Grow Some Greens to Keep Your Cat Happy and Healthy

Claire Splan

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Cats (and some dogs) love to nibble at grass, but it’s not a good idea to let them chew on the lawn — particularly if the lawn’s been treated with non-organic amendments or pesticides. Planting a pot of grasses especially for your pets will encourage them to leave other plants alone (particularly indoor cats that sometimes nibble out of boredom). Just about any annual cereal grass can be grown in a container as a green treat, but some seed companies sell packets of grass mixes especially for cats. Most cats find these combinations of rye, oats, barley, and wheat very appealing.

Growing annual grasses

Choose a wide, shallow pot with a drainage hole, such as a bulb pot. Fill it up to about an inch from the top with potting soil (do not use soil taken straight from the garden), then sprinkle the grass seeds over the top. Aim to space the seeds about ¼ inch apart. Cover the seeds with about ½ inch of potting mix and press to get good contact between the soil and seeds. Water well and place where it will get at least a half-day of sun. Keep evenly moist and seeds should germinate within a week. Wait until the grass is a couple of inches high before giving it to your cats to nibble. Water regularly and apply a natural fertilizer, such as a diluted fish emulsion, every couple of weeks. If you plant an additional container every 4 to 6 weeks, you can cycle each container in and out of your cat’s reach and have a steady crop of grass growing at all times to keep your cat happy.

Growing catmint and catnip

While cat grasses are fast-growing and tasty (if you’re a cat), they are annuals, which means you need to re-sow seeds to keep them continuously growing. Catmint (Nepeta mussinii) and catnip (Nepeta cataria) are herbaceous perennials, meaning that they will die back to the roots in the winter, but re-sprout from the same root system in the spring. They also both contain an organic compound called nepetalactone, which is known to attract felines.

In other words, catmint and catnip are recreational drugs for cats.

Catmint and catnip need full sun so they are best grown outdoors. Sow seeds in the spring or plant container-grown plants in the spring or fall. They will grow into mounded plants between 12 and 18 inches high. Catmint in particular makes a nice groundcover. Both plants will develop flower spikes (catmint flowers are lavender and catnip can be white, pink, or lavender). When the flowers fade, just cut them back and the plant will rebloom. Although they tend to be hardy plants that will grow in almost any soil, they do best when fed every couple weeks with a weak organic fertilizer. With regular feeding, they’ll be better able to withstand the constant nibbling that they’ll have to endure.

Several companies offer seed mixes for cat grasses as well as catmint or catnip seeds. My favorites include Renee’s Garden Seeds, Burpee, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, and Botanical Interests.

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Writer/editor. Author of "California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening" and "California Month-by-Month Gardening."

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