How to Guides Archives - Green Spaces Landscaping

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home-landscape lawn
Apr 10

6 Steps to Easy Lawn Repair

By Audrey | How to Guides , Spring

Winter Did a Number on Your Lawn.  What Now?

Its spring time, you look outside and see that winter has not been kind to your lawn.  Its matted, has some brown spots, maybe some bare spots, what to do?

It's not hard to fix a damaged lawn. It takes a few tools and a bit of effort but here are the steps that will insure success.

How to Avoid Lawn Problems

The best defense is to keep your lawn healthy by fertilizing and topdressing with organic material.  You can check out our Organic Lawn Care Program here.

Mow your lawn correctly, that is regularly and at a height of about 3 inches, and aerate it periodically to discourage thatch buildup and soil compaction.

Spring time is a great opportunity to rid your landscape of small bare, thin, or weedy patches that occasionally develop in certain areas. And repairing lawn isn't as difficult as it might seem.

A Critical First Step - Start Now

The most important step in lawn restoration is to deal with any problems as soon as possible so the damage doesn't spread. Weeds will rapidly fill in bare lawn areas if you don't fill in  that space promptly with new grass. Before you start, know that lawn repair is a three-part process.

  1. Figure out why it occurred and fix the issue
  2. Decide on how you will deal with the bare patch 
  3. Implement and maintain your solution

Tool List

  1. Rake
  2. Grass seed
  3. Topsoil or compost 
  4. Water

Optional Tools

  • Lawn roller
  • Seed spreader
  • Lawn mower

Step One

Figure out why you have bare patches.

This can be as simple as  road salt, dog urine, something left on the lawn over the winter or something that doesn't seem to have an obvious cause.  Consider if this is something that is an on going problem that could be fixed by doing something differently or is it a systemic problem that is going to keep happening anyway.  As in could you place containers on a hard surface rather than the lawn or do you have bare patches because that is where the snow gets piled because there is no where else for it.  

The reason this matters is because if you can avoid having to patch your lawn each spring, isn't it worth a bit of thought?


Step Two

Decide on how you will deal with the bare patch.

Consider replacing lawn areas that continually need to be patched with a perennial or  bed or a mulched or hard surface. While it will cost more than patching, it may solve a continual problem that is more efficient in the long run and certainly more attractive than grass in a problem area.

If you decide to patch you will need to decide on seed or sod.  Both have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Grass Seed Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to apply
  • Requires little care (depending on weather

Grass Seed Cons

  • Takes time to germinate
  • Takes time to fill in
  • Weeds can get in
  • Eaten by birds

Sod Pros

  • Instant lawn
  • Filled in immediately
  • Healthy strong plants should resist problems once established 

Sod Cons

  • Can be hard to get
  • Need to patch a larger area
  • May not blend in with existing lawn
  • Will need extra watering until established

Step Three

Implement and maintain your solution

Repairing bare patches using seed

To repair lawn patches, you can over seed with new grass seed. In Ontario do this early in the spring, so the cool-season grasses have time to develop strong roots before they have to face summer.

  1. As soon as you can walk on the lawn without leaving foot impressions lightly rake up winter debris and fluff up the grass. Expose bare soil of the repaired lawn area, so the seed will have direct contact with the soil. Remove and discard any poor grass and weeds within the area. Keep the remaining bare soil free of debris.
  2. Use a garden rake to rough up the soil between the grass plants. This, and the stubble of the freshly mown grass, will make a good seedbed for the new seed you're adding to the lawn repair area. Invest as much time and effort in preparing the soil in this small lawn repair area as you would for an entire lawn. Dig in organic matter and granular, slow-acting fertilizer. Rake the soil smooth and level.
  3. Sow seed thickly in the lawn repair area. Use a variety that corresponds to the surrounding grass if possible. Otherwise, use a mixture of grasses such as annual rye grass and fescues. Sow seed at the rate recommended for new lawns and lawn repair. This compensates for reduced germination as some seed falls into existing grass, not on the soil. Roll the lawn repair area lightly or if it is a small area, pat if down with your hands.
  4. Top dress it with topsoil or a layer of compost. Spread a thin layer of topsoil, peat moss or poly spun garden fabric over the lawn repair area that you've just patched with seed. This protects the seed and, later, the sprouts. More importantly, by covering the soil, it reduces moisture loss. A constant supply of moisture is the key to good germination for a repaired lawn.
  5. Water frequently.
  6. Mow the new grass when it reaches 3 inches in height.
Repair bare patches using sod

Laying sod is the quickest and easiest way to patch a dead or damaged lawn area. You can lay it any time during the season. The only factor is how much you will need to water it to compensate for any lack of rain until it is established.

  1. Keep the sod moist until you plant it.
  2. Prepare the soil the same way you would for patching with seed.
  3. Keep the area an inch or so below grade so the new grass will be level with the lawn.
  4. Then cut a piece from the strip of sod to conform to the repair site.
  5. Firm it onto the soil, placing its edges snugly against the surrounding lawn. Walk on it to settle it into place.
  6.  Water deeply and often.

Fixing a Problem Area

There are as many solutions to a problem area as there are problem areas.  Each one has its own opportunities and issues.  Make a list of what the problem actually is.  There is a reason your grass doesn't grow well there.  It could be foot traffic, lack of light, poor soil, a pet's favourite area.  When fixing the grass isn't the answer consider whether the answer is a different plant or a different surface.

  • Is it an area that needs a structure for storage?
  • Would a perennial or other flower bed be attractive during the season and still be able to be a snow holding area in winter?
  • Should the area be mulched or made into a hard surface?
  • Can you be more creative in the use of the area?

If you are in the Smiths Falls, Merrickville and Perth area, we would be pleased to provide a free consultation to discuss how we can help.  You can leave a comment here, schedule an appointment or give us a call

Mar 13

How to Prune Shrubs and Small Trees

By Audrey | How to Guides

How to Prune Ornamental Shrubs

 For ornamentals in Zone 4-5       

Guiding Principles of Plant Friendly Pruning

  • Prune to enhance a plant’s natural beauty
    • To make it feel less oppressive, tidier, cleaner
    • To reduce size somewhat, depending on the type of plant.
    • Selective pruning will reduce the bulk of the plant and taking off a fewer lower limbs of a tree is okay
  • Prune to maintain plant health, vigor and longevity
    • Remove dead/diseased parts
    • Remove limbs that will rub and cause a wound to let disease and insects in.
    • Remove sucker type growth as it weakens the overall tree structure and impedes vigor
  • Prune to remove hazards
    • Blocking line of site for vehicular traffic
    • Weakened limbs that would be prone to fall in a storm

Major Pruning Mistakes

  • Ornamental trees should never, ever be topped, meaning the top cut off.
  • Shrubs should very rarely be sheared (except real topiary and formal hedges).
  • Stripping all of the side branches off of a mature pine or any other tree or shrub, is also not acceptable. Stripping is not to be confused with selective thinning, which can also make shrubs and trees look open and Oriental.

How to Prune so Your Plants Don’t Look Like They Just Lost a Bet

You need to know about 2 types of pruning cuts.

Thinning and Heading

There are two types of pruning cuts, thinning and heading.

Heading - Use heading to create a bushier plant. A heading cut is pretty much just cutting off the tip or end of a branch, twig, or stem.

The next spring growth is stimulated at the tips of cut branches. Shearing, topping and pinching hedges are heading cuts. Good for hedges and chrysanthemums. Not too good for most shrubs and trees.

Thinning - Use thinning to lighten up or remove density from a plant. 

A thinning cut removes the branch back to another branch or twig, or to the ground. Most pruning consists of thinning cuts. It forces new growth in existing branches and spreads new growth more evenly throughout the plant. Thinning cuts will let light inside, allowing for green growth inside and not just dead looking twigs.  It also means that if you need to reduce the size of the plant at some point, you would still have a plant that looks reasonable.  You would have branches to cut to if you choose to reduce the size.. It also stays “neat” longer and looks natural.

Pruning by Habit

The Three Growing Habits of Plants.

Prune to enhance the plant’s natural shape or “habit”.  Plants have one of three basic habits.

  1. Cane Growers
  • Plants that renew themselves by sending up new branches – called canes – from the base.
  • They are generally tough plants.
  • Spireas, forsythias, roses, bamboo, kerria, weigela are all very hardy plants in this category. 

How to prune a cane-growth habit plant.

  • Take a good, hard, long look at your shrub.
  • Envision what it should look like. 
  • Consider what is your desired result? 
  • Hold that in your mind throughout.
  • After each planned series of cuts, stand back and re-evaluate.
  • Take out all dead, disease or dangerous wood. Always do this first.
  • Plan to take out about 1/8 to 1/3 of the plant
  • Start with the biggest and oldest, as well as a few of the weakest canes.
  •  Remove the whole branch all the way to the bottom or base of the plant.
  • Do this every year to keep the size controlled.
  • Pick out a few of the worst canes that rub or cross each other, that look sick or go the wrong way (that is, start at the outside, head back through the center and out the other side)
  • Remove ugly branches (usually too straight).
  • Generally prune to:
  • Open up the center.
  • Tidy up the top with thinning cuts.
  • Cut back anything hanging on the ground
  • Leave a growing point.  Meaning cut a short distance about a twig, branch or node. Cut to a side branch or bud.

  1. Mounds
  • The plants look like mounds and are medium-tough plants.
  • Found in mass planting.
  • They have small leaves and supple branches. In general, yur goal is to neaten them up or make them smaller. These poor things are the usual victims of those who want to just cut them into balls with hedge shears and be done with it.  Ouch! People like to shear them --- please don’t be one of these perpertrators.! Examples of mounds are abelias, escallonia, barberries and Mexican orange. These are easiest to make and keep small so there is no excuse for the bad haircut.

How to prune a mound habit plant.

  • Locate the longest, most unruly branch.
  • Grab the tip with your left hand.
  • Follow the branch down into the interior of the plant with your right-hand pruners, and snip it off two inches to one foot below the general surface level (TOP) of your shrub.
  • Cut to a side branch or bud, if possible. (Grab & Snip method)
  • Do this all over your shrub until it looks miraculously tidy and shorter, but natural.
  • These shrubs often benefit from taking out some of the old canes at their base. This opens up and renews the shrub.
  • Any dead wood or weeds should also be removed.

  1. Tree-Like
  • Best left to get big.
  • These shrubs are the hardest to do and should not be overly pruned.
  •  Good selective pruning can open them up and make them look less dense and over powering
  • Branches can be trained around gutters/eaves troughs, rather than amputation of limbs. Certainly a more aesthetic approach.
  • Tree-like growth habit plants have rather stiff branches, usually. Examples of tree-like growth habit plants are Rhododendrons, Andromeda (pieris), magnolia, deciduous Viburnum, camellia and witch hazel. Most of these plants just need all the dead wood taken out.

How to prune a Tree Like habit plant.

  • Never remove more than 1/8 total leaf surface in one year.
  • It stresses them or it can cause a watersprout-rebound effect-Yuck
  • Just remove any dead or diseased wood.
  • If you still want to do more
  • Take out suckers (straight-up, skinny branches from the base and trunk of the shrub or tree).
  • Take out any big crossing, rubbing branches and double leaders (two main top branches with a narrow branch-crotch angle) on trees.
  • Take back or remove any branches hanging on the ground, if only up ½”.
  • Take out the worst of the smaller crossing, rubbing branches, choosing the healthiest and best placed branch to remain.
  • Prune to shorten or completely remove the worst wrong-way branches that start from the outside of the shrub, and go the wrong way back into the center and out the other side. Sometimes a side branch of the shrub, and go the wrong way back into the center and out the other side. Sometimes a side branch has a smaller branch that heads too far up into the next “layer”, or goes too far down. You can cut some of these off to add more definition to your shrub’s branches.
  • If you have two parallel branches rather close together, it may look better to remove one.
  • If you, have three parallel branches you may want to remove the center one. This will make things look nicer.
  • Before you finish, stand back and look
  • If necessary, you may shorten a few  branches on tree like shrubs (not trees). Cut back to a side branch.


Hints and Tips

On many shrubs and trees, especially tree-likes, you want to fix things slowly over three to five years. Do some now, come back next year. “Wander, ponder; and prune,” the old saying goes. Pruners always stare at their shrubs, trying to locate unwanted branches, imagining their shrubs without this or that branch, seeing how it will grow next year --- seeing what needs to be done. Much like a haircut, it’s easy to take it off, hard to put back on. Know when to quit.

If a plant is really too big, you may want to move it, remove it go ahead, be ruthless!) or renovate it (not dealt with here). But try real selective pruning first!

Helpful Lists

Mounds (Grab & Snip) Spiraeas, Hollys, Escallonia, Japanese Holly, Box Honeysuckle

Cane Growers (Cut canes to the ground) Roses, Oregon Grape, Kerria, Weigela, Wild Oregon Grape, Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo), red-twig Dogwood, Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Hydrangea, Bamboo, Deutzia, Forsythia

Tree-Likes (Thin-out, many small cuts) Elderberry, Manzanita, Kalmia, Deciduous Azaleas, Pieris (Andromeda), Rhododendrons, Enkianthus, Huckleberries, Lilac, Viburnums (Leatherleaf, Doubl-File, Highbush Cranberry, Winter, Snowball) Spindletrees


Picture courtesy of plant amnesty

cat near tree
Mar 09

Keep your Cat Happy & Healthy with a Great Garden

By Audrey | How to Guides

Designing the Cat Friendly Garden

I have designed gardens to attract bees, birds and butterflies.  I have also designed gardens for special purposes like energy conservation, no maintenance and for the blind.

I wrote a post previously on landscaping for dogs. Now it’s time to give cats their own post too.

Our furry friends get bored, just like you do, when stuck inside with little to do.  Unless your cat is a voracious reader, they will appreciate all the great outdoors has to offer.  Of course, Kitty is having trouble keeping her svelte figure when all she has to do all day is eat and sleep.  There is little to occupy her senses and no real way to exercise.

Just having access to the great outdoors improves your cat’s mental and physical health.  But how do you keep Kitty safe from the usual perils of urban living: traffic, strange people and other animals.  Well, there are some preety creative solutions available.  For the DIY people, keep reading to find out what goes into a cat paradise.

The Difference between a Cat Friendly Garden and a Cat Garden

I would like to start off with the distinction between a garden that is cat friendly and a ‘cat’ garden.  I’ll talk about both but they are not the same.

A cat friendly garden is including plants and structures that take into account what your cat likes to do in the garden.  A cat garden, on the other hand, is an enclosed space that provides for a cat’s needs, while keeping him away from the usual perils of a free-range cat.  A cat garden is more like a really awesome kennel, lots to do but enclosed.

I know lots of people on both sides of this fence.  If you live in an urban environment a cat garden is the only safe choice.  A suburban or rural home may offer the alternative of a cat friendly garden and not an enclosed purpose built area.

However, the needs of the cat are the same, regardless of whether it is in an enclosed area or your back yard that he shares with you and other pets.

Cat in Grass

Protecting His Domain

What do Cats Like in a Garden

 What a Cat Needs.

  • They want to feel safe while exploring mysterious areas
    • This means protection from other animals, unwelcome people and loud noise and movement.
  • They want to see and not bee seen.
    • High spots to watch over the world
    • Solid shelves, trees, sills, high porches, platforms, wooden fences etc
    • Cat tree – DIY or Purchased.
    • Enclosed spots where they can watch over the world
    • Hidden spots where they can watch over the world
  • Plants and garden features to hide and sleep under like junipers or hostas. 
    • Pretty much any plant the has an arching habit that a cat can get under
    • Taller decorative grasses are a cat favourite.
    • Groups of other garden features that provide a place to slink through and around.  Groupings of pots or statuary works, maybe a bench as well.
  • Scratching Post
    • Good luck with this one.  Given the choice most cats seem to prefer anything but the one you intend them to use.  My cats have always favoured rough wood like a cedar split rail in a fence or the upright on the pressure treated deck.  Whatever it is, it must be solidly secured so they both feel safe and are safe when scratching on it.
  • Shady spots to sleep in
    • Pretty much anywhere that is shady and dry where a cat feels hidden but can see out.

Cat on hay bale

Sly loves watching from this pile of hay.

  • Sunny spots to sleep in
    • Most of the high spots will cover this need.
    • A sheltered sunny spot is needed for cool or cold weather
  • Moving water
    • Include a water source for both a quick drink and for the kitty fun factor.  This could be, which could be a fountain or a pond. Yu culd have fish but if you don’t intend Kitty to play with them, the fish will need protection from claws.  (protective surface net etc)
  • Some sand, mulch or soil to roll in.
    • Could become a defacto litter box, so be careful with this one.
    • Placing wire mesh just below the surface works well to discourage digging.
  • Pigeons/squirrels/mice to watch
    • I wouldn’t suggest attracting small wildlife like mice and squirrels unless your cat is a great hunter and you don’t mind the mess.
    • A bird feeder provides hours of fun for the cat with little likelihood of anything other than bird watching.
  • Some grass is always appreciated,
    • A bit of grass doesn’t need to be very large to make a cat happy. For an apartment balcony a very successful  grass patch could be made by filling an old kitty litter pan with soil and growing bird seeds.  You can also grow grass from seed or sod, in pots.
  • Some plants to eat.  There is more than just catnip.

Cat thyme (Teucrium marum)

Spider Plant – A cat salad bar favourite

Plants that Cats Like

While cats can be notoriously picky eaters, sometimes you just can’t get them to leave the houseplants alone.  On the other hand, you may worry that a plant is poisonous to Kitty.  What is safe for a dog may not be safe for a cat and vice versa.    However, here is a list of plants that are cat approved, both in terms of enjoyment and safe on the tummy.  This list of plants is cat approved.

  • Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
  • Cat thyme (Teucrium marum)
  • Cat Grass Cactylis glomerata
  • Spider Plant

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

It’s easy to grow and most cats love it, once it is crushed a little so to release the scent.  There are, of course, exceptions.

Catnip usually causes temporary euphoria, sometimes it makes them playful or aggressive. Cats seem to want to sleep after they are finished rolling around and eating their catnip.  But a cat generally wants to sleep, so it is hard to tell if the catnip is the cause.

There is a large range of variations of Catmints (nepeta mussinii) and Catnips. Small kittens and many young cats don’t like it.  Some actively dislike the smell. 

Catnip and Catmint are easily grown and are available as seeds or potted.  They usually self-seed and produce in the second year as well.  Good for drying as well. 

Catnip is a favourite treat.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

The effect of valerian on cats is very similar to catnip. The leaves need to be crushed, usually, for a cat to show much interest.

Valerian is a pretty perennial but it doesn’t smell nice to anyone but your cat. Its blossoms, however, smell like cherry.

Cat thyme (Teucrium marum)

Cat thyme is not a thyme. It is a tender perennial with small, oval leaves so it is kind of like thyme.   It has grey-green leaves which bear fragrant pink flowers in summer. For most, consider it an annual.  Cats react t it much the same a s catnip.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Cat Grass Cactylis glomerata

This plant Cactylis glomerata, is specifically named cat grass in the UK and is said to be a feline favourite. Hwever, grain grasses will be welcome.

All cats should have access to a bit of grass. Regular lawn grass is fine.  Even if you don’t have a lawn, I have heard of people even spreading a skiff of soil and planting a yearly roll of sod out for Kitty.  Planting a low kitty litter sized container of grass is a popular option as well. 

Spider Plant

Cats seem to adore playing with the leaves of a spider plant.  They smack it and chew it to shreds, sometimes.  Spider plants have provided generations of house cats with hours of entertainment.  But they grow happily in the garden as well.  They just aren’t going to over winter for most of us. 

As cats prefer a spider plant to most other house plants, it can sometimes be grown as a sacrificial lamb to keep your other plants safe from claws. 

Both You and Your Cat Can Enjoy the Following Plants:

  • Wheat Grass
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

Safety precautions for backyard cat adventures

  • Avoid pesticides or weed and feed. 
    • You wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it n anything your cat might eat or lick the water off of.  
    • My suggestion, given over 30 years of gardening, is nothing more toxic than blood and bone meal as fertilizer and corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent should be anywhere near your cat, or you for that matter.  I
    •  know that, that sentiment isn’t shared by many, but I have seen too many people who worked regularly with lawn care products and followed all safety precautions, be diagnosed with cancer to suggest anyone use them.
  • Bring the cats inside when you’re mowing the lawn.
    • Power lawn mowers can propel rocks or sticks that could hit a nearby pet.
  • It is irresponsible to let a cat roam free in an urban environment and dangerous in a suburban and still problematic in a rural area
    • Cats can get lost, get hurt in a fight, stolen, eaten or hit by traffic. They can also get exposed to FIV, if they fight an infected cat.
  • There is no doubt that keeping your cat indoors and providing access to a safe enclosed garden will give them a considerable longer life.  They will be happier and more fit for the effort. You will have lower vet bills and your cat will have a longer, happier and safer life.

Cat Gardens

A Little Heaven on Earth for Your Cat

Step 1 Check the bylaws for regulations and the need for permits.

Step 2 Secure the Perimeter.

In order to keep Kitty safe, you need to make sure she can’t get out, because as a cat, that is probably what she will try first.  It is true that curiosity definitely gets Kitty, in to trouble that she wasn’t looking for.  First step is to make sure the area is secure.

Your furry escape artist doesn’t know what is good for her/ him.   If they think they can get out they will try. If they know they can’t, they will not try, so you need to get this right the first time or face a longer more frustrating road.  Make sure there are no gaps larger than 2 inches anywhere including under the fence. Kitty will eventually decide she didn’t want to get out of her very comfortable, fun filled kingdom, anyway.  A cat is a creature of habit and most stop trying to get out. Once Kitty feels safe in her jungle paradise, she will forget about escaping.  However, until that time comes, keep a watchful eye on them and discourage any escape attempts.

Remember, a cat can jump up on top of high features and use them as a ladder to get over your fence. 

Of course, your less athletic or older cat probably won’t be interested in trying an escape attempt.

Step 3 Add what you can from the Cat Friendly Gardens list above.

Black cat with plantsKitten at water fountain

Step 4 Create a look you are proud to show.

Obviously, this needs to look nice from the outside as well as the inside.  Though I guess your cat might not be as critical to aesthetics.  But you and your neighbours should go Ohhh, not Eww when they see it. Check your zoning bylaws for what you can do and if you need a permit.   

Technically, a cat proof fence is 6 feet high with mesh section an extra 2 feet. Overhang is wire mesh and about a cats length in size. You can get it with plastic mesh but it isn’t as resilient.

The mesh is perfect for growing climbers and other perennials that tend to lean as they get taller like delphinium and yarrow.  Ivy usually goes nuts in a cat garden and makes a beautiful space for everyone.  Add a few hanging baskets for your own Hanging Garden.

Step 5 Decide on Access

Will you have a cat door for free choice access?  Well you provide access manually? Will you provide access so that your cat is safe and comfortable in the summer heat and or winter cold? If you provide water and shade your cat should be fine in the hotter months.  With a sheltered cat house, your cat may enjoy spending some time outside in the winter for exercise and to watch the world go by.  Ideally free choice year round access is desirable for your cat.

Plants to Avoid – Plants Poisonous to Cats

Cats and dogs are not the same in this regard.  Click here to download a list of plants toxic to cats.

Amaryllis has beautiful stately flowers but it shouldn’t be in a cat garden.

Fall Mum

Beautiful fall flowers but like the castor bean on the left, toxic to cats.

What is your cat’s favourite thing to do in the garden? Mine just like to slink about the plants. No doubt pretending to be dangerous jungle cats and then reward themselves for their bravery with a good brisk nap in a warm but secure location.  Leave a comment with your ideas for great cat garden elements.

Want to Learn More About Gardening for Cats?

Keep reading for a reprint of  articles from The University of Vermont and Penn State.


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor University of Vermont

While many people want to keep cats out of the garden, if you’d rather invite them in, here’s what you do. Create a garden for your feline friends by planting catnip, catmint, and other plants they love. In fact, giving cats their own space may help keep them out of your flower beds and vegetable plot.

Because cats will want to eat, sleep, and play in their garden, the plants may become bedraggled, bent, or broken. So, you’ll probably want to tuck the garden behind a garage or in a corner of the yard. It’s also a good idea to isolate it from favorite flowers or your vegetable crops.

Prepare the soil as you would any new garden, working plenty of organic matter and fertilizer into the soil. Clay and sandy soils especially will benefit from the addition of compost or peat moss. Water frequently throughout the season.

Although not all cats respond the same way to all so-called cat aphrodisiacs, most will go crazy over catnip (Nepeta cataria). Long before anyone discovered that this plant, a native of Europe, triggered a response in cats, it was used for tea and as a medicinal herb to treat a number of ailments. It is also said to be an effective mosquito repellent.

Plant catnip in full sun in well-drained soil. Plants will grow to a height of nine to 12 inches, producing tiny lavender flowers beginning in early summer.

Most cats also will adore catmint (Nepeta mussinii), which induces similar frenzies in cats. The plant has silvery leaves, and flowers ranging in color from white to dark blue, depending on variety. The compact plants make a nice place for an afternoon catnap. For best results, this cultivar needs to be grown in a sunny location.

No cat’s garden would be complete without cat thyme (Teucrium marum) or valerian (Valeriana officianalis). The first is a member of the mint family and has deep green leaves and purple spires. A Mediterranean native, it may grow to heights of one to two feet if planted in full sun in a moist, well-drained spot. It is related to the herb Germander, not the herb Thyme, so its common name is misleading!

Valerian, a sedative for humans but a stimulant for cats, also goes by the name garden heliotrope. It’s an attractive plant with fern-like foliage and fragrant pink, white, or lavender flowers. At maturity, plants may reach heights of three to four feet.

The one drawback of planting this is that it may attract rats although that won’t be a problem if your cats are good hunters or you plant plenty of catnip, a known deterrent to these undesirable rodents. Valerian can be grown in sun or partial shade and is not particular fussy about soil conditions.

In addition to planting a smorgasbord of favorite plants, be sure to leave a patch of loose dirt for rolling and digging. Compost is sometimes even better than dirt for cats, but if you use this in a good flowerbed be aware that they may use this for a litter box! You can put some wire mesh under mulch or compost to make less attractive.

Add some shade with a small teepee of boards or half a plastic culvert, burying the bottom few inches in the soil so it won’t collapse in heavy rain or wind or by roughhousing by playful cats.

The culvert or similar structure also provides a secure hideout for them, or protection if being chased. It saves them from getting stuck up a tree! Just make sure it is not too large for small kids to climb in and get stuck. It also provides cover in bad weather, as does an open area under porch or nearby shed.

Consider adding a water feature like small pond for drinking water for your cats. However, if you put in fish, you may need to place a net just under the water surface to protect them!

If you have bird feeders near your garden, make sure that they are high enough so the cats can’t climb up to get birds. I put mine on a pole so I can easily take them down, or on a pulley and rope to lower them, when I need to refill.

Finally, cats like to nibble on grass. So, include some nice grassy plants in your garden or leave a patch of unmown grass near the garden for munching. Then sit back, relax, and watch your pets enjoy their new outdoor space.

Creating Garden Spaces for Cats

Joanne Brown, Frederick County Master Gardener ProgramWhy do some gardeners consider cats a pain in the neck in their gardens?

Cats sometimes dig up newly planted bulbs, eat prize plants, and attack birds and butterflies that you want in your garden. But the positives far outweigh the negatives.

What are the positives?

Cats help keep the population of voles, mice, rats, and chipmunks down. Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania actually has cats on their payroll, as part of their Integrated Pest Management team! And never underestimate the value of cat urine, which is extremely high in nitrogen and perfect for leaves about to be composted.

Why create a special garden space for cats?

Giving cats their own garden space-complete with catnip, a bowl of water, and a comfortable place to sleep-helps keep the cats out of flower beds and vegetable plots. They’d rather hang out in the catnip, roll in the dirt, and sleep in the sun. They’re happy in their own little space.

Where should the cats’ garden space be planted?

Location, location, location! Cats love sun, so plant their garden spaces in full sun, and add a bowl of water and something comfortable for them to sleep on, such as a bench or patio swing. Also, try to locate it in a corner of the yard away from your favorite plants and flowers.

What plants should be included in the cats’ garden?

There are many plants to choose from. Some popular and easy choices are catnip (Nepeta cataria), catmint (Nepeta mussinii), valerian, and, of course, some cat grasses.

Are catnip and catmint easy to grow?

Yes. They both like full or partial sun and well-drained soil. Both are deer resistant, and neither is considered invasive in Maryland. Catnip grows about a foot high, and produces tiny lavender flowers in the summer. Catmint can grow up to 3 feet tall and has small white or lilac flowers in summer. Both are beautifully fragrant in the summer garden, and attract lovely butterflies. And catnip is a rat deterrent.

Do all cats respond to catnip?

Eighty-five percent of domestic cats respond biochemically to catnip, specifically to nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip and catmint. Nepetalactone induces harmless physiological reactions, including psychosexual responses in both male and female cats, which is why it is considered an aphrodisiac. The other fifteen percent do not respond at all to nepetalactone, because they didn’t receive the catnip response gene from their mother. Young kittens almost never respond to catnip, regardless of their genes.

Are domestic felines the only ones who respond to catnip?

No. Some of the large cats, including cougars, bobcats, lions and lynx, respond to nepetalactone as well.

Is it true that cats love having their own salad bars?

Yes, cats naturally crave grasses. Grasses provide roughage and lots of vitamins, especially folic acid. Grasses aid a cat’s digestion and assist in removing fur balls.

So you may want to grow some special cat grasses in their garden space, or just leave a patch of about 3 square feet of unmowed grass for them to munch on. They will love eating it and hiding in it.

How can indoor cats benefit from any of this?

For indoor cats, be sure to grow some special cat grasses for them, which will keep them from devouring your house plants, some of which may be poisonous. And grow catnip for them outdoors and present them with a fresh stem every few days. It will have the same euphoric effect as if they were rolling around in it outdoors.

Are there certain plants that should not be planted in the cats’ garden space?

Yes. Plants that can be poisonous to cats should be avoided. They include azaleas, chrysanthemums, daffodils, hydrangeas, iris, ivy, lantana, marigolds, and wisteria. Tiger lilies are particularly poisonous to cats, and can cause death.

Sometimes gardeners want to keep cats out of their yards. What can they do to keep them away?

There are several natural cat repellents that are safe and easy to use. For example, spraying a vinegar-and-water solution around the base of your acid-loving plants or putting lemon and orange peels around your plants will keep cats away. Putting pebbles, gravel, or small, upright twigs among your plants will also keep their sensitive paws away. Some plants such as the scented geranium, the mosquito plant, and citronella, will also deter cats.

The best choice is a coleus nicknamed “Scaredy Cat” (Coleus canina). It’s a bit pricey but its strong aroma, which is triggered by touch or the sun, keeps cats-and dogs-away. You can plant it in a container and then move it around the garden, protecting different areas of the garden from animals. It has clusters of blue flowers that also give off the strong aroma.

Happy gardening to you and your feline friends!

May 17

Five Things for a Perfect Dog Friendly Backyard

By Audrey | How to Guides

.Five Things You Need and One Thing You Don't For The Perfect Dog Friendly Backyard

It is possible to have a beautiful garden and a dog or dogs at the same time. II can be a space that you both love to spend time and bond in. Afterall he is part of th family.Of course ,every dog breed is different but there are some elements that are the same regardless of breed.

Essential Elements in Dog scaping

  1. Border patrol

  2. Doggy Pit Stop

  3. Shade Haven

  4. Cool Down Pool or On Demand Sprinkler

  5. Dense planting

Border Patrol

Dogs like to patrol their territory, so if your backyard is already fenced, leave about a 3-foot strip between the fence and plantings so the dog can patrol the perimeter without tramping through the bed.

If the dog already has a chosen path, landscape around that route. You can also screen this trail with taller plants, hiding an unwanted view while providing a “secret garden” for the dog to explore.

Dogs enjoy patrolling their territory so consider adding a path.  Photo: Thomas J. Story

Dogs enjoy patrolling their territory so consider adding a path.Photo: Thomas J. StoryCall of the wild

Doggy Pitstop

This doesn't mean you have to accept a lawn full of yellow or bare patches.   You can create a designated easy to clean area and train your dog to go there. Useful materials for this are flagstone, pea gravel, bricks, or cedar  chips.

Yes it will take some time to train your dog to go  In the designated spot. The length of time will depend on the age of the dog.  But it is well worth the effort.

Providing a dog with only a certain portion of lawn can  help prevent urine burns.  Photo:

Providing a dog with only a certain portion of lawn can help prevent urine burns.


Shade Haven

Well, dogs enjoy the sun as much as people with their heavy fur coat. they can easily become overheated. As well. some short-haired lighter-colored breeds are susceptible to sunburn.

Dogs however are easy to please and are happy to share shade with their human friends.  Your dog will enjoy Ann Arbor pergola or canopy just as much as you will. However you may want to put in a dog house or other kind of shelter so the dog has a place of its own.

Dogs are happy to share shade with their owners on a hot summer day.  Photo:

Dogs are happy to share shade with their humans on a hot summer day.


Cool Down Spot

Most dogs love water and will find any excuse to splash around in it. Your dog will enjoy hours of fun splashing in and out of his own pool.  You would want to surround this pool with hardscaping of some kind or a deck so that the outside doesn't get muddy. there are many custom kinds of dog pools or you can simply use a child's wading pool.

Another option would be an, on demand  or motion-controlled sprinkler. This would have to be placed in a hard or mulched surface or it is in danger of becoming A mud puddle.

With dog pools your client can be as extravagant or as economical as they want. Photo: (Left) (Right)

With dog pools, you can be as extravagant or as economical as you want.

Photo: (Left) (Right)

Dense planting

Where dogs are concerned, the thicker and render the planting, the better for you and for the plants. That way they are more likely to stay out of planted areas. Another alternative is raised or mounted beds. Rock borders or low fencing is also way to keep dogs out of planted areas. 

Consider hardy ornamental grasses and ground covers for the outer edge of beds and more brittle plants in the center

Raised beds allow your clients to still enjoy gardening without worrying about the dog running through the beds.  Photo:

Raised beds lessen the chance of the dog running through the garden.



B u r c h i l l

One Thing You Don't Need In A Pet Friendly Garden

in your pet friendly garden you don't want any plants that are likely to harm your pet. This would include plants poisonous to dogs as well as any for spiny plants that could potentially damage eyes or skin.

A list of plants harmful to pets can be found here.

Mulch and hardscaping materials should also be considered carefully. Flagstones and cedar chips are gentle on paws, while cocoa mulch is dangerous if consumed in large amounts.

Plants like rhubarb, may apple, and wisteria are toxic to dogs. Photo:

Plants like rhubarb, may apple, and wisteria are toxic to dogs.Photo:


Our pets are part of the family and as such we take care of that they have a place with us in our outdoor living spaces. We want them with us and we want them to be comfortable and happy when they are with us. Taking our dogs needs into consideration in the landscape is  an extension of the care we provide for them everyday.

Dog friendly landscape involves:

  • a border  or path for them to patrol

  • an easy to clean doggie pit stop

    • Flagstone, pea gravel, mulch

  • places for them to get out of the sun

    • Arbours, pergolas, canopies, vegetation

  • places for them to cool down

    • Shallow doggie pool surrounded by a hard surface

  • Beds should be densely planted

    • raised beds or

    • low  fences should be considered to keep pets out of the  planted areas.

  • Avoid poisonous plants

  • Avoid plants with thorns or spines that could damage eyes or skin.

Check out my post on Landscaping for Cats.