How to Create a Pet-Friendly Garden

Claire Splan Hiro Takashima via Unsplash

It’s not hard to make your garden a safe and fun place for dogs and cats, but it does take a little planning and maybe some training. Think through your pet’s needs and behavior, then use positive reinforcement to keep your pet on his best behavior in your garden.

Give them shelter

The first step is to ensure that your pet has a shaded place for protection from the sun. Whether it’s a doghouse, a covered deck or porch, or a shady tree, it’s essential that your pet has a place to retreat to when the sun becomes too intense. The shade will move as the sun moves throughout the day, so you should have more than one spot for your pet to rest in, especially through the hottest hours of the day.

Access to water

No pet should be kept outdoors without ready access to fresh drinking water. Make sure it’s clean, cool, and can’t be knocked over. If you’re filling the water bowl from the garden hose, make sure your hose is lead-free and labeled “drinking water safe.”

Define the no-go zones

You don’t have to give your pet the full run of the garden. Decide which parts of your garden are open to your pet and which parts are off limits. Swimming pools, ponds, and fountains, for example, may be dangerous for some animals and you may want to restrict their access to those areas. You may choose to create an enclosed area, such as a fenced-in dog run or “catio,” that your pet will be allowed full access to. Make sure that whatever fencing or caging you use not only keeps your pet in, but also keeps predators out. And remember: it’s never okay to leave an animal tied up and unattended in a yard.

Use plants to attract and repel

If you can’t use fencing to contain your pet, you can use plants to discourage them from some areas and attract them to others. Tall or thorny plants can work as barriers and plants with appealing scents or fruit can lure animals toward the parts of the garden you want to be pet-friendly. Cats dislike citrus scents but love catnip, catmint, and cat thyme. Dogs may be turned off by natural repellents like citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) or some scented geraniums like Pelargonium ‘Citronella’ but they may love helping themselves to some low-hanging blackberries or cherry tomatoes.

Be savvy about poisonous plants

Be aware that some plants in your garden may be highly toxic. Most animals seem to know what plants are poisonous and even when they do eat the wrong thing, they usually spit it back up in pretty short order. But it’s a good idea to know which plants are toxic so that you can remove them, take steps to keep your pets away from them, or at least know what signs to watch for in case of poisoning. Some common plants that are toxic to animals include lilies, daffodils, oleander, tulips, azalea, and sago palms.

Watch out for other toxins

There’s probably a greater chance that your pet could be poisoned by fertilizers and soil amendments than by toxic plants, so take care to keep all containers of pesticides and fertilizers safely out of your pets’ reach and away from their water bowl. Don’t assume that organic products are any safer than synthetic ones. Amendments like bone meal, blood meal, fish emulsion, and cocoa bean hulls used as mulch can smell very appealing to animals but can make them very sick.

Plan for good pet hygiene

If you designate a particular place in your garden for your pet to use as a bathroom, it’s less likely that you’ll have to clean up messes all over the yard. You can provide an outdoor litter box for cats to use, and dogs can be trained to use one particular spot. It’s essential that you keep the area clean or they won’t continue to use it. Be sure to make the designated area someplace far away from any edible plants.

Don’t let your pet become a predator

Keep other animals safe from your pets. Adding a bell to your cat’s collar can make it harder for him to attack songbirds. It may also be necessary to keep pet chickens in a separate part of the garden or install a barrier to a pond containing fish.

Be considerate of the neighbors

No one likes to listen to endless barking or have aggressive animals snarling over a fence. If your pet is not trained to be well behaved in the yard, it’s up to you to limit their time outside and keep their annoying behavior in check. If they have a comfortable, safe environment to relax in and toys to entertain them, pets will be more likely to use their garden time in a way that makes everybody happy.

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Writer/editor. Author of "California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening" and "California Month-by-Month Gardening."

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