Jeff Lowenfels: Cat problems in the garden? Try citrus peels

Jeff Lowenfels

I thought I would jump around a bit this week. You know what to do outside, and since it's been plenty warm I am sure you are busy at it. Still, a few timely comments might be useful.

First, I get a lot of "How do you keep cats out of the garden" questions. I will dispense with the "if it's a cat, get a dog" jokes and get right to it. The answer is in their sense of smell. Start with citrus. Lemon, orange and lime (if not too expensive) peels might be all you need. For a bit stronger repellent try citrus oils.

What about keeping dogs out of gardens? Dogs don't like hot pepper smells. You can spread hot pepper flakes around areas that they "visit." Tabasco sauce also works. The acrid smell of ammonia is repugnant to dogs, too. Cats, however, like it, so use it carefully if you have cats in the area.

Cotton balls dipped in one of these concoctions and strategically placed should help. If all else fails, then try a fence. Plantskydd is still the recommendation for moose, by the way. And, don't forget the motion detector gadgets. These detect motion of the cat or the dog and turn on a sprinkler or better yet turn the sprinklers on them.

Next, several readers asked about planting hedges and want to know what I think is the best plant to use. It's an easy choice because you want a quick, thick hedge to develop and for this there really is only plant: Cotoneaster actinctiflora. These are available from local nurseries and are by far the best hedge plants for Southcentral. Plant 12 inches apart.

The mention of hedge plants reminds me to alert readers of "bare root sales." Plants are sent to local nurseries in big bundles without soil or pots because it's cheaper to ship them up that way. Some nurseries sell these plants before they put them up at a great discount, sometimes half off. This can result in some substantial savings (enough to even consider a hedge when you weren't even thinking of one before you knew of the sales). Check with your favorite nurseries to see if they are going to have one. These sales are only held around this time of the year.

OK, I always tell people to set up a watering system. Lots of you don't take my advice. I'm repeating it. Gardening is supposed to be fun, not a lot of work watering and getting wet while you do it. Get quick connectors for your hoses, replace leaky hoses or rubber washers and make life easy by setting up sprinkler hoses for gardens. Add and use automatic timers. A traveling lawn sprinkler is also a must. It's all worth the investment in the time and effort you will save over the course of the summer.

Even the best gardener ends up with plants that just don't make it through the transition period from indoors to out. It's always a good idea to have on hand some "fillers," extra plants for baskets, flower and vegetable gardens. Now, while nurseries are still fairly well stocked, is the time to put aside half a dozen or so plants "just in case." I know most of us have extra plants by the time we finish planting. However, I'm not talking about those scraggly ones that were "last two going to the ground."

While planting, don't forget to clean and stack all of your flats, plastic pots, four pack cells and the like. These should be recycled during the annual ALPAR Alaska Botanical Garden pot recycling day, which is usually in August. (Speaking of which, have you joined the Alaska Botanical Garden yet?

I probably shouldn't do this, but I think it is my duty to alert the loyal reader that we are entering into the beginning of the morel season. Why mention this in a garden column? These delicious fungi are highly prized and very expensive to buy. Often found after fires, many readers would be surprised to know that they can also be found in Southcentral yards (and along our roadways).

If you don't know what a morel looks like, use your search engine (though all gardeners should have a local mushroom ID book) and then keep your eyes out for them once you do. There is a "false morel," which you should know how to identify as well as this is not edible. Talk about a terrific crop to find in your yard.

Next, wind is a problem, especially when planting out and for the first couple of weeks thereafter. Make sure to take precautions. You can create any manner of wind barriers -- tipped-over picnic tables, lawn chairs and even your car in the right situation. If you've read "Teaming with Nutrients," you will know the main problem with wind is that it increases the evaporation of water from the leaves and plants, then pulls water from the soil into leaves where it escapes. This causes the soil and thus plants to dry out. So, if you can't provide protection, at least provide ample water.

Finally, speaking of water. This is what your lawn needs. It has been hot. Ventilation -- this is what your greenhouse and cold frames need. When it is 65 degrees outside, it can get well over 90 degrees inside a greenhouse. "Teaming with Nutrients," again, points out why plants stop growing at those temperatures.

Jeff Lowenfels is co-author of "Teaming With Microbes" and author of "Teaming With Nutrients." Contact him on his website at

Jeff's Alaska Garden Calendar

• Planting out: Go ahead, but only hardened off plants.

• Rototilling: Only new gardens. The rest? Disturb only where you plant and then as little as possible

• Free admission and nursery sale at Alaska Botanic Garden: Public garden day! Sale starts Saturday at 10 a.m. and it's members-only at 9 a.m. (so join today!). Details at

Jeff Lowenfels