Cat grass keeps your cat happy, but if it dies quickly, your cat will be mad at you. This is Archie with his cat grass and after just two weeks it is already starting to die. His face says it all…
To avoid this unhappy situation, learn about the reasons your cat grass is dying prematurely, and find out the solutions to keep your grass growing and your kitty happy.
The main reasons cat grass dies quickly are:
- The type of grass has a limited life-span
- The container is root-bound or too shallow
- The container does not drain water properly
- Not enough water
- Too much water
- Not enough light
- Poor quality soil mix
- Pest problems
- Needs cutting
- Seeds are too dense
I have been growing cat grass for several years for a friend with an indoor cat. So read on for details about what I’ve learned about keeping cat grass growing for as long as possible.
1. Cat Grass Has a Limited Life-Span
Grass that cats like to eat comes in many flavors. My cat likes to eat grass growing in my garden, and I have no idea what type of grass this is.
However, if you grow or buy containers of cat grass, you are most likely feeding your cat one of these varieties of grass:
- Oat grass
- Barley grass
- A mixture of these grass types
Oat grass and wheatgrass are the most common grass types you find for sale at the grocery store.
The thing is, all of these types of grass are annuals, meaning they have a natural life-span of one season. That means, they naturally only grow for a few months before going to seed and dying.
So, it is not reasonable to expect these types of grass to go on growing and growing as perennial grass does.
Instead, you need to start a new batch of cat grass every few weeks or go out and buy a new container of grass when the old one starts to die.
2. The Container is Root-Bound
This is the main reason when people’s cat grass dies after only a couple of weeks, when it could last a few months or more.
Cat grass growing in a container can easily become root-bound, leading to it dying quickly.
While the green part cat grass is growing above the soil, the roots also keep growing below the surface. In the ground, grass has unlimited space for the roots to expand. In a container, the space for root growth is minimal.
When the root system of cat grass has filled the container, water cannot get into the soil as easily, and the roots are no longer able to absorb water as they are crowding over themselves
Also, grass takes up nutrients from the soil while it grows.
If the container is small and mostly full of roots, there are fewer nutrients available to feed the grass, so it quickly dies.
Use a really deep pot so the roots have plenty of space to grow and are not limited by the size of the pot.
As cat grass is in a deep post it has already lasted about 3 months. It has been cut back quite a few times so it is easy for Archie to reach; also tastes and looks fresh.
3. The Container Does Not Drain Properly
When growing cat grass, it’s vital to use a container with drainage holes in the bottom like this one has. If you don’t, water will collect in the container and drown the roots or cause mildew problems.
When you buy cat grass at the store, the containers usually come with adequate drainage holes. However, some cat grass kits do not have drainage holes, and this can cause the grass to die prematurely.
If you are growing cat grass at home from seeds, be sure to use a potting container with holes in the bottom.
If your favorite container does not have holes, just drill some. Here’s how to do it:
- Use an electric drill.
- Use a ¼ inch (.6 cm) drill bit.
- Use a drill bit designed for the material you are drilling holes in (a wood bit for wood or plastic, a masonry bit for ceramic, etc.)
- Drill holes spaced about 2 inches (5 cm) apart all over the bottom surface of the container.
To avoid water coming out of the drainage holes onto the floor or table, put the container on a plate, saucer, or a catchment tray designed for setting under a potting container.
You can find these special water catchment trays for sale at garden supply stores.
4. Cat Grass Dies Quickly without Water
You have to water cat grass every day, and if it is hot, you may need to water it twice a day. When you water, you need to water enough to get all of the roots moist.
Many people who are not experienced in growing plants underestimate how much water it takes to get the soil wet enough to keep plants growing happily.
If your cat grass is dying quickly and you are watering it every day, you may not be watering it thoroughly enough.
How do you know how much water is enough?
Well, that is where those drainage holes in the bottom of the container come in handy.
Water your cat grass until you see water coming out of the drainage holes and collecting in the container underneath. Stop watering as soon as you see the water flowing through, or you may water too much.
Also, water the grass evenly so all areas get the same amount of moisture.
The amount of water your cat grass needs depends on the growing conditions.
In hot weather, cat grass needs more water. Also, if you have an air-conditioner blasting all day, as the moisture might be evaporating more quickly.
In this case, misting the grass with a sprayer once or twice a day, along with regular watering, can help keep it from drying out.
The soil in a cat grass container should always be slightly moist but not soggy.
How do you know what the right amount of moisture is?
Poke your finger into the soil and see how it feels.
5. Cat Grass Dies Quickly if It Gets Too Much Water
If you water your cat grass too often, it will also die because the roots will drown, and it may also develop a fungus or mildew.
Watering cat grass requires paying attention to the soil and how wet it is. You want the soil to be moist at all times but never soggy.
If you think you might be watering too much, but you aren’t sure, try this:
Take a spoonful of soil out of the container and squeeze it in your hand. Does water run out?
If so, you are definitely watering too much.
If you squeeze the soil and it just leaves your hand moist, but little or no water runs out of it, you are probably watering the right amount.
If you squeeze the soil and your hand stays dry, you are not watering enough.
6. Cat Grass Dies without Enough Light
Grasses like oats, wheat, barley, and rye like lots of sun.
Full-sun means the grass gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Strong, indirect light will also work, but a few hours a day of full-sun leads to lusher grass.
If your cat grass is turning yellow, it may not be getting enough light. Put it into a sunny place for a few hours a day, and make sure it does not dry out as a result.
You can also grow cat grass under artificial lights, but they must be the right type of light, or the cat grass will die quickly.
The right type of artificial light is an agricultural grow lamp. You can buy these types of lights at garden centers. Then you can grow your cat grass indoors without any natural sunlight.
7. Cat Grass Dies in the Wrong Type of Soil
The quality of soil you are growing your cat grass in is essential. Not all soil mixtures are the same in quality, and not all blends are right for growing grass seed.
Grass seeds do not need a high amount of fertilizer. Be sure you are not using a potting mix with too much compost or fertilizer mixed in, or your cat grass may die too soon.
When you buy a potting mix to grow cat grass from seed, ask the person at the garden center if it is the right type of mix for growing cat grass seeds.
Pre-mixed potting soil often comes with some fertilizer in it, so you do not need to add additional fertilizer while you grow cat grass. Using fertilizer may also be bad for your cat.
If you are reusing the potting mix from one batch of cat grass to grow out seeds for the next batch, the nutrients in the soil are going to be reduced or absent.
Instead, use fresh potting mix each time you grow a new batch of cat grass.
Be careful there are no pesticides or herbicides in the soil as these are toxic to cats. This is why you do not want to take soil from outside areas where these may have been used.
8. Use Fresh Seeds to Grow Your Cat Grass
Seeds for cat grass usually last a long time, but they aren’t good forever. If you’re using old seeds, they may no longer be viable. If your cat grass is dying quickly or not sprouting well, get fresh seeds.
Also, sometimes seeds are not stored properly. For example, if seeds are stored in a warehouse at too high a temperature, they can be damaged, and won’t grow as well or at all.
Make sure you are using fresh, viable seeds when you grow your own cat grass, or it may die quickly or not sprout at all.
If you want to check the viability of your seeds, put a small handful in a moist paper towel inside a plastic bag. Leave the bag partly open, so that air can get in. Make sure the paper towel stays moist at all times. Keep the bag in a warm, dark place.
Check the seeds after three to five days. If most are sprouting, the seeds are good. If many have not sprouted, get a new batch of seeds.
9. Pests are Attacking Your Cat Grass
Sometimes pests get going in a batch of cat grass, causing it to die. The most common types of pests in cat grass are:
- Molds and mildew
If you find pests on your cat grass, do not use insecticide. It might kill the pest, but it can also harm your kitty.
Instead, you can take the tray outside and spray off the pests with a hose. If you have an adjustable sprayer nozzle, the ‘fan’ setting works well for washing off pests without doing damage to the grass or soil.
Mold and mildew on cat grass are common problems if you overwater. Make sure you are watering the right amount to avoid this problem.
You may also be able to stop a pest infestation by moving your cat grass to another location in your house or yard, away from the source of the problem.
Another solution is to start over with fresh soil and seeds.Before you start, thoroughly clean down the area where you keep your cat grass growing to eliminate any pest eggs or larvae.
10. ‘Mow’ Your Cat Grass to Keep it from Dying
As cat grass grows taller, it is not uncommon for the tops of the grass to start turning yellow or brown.
If this happens, you can ‘mow’ your cat grass by trimming it with a pair of scissors. Just cut off the top couple of inches of grass to where it is still green.
Grass likes mowing because it evolved being eaten regularly by grazing animals. As long as the roots are healthy, and the grass is not at the end of its natural life, it will often grow back after you trim it.
11. The Seeds are Planted to Densely
Another reason your cat grass might be dying is because the seeds are planted too thick. If you buy your cat grass growing in a container, it may have been over-seeded to make it look better on the shelf.
Then, when you take it home, and it grows for a couple of days, some of the grass may start dying because it is too crowded in the tray or pot.
If you grow your own cat grass, be sure to sow the seeds so they are in one layer, and not one seed on top of another.
If you are buying cat grass already growing in a container and it has too many seeds and keeps dying off as a result, buy a different brand that is planted correctly or start growing your own.
12. Your Cat Might be Killing the Grass
When kitty eats the grass, she pulls on the stems, and this can dislodge the seeds from the soil or disturb the roots, leading to cat grass dying quickly.
Avoid this by not giving the grass to the cat until it is about 4 inches (10 cm) tall and has established roots.
13. Stop Buying Cat Grass Kits and Grow from Scratch
Cat grass kits come with seeds, soil, and a container. However, these kits are often not very well designed, and they can actually cause the grass to die prematurely. This way, the maker of the kit gets more sales.
The grass can also die prematurely because they are made really cheaply. The kits often have shallow containers so the grass quickly gets rootbound, or not have holes in so it is hard to give them the right amount of water.
A solution is to start growing your own cat grass from scratch. You can find potting containers and trays at nursery departments in garden centers, often for free. This means you get get a nice deep one with good drainage holes so the grass will last longer.
Then buy a bag of the right type of soil mix for growing grass and some cat grass seeds. You can buy special cat grass seed mixes, or just go to the bulk food section of a grocery store and buy wheat berries, whole oat seeds, or un-hulled rye seeds.
You can also often find whole oat seeds at feed stores, but you may have to buy a 50 pound bag. However, these seeds last a long time, as long as you keep them in a cool, dry, dark place.
Growing your own cat grass from scratch is less expensive, gives you more control over the process, and you can get the best pot and soil, making it less likely that your cat grass will die quickly.
14. Plant a New Batch of Cat Grass Every Few Weeks
Since the grass seeds for cat grass are annuals and do not grow for very long before dying naturally, people who grow cat grass usually start a fresh tray of seeds every two to three weeks.
As one tray reaches the end of its life, another batch is ready for kitty to start eating.
Cat grass takes about 7 days to two weeks from planting to get going to the point where you can give it to your cat, depending on the temperature and light conditions. This is because if you give it to your cat too early, they will rip it up from the soil while eating it, as the roots are not strong enough to hold it in.
Here are some tips for the stages to successfully grow cat grass:
- Soak the seeds in water a large jar for 12 hours.
- Drain off the water and let the seeds start to germinate in the jar for another 8-12 hours.
- Spread the seeds evenly in one layer on the top of damp soil mix. Do not cover the seeds with soil.
- Cover the tray of seeds with another tray to keep it dark for about 2 to 3 days.
- Remove the top tray and set the grass in a place with plenty of light.
- Let the seeds grow for about 5 to 7 days until they are about 4 inches (10 cm) tall.
Whatever you do to keep your cat grass from dying too quickly, your kitty-cat will appreciate it and benefit from your effort.