Tips to Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Your Pets Safe

Aloe vera is great for humans but makes animals sick.

Lurking in my garden are four plants that could cause illness and even death to my cat. When we have pets we often think nothing of letting them into our gardens to enjoy the warm sun but we need to understand that many plants that are helpful to us or other wildlife can be deadly to our animals. My four are Aloe Vera, Milkweed, Azaleas and Chrysanthemums. Luckily two of them are in the front yard where kitty doesn’t come into contact with them but it is intimidating to think of my neighbor’s wandering cats and dogs.

When I had a dog, I had the other side of the coin- my dog was a digger and insisted on uprooting newly planted treasures or he would just plop down in the middle of a bed and destroy the plants with his weight. What can be done to keep your pets well mannered in the garden? As a landscape architect I am asked this question all the time.

Avoid Toxic Plants

Lavender is healthy for you and your pets

So let’s tackle the question of pet toxic plants first. There are so many plants that are healthy for your pets I think it is easy to avoid the ones that aren’t. Feel free to plant Sage, Catnip, Bamboo, Lavender, all the herbs, Sedum without worry about your pets. Another option is to surround the toxic plant with plants that will deter your pet. An example of this is the milkweed in my garden in intrenched in a bed of bougainvillea that will turn back my kitty every time. Other plants can be grown in planters that are out of reach for your animals. For my old cat, that isn’t too hard. Other options could be the same things that you would do to protect your plants such as putting barriers like decorative fencing up to keep your animals out of the planting beds and out of harm’s way.

Other things that can hurt your pets

Fertilizers can be problematic for your pets. Some of them are attractive to pets such as bone and blood meal but it can make them very sick. Naturally, you know that bait for snails, pesticides, and insecticides can be really harmful to your pets but have you thought about things like cocoa mulch. It would be better if you use less toxic mulches like pine mulch. Even compost can be problematic for pets as some of the food we toss into the pile may cause allergic reactions in our pets. Finally, remember to put all your garden tools away after you have used them. Many veterinarians report that tetanus is just as much a danger to our pets from rusty sharp tools that are left in the garden.

Keeping plants safe

The art of keeping your pets and others out of garden beds has advanced in the years that I have practiced design. Early in my practice we had a prominent client who had Great Danes. Where do they go? Anywhere they want! Our firm did the design, installation and maintenance for this client. We found a way to train the dogs to stay out of the beds by setting small mouse traps randomly in the shrub beds. The traps were too small to catch their paws but frightened them off with the promise of pain.

In the beginning of my practice though I suggested the mouse trap method to my clients my only other advice clients was to use containers. In other words, separate the plants from the pets. That is still one of the best methods to keep your garden beautiful and yet allow your pets free rein in the garden. As I mentioned you can add fences or more informally chicken wire to keep your plants and pets separated. If you have a great deal of persistence you can also spray your plants with bad tasting mixtures like cayenne pepper or there are some sprays sold in nurseries that are designed to deter pets. The downside of deterrent sprays is that you have to reapply them. Any irrigation system will wash away your hard work.

Another very effective method to separate your pets and also unwanted rabbits, deer, and others from your plants is to use wire fencing placed horizontally around the plants you want to protect. This can work for everything from new trees to seeds or starter plants.

If they are yours you love them but the neighbors…

If unwanted neighborhood cats are invading your garden you can try to work with a motion activated sprinkler that turns on when cats are prowling in your vegetable beds. You can also used pine cones or prickly mulch that won’t be attractive to them around your plant beds. If you know where the cats are entering your yard, try blocking it up to stymy them.

For Dog and Garden Lovers

Hopefully happy dogs won’t tear up your yard. While puppies will chew, dig, and romp through anything, if you give dogs most of what they want you can keep your plants safe. Dogs can use an area to run especially near the fences where they feel they are doing their job. Speaking of fences, make sure your fences are secure to keep your pet safe. Also if you want to add an outdoor bed in the shade, they won’t feel compelled to use your planting beds to chill out. Of course you want to leave them fresh water so they don’t feel compelled to eat your irrigation heads to quench their thirst. If you have male dogs, you may want to provide rocks or other vertical elements so they can mark their territory. You could add gravel around the base of the element for easy cleaning.

For wonderful resources you can check out the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for a complete list of poisonous plants and National Wildlife Association, for tips on gardening for wildlife.