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Gardening With Tony

Herding Cats
Posted by Tony Tomeo on Jul 8, 2012 - 5:25:58 PM

BEVERLY HILLSRats, mice, squirrels, racoons, opossums, skunks, deer, pigeons and more; it just never ends! There are so many other life forms who often enjoy our gardens more than we do. While visiting a colleague, his garden became overrun by a swarm of bees! Fortunately, they did no damage and left the same day.

This modern variety of China doll was planted for its glossy rich green foliage in a planter of mixed perennials on a downtown sidewalk. If it eventually gets a bit too tall, it can easily be pruned down.

The worst problem in his garden is cats. His neighbor hoards 'unaltered' feral cats that have proliferated into a substantial herd. Instead of exterminating rodents from the neighborhood, the overfed cats ignore the droves of rats that are drawn to the cat food left out on the porches. The rats attract opossums. Fleas are everywhere!

All this wildlife brings all sorts of other problems. The well kept domestic cats that live inside the home of my colleague are frequently afflicted with illness transmitted by the sickly feral cats. Flat roofs and basement crawl spaces of several adjacent homes have become litterboxes. The overpowering aroma is horrendous.

Fortunately, such proliferation of cats is rare. Most of us do not mind when a neighborhood cat, or even a few cats, visit the garden. However, when cats become a problem, they are nearly as difficult to remedy as vermin.

Although most municipalities have limited the number of domestic cats that can reside at individual residences, feral cats come and go freely, so are considered to be wild animals who are exempt from such limits. Besides, no one wants to enforce such ordinances with their neighbors, even if the problematic cats happen to be domestic house cats. All we can do is try to limit the problems in our own gardens and homes.

Flat roofs sometimes get used as litterboxes because they commonly have gravel on them and tend to accumulate a bit of other debris. If this is a problem, and if possible, access to flat roofs should be obstructed. Tree limbs and vines should be pruned back.

Basements and crawl spaces are easier to obstruct access to by simply repairing vent screens and exterior basement access. Cats like to use crawlspaces as litterboxes because the soil is always dry and dusty. Around the garden, dry spots are less attractive to cats if sometimes watered, even if there are no plants present. Adding spreading plants is even better. In a small dusty area behind the garage, I spread out a bit of firewood over the soil. By the time the firewood gets used, it will be raining and too muddy for cats.


foliage of the week: China Doll

It is hard to believe that the original variety of the familiar China doll, Radermachera sinica, that grows so slowly to reach an eight foot high ceiling as a houseplant, can actually grow into a substantial fifty foot tall tree with a three foot wide trunk, where protected from frost. Modern varieties with more billowy foliage take even longer to reach the ceiling, and do not go much higher. The finely textured and very glossy foliage is bipinnately compound, which means that each of the half to two foot long leaves are divided into smaller leaflets, which are also divided into even smaller leaflets that are about an inch or so long. Trusses of tubular white flowers that resemble big catalpa flowers are almost never seen among houseplants or modern varieties, but are quite showy on big old trees.


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