Live With Critters in the Garden

Learn how to coexist peacefully with the various creatures who love your garden.

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You love to garden and apparently, so do the dogs, cats and bunnies in your life. How can you keep your garden and your sanity too? Experts offer some tips on how to coexist peacefully with the furry critters.

Cats

Discourage cats from using your flower beds as a litter box by making the soil less appealing to scratch in. Cover the soil or mulch surface with pine cones, rosebush or bramble clippings, sweetgum balls, chestnut husks or other unfriendly-but-organic material. Or use rock mulch instead of pine bark mulch. Space plants so that at maturity they'll touch or nearly touch; then there'll be little room for a bathroom. Until the plants knit together, lay chicken wire on top of the mulch.

Planting a little garden just for cats may also help lure them away from your flower and vegetable beds, at least for a few minutes. Include catmint (Nepeta mussinii), cat thyme (Teucrium marum) and catnip (Nepeta cataria) - all magnets to some (but definitely not all) cats. By giving them a garden of their own to hang out in, you may be deterring them from the gardens you want to hang out in. The down side: a lot of cats don't respond to these plants.

Rabbits

Gardeners who love beans, cabbage and lettuce usually find they have no ambivalence about bunnies; the furry critters may be cute but they can also wreak havoc in the garden - on those plants and a lot of others as well. Chemical (and a few natural) repellents offer partial protection, but they have to be reapplied after every rain and on new growth. Short of acquiring a cat or a dog to patrol the garden, the best bet is to fence the rabbits out. Use ¾-inch-mesh chicken wire; make the fence at least two feet high and bury it at least three inches in the ground (buying a 36-inch-wide roll is the easiest way to accomplish that). The trunks of young fruit trees can be protected with wire mesh cylinders. Rabbits like to have plenty of cover; you might find it helpful to remove nearby brush piles and mow weedy areas.

Dogs

You can love your dog and still cringe at the idea of him careening through the flower beds. Use invisible or low-level fencing on a section of the yard to contain the glee without depriving your dog of a place to play. This also gives you a place to preserve your plants.  If you own a dog, avoid using cocoa bean mulch. It's appealing to dogs, but it can kill them. Only two ounces of cocoa bean mulch can cause vomiting and diarrhea in a 50-pound-dog; more than nine ounces is fatal for a dog that size.

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