Prickly solution to keep cats away
QUESTION: We have a beautiful, well-established golden elder bush that’s about 20 years old. We keep it well trimmed to about three metres tall and 1.5 m across. Our problem is the neighbour’s three cats, which use our golden elder as a scratching post.
Over the summer we noticed the bark had been scratched off the lower branches and some branches have no bark left at all. After we realized we had the problem, we started using chicken wire in all our outdoor gardens and also 60 centimetres up on the base of the golden elder. We want to know if the bush will grow this year and what we do to prevent the cats from using our beautiful bush as a scratching post.
ANSWER: Without actually seeing the damage your description would lead me to believe the shrub should survive. The only worry would be if the damage had completely encircled the main stem of the shrub. This could cause it to die. Some of the branches that have had the bark stripped off completely will not survive.
As for keeping the cats at bay, your chicken wire is certainly one way to keep them off the shrub. You can also try laying down spruce or pine boughs around the base of the shrub. Cats do not like walking on sharp objects such as spruce or pine needles.
There are commercially available versions of this technique as well. Sold under the name Cat Scat, the product is a mat of spikes that while not harmful to the cat does discourage digging. Laying down a layer of mulch such as shredded cedar bark will also go a long way toward discouraging cats from digging in your beds. The mulch makes it tough to dig in and the added benefit is that it helps keep the bed moist and weed-free.
QUESTION: I have a 20-year-old lilac that is probably 2.5 metres tall and very unruly. It did not produce more than a handful of flowers the last year or two and even those were substandard. I should probably prune it, but when is the best time, how much should I prune and so on? I thought I read an article where you said there are much better species on the market now than there were in the past, so should I dig it out and buy a new one?
ANSWER: You can certainly get your lilac back into shape with a little pruning.
Lilacs should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming in the spring. If you prune before they bloom, you will be removing the wood on which the plant will bloom. When you prune after they bloom, make sure to remove all of the spent blossoms to keep the plant from forming seeds and encourage it to form buds for next year.
Lilacs should be pruned for health and appearance each season. Trim out larger stems from the centre of the plant. This will help to increase air circulation. While you are at it, cut off any suckers or shoots coming from ground level.
Many gardeners top off their lilacs. This means they flatten the top by removing all the top growth. This tends to reduce the vigour of the plant.
If you have an old lilac that is in need of reconditioning, I would recommend doing this over a three-year period. Cut back one-third of the old branches to just above the soil level. Allow the new growth to survive the next year while you remove another one-third of the older branches and so on.
As for removing the plant and planting a new one, you must have read that from someone else. I still love many of the old varieties and they can perform beautifully with a little pruning.
QUESTION: My neighbour just cut off the bottom branches on his blue spruce up to a height of two metres. He claims this will encourage the grass to grow under the tree. Is this right?
ANSWER: In a word, no. Removing the branches will not encourage grass to grow there. The branches help keep the root zone cooler, making for a healthier tree. The grass will not grow there because the roots of the tree are the problem. They suck away all the moisture the grass needs to survive.
— Canwest News Service
To keep cats away from your plants and flowers, chicken wire is certainly one way to keep them off the shrub. You can also try laying down spruce or pine boughs around the base of the shrub. Cats do not like walking on sharp objects such as spruce or pine needles.