Gardening With Pets

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 ( 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.

©2023 W.Atlee Burpee & Co