Prickly so­lu­tion to keep cats away

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Ger­ald Filip­ski

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.

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