Your pets love to spend time outside in the yard, but your garden might not be the friendliest place for them to explore. There are hazards in those gardens, such as poisonous and thorny plants, deep-water areas and a garden that’s sprayed in pesticides.
“Just as you would puppy-proof your house, you should do the same for the garden, which can be just as full of hazards,” says Karen Bush, author of “Dog-Friendly Gardening: Creating a Safe Haven for You and Your Dog” (Hubble & Hattie, 2012). “A pet-friendly garden is a safe and fun place to be for your dog, as well as a place you can enjoy yourself.”
From flowers to veggies to mulch, here’s what you need to know to create a beautiful, pet-friendly garden.
First, Bush advises owners to get down and look at everything from a dog’s point of view. Are fences high enough to keep him in? Are the plants safe if he should nibble on one? “If you have a pond, will he be able to easily get out if he ventures in – or should you fence it off or lose it altogether?” she said.
Then assess your garden for any potential plant problems. “Some plants, like Lily of the valley, sweet peas and azaleas, are poisonous to both dogs and cats,” says Julie Bawden-Davis, founder and publisher of Healthy Houseplants and a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener. “Depending on the animal, they might go straight to a toxic plant.”
That includes what’s planted underground too. Dr. Michelle Rocque, DVM, with Full Circle Veterinary Hospital in Wappingers Falls, New York, advises homeowners to be careful about what they plant because Fido does like to go digging. “For example, onions are toxic to dogs and if they dig them up and eat them it could be deadly,” Rocque says. “Carrots are a better option. And don’t use pesticides or cocoa mulch. Cocoa mulch contains chocolate and dogs will eat it because it smells good and tastes sweet. Get natural mulch with no colors or chemicals added.”
Other plants that can be dangerous to your fur babies include grape and avocado. “If you like to grow veggies, it is best to either grow them out of his reach (cherry tomatoes and strawberries can do well in hanging baskets for example) or in an area securely fenced off,” Bush says.
Some plants aren’t toxic but can leave a nasty boo-boo if your pet comes in contact with it. “If you have a pet that isn’t as agile who can run into things, some plants, like rose bushes, can be problematic because they will get thorns in their fur or eyes,” Bawden-Davis says. “It is nice to have an open area somewhere that allows them to run back and forth and get some exercise.”
If you have a small garden, she recommends making pathways the width of a wheelbarrow for your pet. “Pets do like to follow pathways,” she says. “That way when they are out romping, they aren’t going to romp into something.”
C.L. Fornari, a garden communicator and author of “Coffee for Roses … and 70 Other Misleading Myths About Backyard Gardening” (St. Lynn’s Press, 2014), says the biggest problem isn’t garden plants. “It’s bored animals,” she says. “The reality is that three-quarters of the plants would be poisonous to us if we ate enough of them, but nobody eats enough of them. The exception might be if you have a puppy that you left outside unattended. The puppy is going to chew on things. Make sure the puppy isn’t unattended.”
Fornari also says that another way to prevent your pets from chewing in your garden is to give them something that keeps them busy. “Inside, we give dogs rawhide bones so they have something to chew on other than the furniture,” she says. “Outside, it should be the same. Encourage a dog to chew on something safe and you take its boredom away.
While outside, animals also need a place to lie down when they are tuckered out from all the playing, especially if it’s hot. “They want to lie down on bare dirt, not on top of mulch,” Fornari says. “Bare dirt is cooling, so a pet-friendly garden has some places under shrubs or trees where pets can lay down.”
Bush also suggests making an area specifically for the dog to do his business. “Teach him how to use it,” she says. “Keep a watering can on hand and dilute every single pee you spot your dog doing to avoid lawn burn. Do not give your dog anything which interferes with his urine ph.”
Of course, everyone wants a beautiful lawn that’s green, luscious and bug-free, but spraying pesticides to destroy the creepy crawlies can do more harm than good, especially to your pets. “Some bugs are destructive, but more than 97 percent of them are beneficial to gardens,” Bawden-Davis says. “You don’t need to use that many chemicals. Hot water will kill weeds and insects.”
Forget the herbicides insecticides that puppies and kitties can walk on and track on their paws. “Don’t use weed killers,” Fornari says. “If they walk on the ground, it can get into their systems if it’s applied to the lawn.”
Finally, if you already have a garden filled with plants that are dangerous to your pets, consider building an enclosure for the plants to keep the animals from getting inside.