An Alameda Garden

Monday, August 03, 2015

Cat Grasses and Other Kitty Treats: You Can Grow That!

Cats (and some dogs) love to nibble at grass, but you may not want to encourage them to 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 housecats that sometimes nibble out of boredom). You can sow seeds of just about any annual cereal grass but many seed companies sell packets of grass mixes especially for cats. These combinations of rye, oats, barley, and wheat are very appealing to cats, especially when you fertilize them with a shot of fish emulsion.

Growing Annual Grasses

Choose a wide, shallow pot, such as a bulb pot, to sow the seeds in. Fill it up to about an inch from the top with potting soil, then sprinkle the grass seeds over the top. Aim to space the seeds about 1/4 inch apart. Sprinkle about 1/2 inch of potting mix over the seeds 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 inches high before giving it to your cats to nibble. Water regularly and feed with a fish emulsion solution every couple of weeks. If you plant a container every 4 to 6 weeks, you'll have a steady crop of grass to keep your cats 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 in order 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 the organic compound called nepetalactone, which is known to attract felines. In other words, catmint and catnip are recreational drugs for cats.

Linus, the undergardener, looking for catnip
Catmint and catnip need full sun. 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/lavender). When the flowers fade, just cut them back and the plant will be 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 will have to endure.


There are several companies that 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. You can also use pre-seeded disks, available from Botanical Interests, which are more expensive, but easy to use and result in more even sprouting.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Collapsible Rain Barrels: Maybe the Best Idea Ever!

I just found this listing on Groupon for a collapsible rain barrel. I've been slow to embrace the idea of installing a rain barrel in my garden simply because I knew that even in a non-drought year it would sit empty, taking up room in my garden or in the driveway for most if not all of the summer. But given how severe the drought has been, I've finally started shopping around for one.

But this collapsible rain barrel has caught my eye. I love the idea that I could easily take it down during the winter (assuming we get rain again during the winter), and only put it up in the summer when rain is in the forecast. Then after it's empty again, poof! I can fold it up and put it away until it's needed the next time.

The question is, is it durable? Has anyone tried one of these yet? For the price, even the steeply discounted Groupon price, I would want it to last at least a few years. Please leave a comment if you have any experience with these!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

How to Grow Epiphytes (aka Air Plants)

Orchids and staghorn ferns are two kinds of epiphytes.
One trend in houseplants that comes around every so often is a resurgence of interest in epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, but they aren't parasites. In their natural habitats they take moisture and nutrition from the air and the rain without robbing the plants they dwell on of any nutrients. For that reason epiphytes are often called "air plants." You'll often see epiphytes attached to driftwood or shells, or even hung directly on a wall. They can live perfectly happily outdoors under the right conditions, but their soilless state and ability to grow on just about anything make them a natural choice for a houseplant. Common epiphytes include some types of orchids, bromeliads, anthuriums, philodendrons, staghorn ferns, and Spanish moss.

Epiphytic orchid growing
on a piece of tree branch
But don't let the term "air plant" mislead you. Epiphytes can't survive in your home on just air. Once or twice a week you should submerge your epiphytes in room temperature water for up to three or four hours. You can use municipal tap water on them, but they'll appreciate rain water, bottled water, or well water even more and will likely bloom more quickly with it. For extra nutrition, you can mix a half-strength dose of orchid food into the bathwater once a month.

The proper lighting is important too. Situate them in bright, indirect light, just like they'd find if they were perched high into a dense canopy of a tree. Direct sunlight could dry them out too much.

Dry air can also be a problem, so during the summer months if your home is either very hot or very air-conditioned, you should give your epiphytes a spritz of water every couple days in between soakings.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How to Repot a Citrus Tree

Do you have a potted citrus tree that's been in the container for three years or more? It's time to repot it! You'll find your tree will be completely reinvigorated when you repot it and move it up to a slightly larger container--if you do it right. For years the conventional wisdom has been to prune the roots when you repot a container-grown tree, but I just came across this video from the folks at who, following the advice of the citrus experts at Four Winds Growers, now advise that you skip the root-pruning. They tell you exactly how to repot a citrus tree, what kind of soil mix to use, and how to feed it. Check it out.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Reminder: Water-Wise Gardening Talk at Mill Valley Public Library

Just a reminder that I'll be at the Mill Valley Public Library tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. to talk about water-wise gardening. I'll be discussing the new water restrictions, tips and techniques for watering your garden as effectively and efficiently as possible, and most importantly, exactly what sort of rain dance we're supposed to do to ensure that El Niño comes to our rescue. I'll also have copies of my books for sale following the talk. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 25, 11:00 a.m.
Mill Valley Public Library
Creekside Room
375 Throckmorton Ave.
Mill Valley

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Picture This: Pond Reflections

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