Cat urine should not damage garden plants

Q: I have cats that use my raised beds instead of their litter box. I planned on using chicken wire to help keep them out in the spring. Is my soil ruined because of their urine and excrement? Does the ammonia from the urine alter the pH?

A. No, it’s not ruined. Just rake out the feces and it will be fine. The urine is much less of a problem than the feces. If your garden is organic at all, it is similar to other animal manures.

The only problem would be for pregnant women. A summary of this problem can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website,

It is highly advisable that pregnant women not garden in this soil, handle freshly harvested vegetables or fruit coming from this spot without someone else thoroughly cleaning the produce before handling.

I would give the garden spot a thorough soaking before planting to flush excess salts. As with anything else, you should always wash your hands after gardening or handling fresh produce from soils containing any kind of compost. That goes for everyone.

The pH of our soil is very difficult to change for any length of time due to its high calcium carbonate (lime) levels. It just goes back up to wherever it was, usually around 8.2 or higher in unamended soil and about 7.6-7.8 for desert composted soils.

Q. I am starting a new garden spot. How much compost should I add to the soil?

A. If this is a new spot of raw desert soil or fill, the first year incorporate about 12 cubic yards of compost into 1,000 square feet of growing area to a depth of 12 inches. The second year of growing, incorporate half of that; the third year, half of what you applied the second year.

Each year afterwards add 2 yards per 1,000 square feet to maintain soil organic matter and production levels. Why so much? You can visit my blog and learn why.

I would recommend growing in beds clearly identified for your garden. The areas between the beds are designated for foot traffic.

Raised beds do not require hard construction sidewalls. Constructing hard sidewalls gives you about 6 inches of extra growing space around the edge of the beds. Constructed beds should be 12 to 18 inches tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Foot access should be provided on all sides of the bed.

Raised beds will stay in place without hard sidewalls if constructed properly. You can see beds like these at the UNCE Orchard in North Las Vegas or on my blog.

Drip irrigation is best. Drip emitters should be about 12 inches apart for most crops. Crops that require closer spacing (onions, garlic, beets and carrots) may require emitters closer than this. All emitters should release water at the same rate and pressure.

Space tubing 1 foot apart lengthwise down the beds. A 3- to 4-foot-wide bed would have three in each bed. The 4-foot wide would accommodate three as well but spaced further apart.

Mulching vegetables during the summer heat helps. Use straw or a light top dressing (3/8 inch minus) of screened compost.

If rabbits are a problem, fence the area with 2-foot-wide chicken wire, 1 inch hex, buried on the bottom edge 1 inch deep. Fertilize vegetables lightly once a month. Use a high phosphorus fertilizer at planting time. Irrigate daily during the summer months. Remove weeds daily when they are small.

Q. I planted a peach tree that has three varieties of peach grafted into the same tree. I can’t remember the names of the peaches. In either case, my tree bore no fruit last spring. What can I do to get fruit this season?

A. It is fortunate you have only different peaches on your fruit cocktail tree. When there is a mixture of different types of fruits on the same tree, the tree is harder to manage.

You didn’t mention the age of the tree, but it sounds like a pruning problem if the tree had peaches in previous years. Pruning a peach requires removing half of last year’s growth. It is getting late now but you can still prune during, and a couple of weeks after, bloom.

One big problem with “cocktail” types of fruit trees is the different rates of growth between the different fruits. Some are more vigorous than others.

This can give the tree an unbalanced look before pruning. All of the growth, more vigorous types and less vigorous types, must be brought back into proportion each year.

Another problem is that parts of the tree will be in flower at different times. During bloom, move slowly and carefully making sure you do not accidentally hurt any bees. They are busy working the flowers the same time you are pruning. If you are not careful, they will view your work as aggressive behavior and defensively sting.

Fruit comes from flower buds growing along the length of last year’s growth. In peach and nectarine, fruit buds are only produced on last year’s reddish growth. Older brownish wood does not produce fruit. Older wood is there to support the fruit and, with your help through pruning, balance the fruit load throughout the canopy.

Your purpose in pruning is to give the tree structure that will support the fruit, distribute the fruit load and allow light to get inside the canopy. Last year’s growth is easy to see because it is reddish brown compared to the older, brown wood.

The more vigorous growth requires more aggressive pruning. First, bring the tree into “balance” by removing older wood that is growing too close together and remove any strong vertical growth.

Preserve 50 percent of the best reddish growth when pruning for fruit production. If your pruning removes all of the new, reddish growth, you will have no fruit.

When pruning, remove reddish growth that is growing perfectly upright. Fruit from this growth will dangle above older wood and get damaged as it gets bigger. It will also help to keep the canopy open for better light penetration.

Next, remove reddish growth that is growing straight down. Finally remove reddish growth along the branch that is closer than 4 to 5 inches apart. Leave the most robust reddish growth spaced far enough apart for bearing the fruit.

Lastly, if you have reddish growth that is exceedingly long (over 18 inches in length), cut it back to about 10 inches.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas and professor emeritus for the University of Nevada. Visit his blog at Send questions to

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