You enjoy your garden. You enjoy your pets. And pets certainly revel in the sights and
smells of the great outdoors. But besides those smile-prompting moments of Fido wriggling in
the grass and Fluffy basking in the sun, pets also dig holes, crush plants, chew on leaves, and
chase wildlife. The trick is to keep pets and plants safe from each other. And to make the
pet-in-the-garden experience even more special.
Take plant choices. Cats are strangely fond of (and a bit intoxicated by) several plants in
the mint family. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is the best known. But catmints
(Nepeta species) and cat thyme (Teucrium marum) also make kitty roll and
purr. Luckily these are handsome garden plants too, and humans swoon alongside their cats from
their pungent fragrances.
Be sure to plant extra of these alluring herbs since kitty will surely squash some of them.
Cover them when newly planted to give them time to grow before turning kitty loose. And when
you cut back stems to encourage fresh growth, save some of the leafy stalks and dry them to
induce cat frenzies later.
Cats also like to nibble on grass, which has various beneficial effects. So give them their
very own plot or pot of wheat grass or oat grass. That way you’ll be sure it hasn’t been
sprayed with chemicals. Seeds and kits are even available from some pet stores.
For dogs, several studies have shown that including fruits and veggies in their diet can be
healthful, even as cancer preventives. Since dogs don’t have the digestive enzymes to process
these foods in their raw form, cooking or blending them first is best. Though small portions of
raw fruits and vegetables used as treats are fine. Some good doggy choices to include in your
kitchen garden are carrots, summer squash, sweet potatoes, berries, and broccoli.
A number of plants, however, can be toxic to your pets, even as dried leaves on the ground.
Generally pets avoid these plants anyway as a nibbling opportunity. But it’s good to be aware
of the possible dangers, especially if a pet develops an unexplainable health problem. The
ASPCA offers an extensive list of toxic and non-toxic plants, viewable on their website (www.aspca.org) under “Animal Poison Control Center.”
Another part of pet safety is keeping them away from fertilizers, pesticides, and
herbicides, including the organic ones. Use the safest products on the market, keep pets
indoors when you apply them, and leave pets inside for the recommended length of time
afterwards, usually until the application has dried or for 24 hours. Because organic products
are, well, organic and include ingredients like bone meal, blood meal, and fish emulsion, they
can smell like tasty snacks to dogs and cats. After you’ve applied these, keep pets away until
the smell dissipates, or add a little fresh mulch as a barrier and distracting scent. Also,
store organic products in airtight, secure containers where pets can’t get into them. Another
potentially toxic product for dogs is cocoa bean mulch, which contains theobromine, the same
chemical that makes it a no-no to feed your dog chocolate.
The other half of the equation is keeping the garden safe from your pets. Cats generally
ignore efforts to train them, though they cause less damage, able to thread their way through
plants in the garden without so much as disturbing a leaf. Dogs are another story, but dogs are
trainable. Take the time to teach Fido where he’s welcome and where he’s not. Since dogs love
to dig, especially young ones, set aside a special place for digging. For cats, you can even
provide an outdoor “litter box” area (maybe near the catnip).
Other ways to keep pets out of the garden are a barrier of twigs stuck into the ground or
laid amongst the plants, pet-friendly repellents, and planting naturally pet-repellent plants
like scented geranium ‘Mosquito’, citronella (Cymbopogon nardus), and Plectranthus
caninus (sometime called “scaredy cat” or coleus canina). Many animals don’t like the
smell of vinegar or ammonia, and cats avoid citrus, so orange peelings scattered about the
garden is another option. Though cayenne pepper is often recommended to keep animals out, this
can actually cause pain and discomfort to pets.
By being attuned to your pet’s habits and being proactive in keeping everyone’s safety in
mind (including that of your plants!), you and your pets can relax and enjoy each other’s
company in the garden.