Cat Grass, or How to Save Your Spider Plant

Starla_ErieCO_20091219_LAH_5709It was my daughter on the phone: “Mom! Starla has been chewing on the spider plant again! What can I do?”

No, Starla isn’t our granddaughter—she will know better than to chew on the houseplants. Starla is one of our grand-cats. And like our own pet feline, she loves to chew on foliage.

Our pets are all indoor cats—it’s safer for the birds and other wildlife, and it’s safer for them too. (Did you know that birds may carry diseases that can kill your cat?) While they contentedly preen on the window sill and shed on the sofa, they retain their instinct to munch on leaves. Since the only leaves available are houseplants, that’s what they eat.

No one appreciates their spider plant being gnawed down to a nub. What’s a frustrated gardener to do? Provide plants just for the cats, of course!

Photo: Teri Gosse

Walk into any pet supply store and you’ll see pots filled with potting mix and seeds, ready to grow “cat grass”—just add water. I’m amazed by what they charge for these kits. Cat grass is ridiculously easy to grow at home, and at a substantial discount. Here’s how.

First you’ll need a flower pot. The traditional red clay pot is perfect—it’s heavy enough that your cat can’t easily drag it around while grazing. If you don’t have extras lying around, buy a six- to ten-inch pot at the garden center or big box store. Pick up a saucer while you’re at it, one impervious to water. You don’t want to stain the floor.

Fill this pot with soilless potting mix. You don’t need the fancy brand—just make sure it’s for growing indoor plants. (Using soil isn’t a good idea because it tends to become compacted in a container, eliminating air around the plant roots and killing them.) Gently tamp it down but don’t pack it. Level it off about an inch below the rim of the pot. (Do not put rocks in the bottom “for drainage”—they just take up space.)

Now you need seeds. Cat grass is simply wheat. You can buy wheat seeds (often called wheat berries) online (I’ve seen prices ranging from $2.99 to $21.99 for a small bag of organic wheat berries). It’s also likely that your local health food store has small bags of wheat berries available, either for sprouting or grinding into flour.

Scatter your seed to mostly cover the potting mix and partially cover with a sprinkling of potting soil. Add water just so that the excess drains out the bottom of the pot. Place the pot in a fairly warm spot. Sprouts should appear in a week or two (depending on the temperature).

It is essential to keep the seeds and soil damp. If you don’t want to keep having to water, cover the pot with plastic wrap until the seeds germinate. Once you see the tiny green sprouts appearing, remove the cover and place the pot in bright light. Give the wheat plants time to grow some roots before you subject them to your cat. (They tend to pull on the plant as they munch.)  I like to serve the wheatgrass when it’s about 3 inches tall.

To keep your indoor wheat field looking tidy, “mow” it with scissors every few days. You can add the trimmings to kitty’s food or just dump them in the compost bucket.

Disclaimer: I can’t promise that your cat will leave your spider plant alone, even if you grow the world’s most delicious wheatgrass—but it can’t hurt to try.

And in case you’re curious, yes, this is the same wheatgrass that people juice and drink. You’re welcome to go ahead and plant another larger pot for yourself; I happen to think that wheatgrass juice tastes awful.

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