and Your Houseplants: An Epic Tale of Love and Betrayal There are dog people and cat people. Then, there ...
Cats and Your Houseplants: An Epic Tale of Love and Betrayal
There are dog people and cat people. Then, there are dog people gardeners and cat people gardeners. Being a lover of either four-legged friend comes with some challenges if you also happen to love your plants. Dog owners definitely have a lot to deal with if their pet happens to be a handful—some more irritating behaviors include wearing a foot path through flower beds, habitual hole-digging in non-hole-digging areas, converting garden spaces into a doggy restroom, and completely digging out your EarthBox to eat the entire strip of organic fertiliser (personal experience). But, the good thing about a naughty dog is, with some work and some patience, much of that behavior can be corrected. At the very least, dogs might express one drop of remorse for the things that they have done to upset you.
And then, there are cats.
Remorse? Pfftt! Training? Yeah, right. Any cat owner will tell you that they don’t have a home so much as they live and work in the cat’s home (and that being referred to as a “cat-owner” is sort of a misnomer—it owns you 100% of the time). If that cat’s home happens to include, oh, a bunch of houseplants that you like…well, tough. Hopefully, if you have cats, you’re one of the lucky ones whose kitty doesn’t really notice how delicious your spider plant is looking these days. Or how easy it would be to boot your Boston fern off of your plant stand and behind your couch so it can watch you pull the whole thing out and vacuum up all of the potting soil. Or how awesome it would be to scale your Christmas tree like King Kong on the Empire State Building and bring the whole thing crashing down in the middle of the night (that’s a seasonal indoor plant foul).
For whatever reason, we continue to feed and house these reprobates despite countless assaults against treasured houseplants (and leather upholstery, the corners of the bed, and the banister, but that’s a different story entirely). Even though dogs can be pretty devastating to outdoor beds, there’s just something extremely irksome about a pet messing with the plants inside—these are the plants you see all day long, and might even be hand-me-downs or inherited from someone you care about. There’s also a big difference between crimes being committed outside versus in the very house we live in. If we are going to keep these purring plant predators around, we have to take measures to protect plants and do what we can to deter our kitties from doing what seems to come naturally.
First, it is always worth noting that where a cat is a voracious chewer of plants, you should make sure that everything growing in your home is non-toxic. It is surprising how many of the most common houseplants can make your pets sick if ingested:
- English ivy
- Asparagus fern
- Sago palm
Chances are good that if you have several houseplants, you have plants in your home that can make your cat very ill. Make sure that these are well out of reach, and that you keep an eye out for both nibbling and unusual behavior in your pet. Signs that a kitty has ingested a toxic plant include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, excessive thirst, swelling in and around the mouth, lethargy, and in some cases, more serious reactions like seizures and difficulty breathing. Plant poisoning can be extremely severe, so we recommend that you stick to kitty-safe houseplants:
- Boston fern
- Christmas cactus
- Prayer plant
- Spider plant
- Hens and Chicks
- Venus fly trap
- Wandering Jew
- Lady slipper
- Ponytail palm
- Cast iron plant
If you have any doubts or concerns about what is and is not pet-safe in your home, we encourage you to talk to your pet care provider—they’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to keep your kitty safe.
Now, the question is how do you keep those jerks from thinking they’re at an all-you-can-eat salad bar?
Well, our first suggestion would be to plant an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Think about it: many gardeners use companion planting to draw pests away from the stuff they are trying to protect, either by surrounding it with repellent plants or by distracting pests with a decoy garden of attractive alternatives. Think about your cat like she’s a pest (…she is). If she’s compelled to snack on your plants, give her some tasty greens of her own to chew to her heart’s contentment. Look for cat grass, catmint, or catnip seeds or plants in your local pet store or nursery. You can also keep lemongrass in a pot—not only will your cat like it, but you can save some for yourself to use for cooking. Valerian is another plant recommended for cats, especially since a chemical in valerian causes many cats to go bonkers, not unlike catnip. Pot up your cat-friendly houseplants, and place them strategically around your home to distract kitties from going after the ones you don’t want them to. A lot of the places where you can purchase pet food and treats will have cat grass kits that will just require you to add water and set in a sunny place—piece of cake.
The next strategy is the most obvious: hang your plants up.
Cats can do a lot of things, but they haven’t figured out how to fly, yet, so enjoy your houseplants in hanging baskets and vertical planters. Ferns, wandering Jews, and ivy frequently come in hanging baskets, anyway, so all you’ll need to do is install some simple little hooks in your ceiling to display them. Your potted plants can be hoisted up with a decorative macramé or beaded hanger and hung from an interesting wall-mounted hook. You could also examine the awesome DIY vertical container garden ideas floating around out there for planting solutions that will not only protect your plants from cats, but will look cool AND save you space.
Now, let’s talk repellents. There are more commercial cat repellents on the market than we could possibly begin to list, and cat-owners report wildly different results from one repellent to the next. All we can tell you about those is keep trying them until you find one that works, make sure that it doesn’t contain anything that will make your cat or your plant sick, and be sure to spot-test anything you might be spraying around wood or upholstery to be sure that it won’t cause stains. If you’d like to make a concoction at home, many of the strong-smelling herbs, spices, and fruits you have in your kitchen are pretty good at grossing cats out. Lavender, rosemary, cinnamon, garlic, onion, and lemon have potent scents that get cats to steer clear. You can make sachets out of the herbs, or you can boil these ingredients in water to make a spray. Two things that you shouldn’t use to repel your kitty are moth balls and hot pepper. Moth balls are quite toxic to pets, and while hot pepper might not be, it could get into your cat’s eyes and nose, and that’s both painful and rude.
A method of repelling cats that doesn’t involve spraying a bunch of potentially gross-smelling liquid all over your plants involves putting a texture barrier around them.
A lot of cats are really touchy about where they put their feet—those little footpads are very sensitive. If your cat has ever snagged you in a surprise bear trap for poking at her paws, this could be peeve you can use against her to protect your plants. Look for things around your house that crinkle or make a very noticeable noise when handled, like foil, or are sticky, like tape. You can line the area around your potted plant with foil or double-sided tape on pieces of paper or cardboard. Your kitty will be very turned off by walking on nasty crinkling or sticky surfaces to try and access your plant. There are also commercial deterrent mats available that utilise either a yucky-feeling texture or a very mild static shock to keep kitties off of them.
Beneficial Weeds? Kudzu Ask anyone living in Georgia about his least favourite plant, and there’s a good chance you’ll learn ...
Ask anyone living in Georgia about his least favourite plant, and there’s a good chance you’ll learn a few things about the mile-a-minute vine or The Vine That Ate the South. Sadly, its nicknames aren’t inaccurate. Kudzu occupies an estimated seven million acres of land in the United States, mostly in the southeast, and continues to gain 120,000-150,000 acres annually. Controlling this invasive via mowing, removal, and herbicides costs millions of dollars a year, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re much closer to eradicating it.
With kudzu clearly here to stay, many people have looked to alternative uses for the vine to make the most of a bad situation. The good news is kudzu would be a pretty useful plant if it wasn’t steamrolling everything in sight. In its native environment in Southeast Asia, kudzu has long been used as an herbal treatment for heart ailments and muscle pains, and a source of food. In fact, kudzu has been used in all kinds of dishes, including casseroles and jellies. Kudzu isn’t just a source of food for us—it has been found to be a great source of feed for livestock, particularly goats. Goats are so fond of eating kudzu that they are being used in some areas to control its spread. The thick woody vines of the kudzu plant are used by artisans to craft baskets and sculptures. The oil from the fragrant kudzu blossoms can be used in beauty products, like lotion, and to make scented candles. Perhaps most interesting of all, kudzu has been examined for its potential use as a biofuel.
Goldenrod is a weed that has been used in teas, tonics, and medicines for many years, but it just can’t shake its bad reputation among allergy sufferers. Goldenrod is commonly fingered by those with the sneezes and sniffles as the cause of their pollen woes, and while some maintain that ragweed is the real culprit, goldenrod nevertheless remains a hated weed by many people.
Herbalists and experts in traditional medicine have long touted the health benefits of using goldenrod. Frequently ingested as a tincture or tonic, it is used as a diuretic in the treatment of urinary and kidney problems, and a medicine for those with asthma and respiratory illnesses. Goldenrod is also applied to the skin to soothe minor cuts, scrapes, and burns, and is a recommended treatment for eczema. The list of medicinal uses for goldenrod is quite long, despite it being seen as a source of seasonal health problems. Goldenrod is also dried and used commonly as a non-medicinal tea. Fun fact: after outraged colonists flipped an entire shipment of tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, they concocted their own beverage, called “Liberty Tea,” to replace the unfairly taxed brew coming from England—this tea was brewed from the goldenrod weed. This isn’t goldenrod’s only connection to our history—Thomas Edison, world-renowned for his work on the telephone, electric light bulbs, cameras, and telegraphs, successfully extracted latex from goldenrod to make rubber for use in tires before synthetic materials dominated the industry. But, when it comes to the gardener, goldenrod is simply a beautiful dried flower for arrangements, and an excellent attractant of bees and butterflies.
As children, blowing or kicking white seed puffs on the lawn, we have all probably heard the dreaded cry, “DON’T DO THAT—YOU’LL GET DANDELIONS ALL OVER THE YARD!” Dandelions are the classic enemy number one when it comes to the home garden. They are self-pollinating for optimal spread and irritation, and their long taproots are tedious to pull intact from the ground, especially in between pavers and bricks. If you slip up and accidentally break the plant off of the root or only extract part of the root, you can rest assured that dandelion will come back to haunt you (and reproduce). Dandelions can be the worst.
When it comes to wild edibles, the dandelion is king. Dandelions are jammed full of vitamins, and every part of the dandelion is edible and safe—right down to that nasty taproot. Vitamins A, K, C, B2 (riboflavin), and E are found in dandelions, as well many minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. They are also a very good source of fiber. If dandelions weren’t such a pest, we might consider them a staple health food—actually, there are those who do. Some people choose to deliberately cultivate dandelions for harvest to take advantage of these nutritional benefits. Aside from being healthy, dandelions are also said to be delicious. Young leaves can be picked and boiled, wilted, steamed, tossed in salads—dandelion greens can be prepared like any other green. The flowers can be popped right into the mouth or battered and fried. Dandelions are a super food that tastes super, too. Knowing the health benefits of regularly eating dandelions, it isn’t much of a surprise that they are also used medicinally. Dandelions are used to treat anything from inflammation to warts to menstrual ailments to liver troubles. The high amount of antioxidants in this little weed makes it a powerful tool in the health arsenal. These antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals could be why dandelions have shown promise in cancer research. Experiments have shown that dandelions could be used to slow the growth of affected cells in certain cancers.