Written by Maria Gaura
SANTA CRUZ (January 2010) - Cats and gardeners have a complicated relationship, particularly when it comes to kitty’s toilet habits. Cats are known for relieving themselves into neat little holes in the dirt - preferably the nice, soft, cultivated dirt found in garden beds. And most gardeners, even the cat lovers among us, really hate that.
Cat poop in the garden is a health hazard, and finding a ‘buried treasure’ amongst the lettuces can be infuriating and worrisome - even if the culprit is your own beloved pet.
With an estimated 80 million cats in the U.S., banishing all free-roaming felines from your yard is probably not an option. But cats can be excluded from garden beds with a simple wire screen you can make yourself, using concrete reinforcing wire, wire cutters and a pair of gloves.
Use bolt cutters, and eye and hand protection
Concrete reinforcing wire is a sturdy wire mesh found in 3’ or 4’ wide rolls, and sold by the linear foot at lumberyards and hardware stores. Reinforcing wire with 6” grid openings is the best for cat-exclusion screens, because the openings are small enough to prevent cats from digging but large enough to allow plants to grow through.
Calculate the size of screen you will need by measuring the surface area of your garden bed. For a large bed, consider making two or three smaller screens, which will allow for flexible planting schemes as well as easier storage.
Working with wire can be rough on the hands, and the sharp ends of cut wire can cause serious cuts and scratches. Use heavy gloves, preferably leather, to protect your hands when working with wire, and protect your eyes against flying metal fragments.
Invest in, or borrow, a pair of bolt cutters or very sturdy wire cutters, as reinforcing wire is thick and hard to snip.
Your wire will probably come tightly rolled, and will have to be flattened. Carefully unwind the roll, place it on the ground with the poky ends facing down, and use your feet and gloved hands to flatten it into a workable shape.
Cut the wire to size, allowing for a fringe of 6” wire segments along at least two edges of the screen. These segments will serve as the legs of the screen, keeping it a couple of inches off the surface of the soil. (Keep track of and collect any wire fragments as you cut, as they can injure bare feet or jam lawnmowers if left lying around.)
Leave a 'fringe' of wire spokes along the perimeter of the screen
Using gloved hands, bend the protruding wire segments to a uniform 90 degree angle. And that’s it. To install the screen, just place it over the desired area and press the wire legs an inch or two into the soil.
Bend the spokes to a 90 degree angle
The screen will ‘float’ a few inches above the soil surface, foiling feline attempts to use your garden as a litterbox. Depending upon the crop they are protecting, screens can be removed when the plants are big enough to discourage cat depredations, or they can be left in place until harvest.
The 6” grid is large enough to allow easy access for hand weeding, and can even support the weight of pumpkins and other squashes.
Granted, a newly-made screen will stand out visually. But a couple of weeks in the elements will turn the shiny wire an earthy rust-brown, which blends in nicely over time. In fact, these screens can blend in well enough to become a tripping hazard, which is why they are better suited to raised beds than to ground-level planting areas that people are likely to walk through.
Store unused screens by hanging them on an out-of-the-way fence, or on the back wall of a tool shed, with the pointy side facing away from passers-by. And, for safety’s sake, never leave them lying on the ground with the pointy side facing upward.
A three-foot length of 4'-wide concrete reinforcing wire cost $6.41 at ProBuild Lumber on River Street, enough to make a 3’ by 2.5’ cat-excluding screen for one of my raised beds.
This screen is protecting newly-planted onion sets