(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 26, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
To start, I have to mention that I am owned by 6 cats and 2 dogs. Yup, it's true. Five of the cats are under 2 years old, one of the dogs is a puppy. I also have over a hundred house plants.
I used to hear falling clay pots on a twice daily basis. I would walk into a room and there would be 3 cats perched in the top of my braided Hibiscus. Looking innocent of course!! I thought I could solve the problem by hanging all the houseplants, but realized I needed the window space, there was no way I could hang them all. Something had to be done to keep both the cats and the plants happily living together. I wasn't about to give up either plants or cats.
Somebody suggested strategically placed mouse traps, but I don't think they were really serious. I have to point out here that a mouse trap would break a kitty paw, so don't even think about it!! There are better, far less drastic ways to keep plants safe from kitty.
Decorative rocks, or marbles placed on the soil will help deter kitties that like to dig in the soil. Even sea shells would work well. You just have to make sure the rocks, etc., aren't holding the moisture in the soil and rot the plants you are trying to help. I tried this method and it worked pretty good, until one of the cats, a kitten at the time, discovered that if he picked up the rocks and dropped them on the floor, they would roll for him to chase. Then the puppy joined in on the fun. Kept their minds off of the plant though!!
Scents are also used. Some scents are offensive to cats and if the plants are sprayed with these scents, technically the cats won't go near them. Citrus is supposed to be one of these scents, orange and lemon peels for example. These work not too badly, although they need to be replaced on a regular basis. They can also lead to another problem if forgotten. There is nothing worse smelling than moldy orange peel, and if there are a bunch of fruit flies hanging around the plants, well, they attract kitty back to the very plant you are trying to protect. Flying toys, a kitty dream come true. Which brings up another good point. If you do notice kitty all of a sudden playing with a plant he/she has previously ignored, do check for flying insects. Kitty could be acting as an early warning system for you. There are a few scented products on the market, Bitter Apple for one, but I found it had to be resprayed almost hourly to have much effect. They also hate the smell of scented candles, I break up my old used candles and place them in the soil, the cats go all squinty eyed and back away at the smell and the wax won't hurt the plants. It's by far the best scented deterrent I have found.
Bamboo chop sticks or skewers. If broken into 2 inch pieces and pushed into the soil, they make walking, or digging in the plant uncomfortable for kitty. These are good for large plants in floor sized pots. Will stop kitty from using the soil as a litter box as well. They do work, although they don't add much to the looks of the plant. On a fun note, I was searching the web one day and found these little do-dads for floor model plants. I haven't tried them, just thought they were kinda fun. I should mention here that Daves Garden has a wonderful tool called the Garden Watchdog for researching online mail order companies.
Two sided tape, or fly-paper, works on flat surfaces. If you have a plant table and kitty is known to shove your plants aside to get more comfortable in the sun shining through the window, strategically place these and kitty will avoid these areas. Works on windowsills too.They HATE stuff stuck to their paws!! One thing to keep in mind here though, is that cats tend to leap before they think, especially with a puppy hot on their tails. I have found with windowsills that the secret is completely crowding the sill so kitty can't find any whisker room and will not even jump up. The dogs just ripped the tape off.
One of the best methods, I have to admit, is the spray bottle. A quick squirt with a stream of water and the kitties soon learn that this is a place not to be. Unless you are lucky enough to be owned by a cat that actually likes the water. My Pepper cat will just sit there happily soaking it up. The only problem with the spray bottle is, you have to actually catch them in the act, not really good for people who have to be at work, or go shopping, etc.
After all is said and done, I don't hear the sound of falling clay pots anymore, I switched them all to plastic. As the cats are geting out of kitten hood, they have more interesting things to think about, like napping. I have learned to keep potted plants away from the very edge of the table, more on account of the dogs putting their paws up there and tipping them off. I pay more attention to the size of the pot in regard to the plant in it, so there isn't a lot of extra room to dig in the soil. I have stopped them from digging in the pots that are bigger though, I use a few rocks and some smaller pots with cuttings in them placed right in the big pot. I have candle pieces inconspicuosly placed here and there. My plants get daily misting from the streams of water coming out of the spray bottle, thanks to Pepper cat. The dust pan has been put away where it belongs in the closet. The only accidents in recent memory have been due to that leaping before thinking thing we discussed earlier, and to give credit to the cats, it wasn't their fault, they were puppy propelled.
Hopefully, some of this can help all of you plant lovers out there. I do speak from exerience, learned by trial and error. Don't give up, kitties and plants can co-exist relatively peacefully.
Many thanks to plantladylin for her kitty picture, palmbob for his marbles and my friend Slant in New Zealand, who, I hope, doesn't think I'm crazy for asking her to take a picture of her skewers.