Paws in the Garden

If you have pets, you enjoy having them in the yard with  you and, to be honest, I don’t know what it’s like to NOT have a furry shadow (or two) following me everywhere!

"Duke" Courtesy of Kim C. Martin Photography

Occasionally, however, when some people think of pets in the garden, this is the image that comes to mind.

It doesn’t have to be this way and, with a design plan in place, everyone will be able to co-exist peacefully….you, pets and the plants!

We’ve all heard the quote, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  In regards to a haphazard landscape design, you can also add, “and you plan to throw some serious cash (and time) out the window!”

So what now?

Safety is, of course, the most important aspect to a truly successful design but think about where your pet likes to go now and how they use their current space. Do they stand at the sliding glass door staring at you like the Mervyn’s lady waiting for you to open, open, open and come play?  Do they lounge in the sun? Do they pace the perimeter to keep the compound secure?  These are just a few things to consider when designing a garden that is enjoyable for everyone!

I took an informal survey of my own zoo and here’s what they said:

Goliath’s preference for his “yard” would be that we owned beachfront property at Del Mar Dog Beach but he would settle for a swimming pool (with beach entrance, of course), grass to scratch excessively, bunnies, lizards and crows to chase and a sunny spot to sleep from 8:00-3:00 (yes, he has specific beauty sleep hours).

Zoe says that when he’s not plotting to take over the world, he prefers to eat grasses & grass-like plants (he seems to have misunderstood the question)

Zoe AND Goliath requested an on-site snack shack with an endless supply of  rotisserie chicken.

Rodney would like any place where Goliath can’t find him.


Obviously, the first line of defense for your garden is dog training.  If you know how to train cats, please contact me!  Not only can you train your dog to stay out of the garden but also to use their own designated area such as this dog run by the folks at CraftPro.


Pets, like humans, enjoying exploring their surrounding on paths.  The more turns the better!  If a path has already been worn through an existing planting bed or around the perimeter of the yard, this is great!  No, really it is!  You’ll avoid the hassle (and expense) of having to replant an area that you thought was the ideal location.  Lay down some pea gravel, brick, paving stones or mulch and design around it.  Your pet may help you come up with a great design that you hadn’t even thought about yet!

Planting larger or more mature plants in masses is another way to give your pets a visual cue to go around rather than through.

Raised beds and planters might be a solution to discourage a curious dog (or bunny).  Cats don’t care what we want so plan accordingly.

The Manchester Deck Co Ltd


The ASPCA publishes a list of toxic and non-toxic plants. Always consult here or another toxic plant database when designing your pet-friendly garden if your pets like to snack as much as my cat does.

Nikki Phipps, lead writer at Gardening Know How discusses some of these plants in her article, “Pet Friendly Gardens and Plants.”

“There are many popular garden plants that are quite harmful, even deadly, to pets. In fact, commonly grown plants such as foxglove, lily-of-the-valley, yew, oleander, and kalanchoe contain cardio-toxins and can cause heart failure if ingested by pets. Other common garden plants, such as rhubarb and daylilies, are particularly dangerous to cats as they can lead to kidney failure. The autumn crocus can cause multiple reactions in both dogs and cats, including renal failure and liver damage. Even plantings of rhododendrons or azaleas can prove harmful to pets as they contain toxins causing gastrointestinal problems. Other potential hazards to your pets include mushrooms and cocoa hulls. You should avoid placing any of these within your pet-friendly garden.”

Ah yes, the cocoa hull.  Not only do you have to be careful of the plants that you select but your pets will also love the chocolaty goodness that is Cocoa Mulch.  It can also make them very ill!  Less toxic alternatives are shredded pine, cedar or hemlock bark.


Planning for the worst while hoping for the best is a terrible way to go through life but useful when designing a pet-friendly garden.  Many plants can handle human and pet traffic although some may look a bit more ragged than others depending on the amount of traffic received.  Other plants are not as susceptible to animal’s, ahem, irrigation techniques.


Cats will chew on just about anything but, as Zoe mentioned, they especially love to chew on grassy-looking plants (real and synthetic).  Again, whether you have an indoor or outdoor kitty, be certain to check the toxic plant database to keep them safe.

Karen Nichols at The Cat’s Meow wrote a great article to help keep your feline happy in the garden, “13 Eco and Cat Friendly Gardening Tips.”


The high nitrogen content of dog urine is commonly a cause of lawn burn.  However, before your banish your pooch to the side yard,  be careful to identify the correct cause of the brown spots.  Various lawn diseases or grubs will produce symptoms that can easily be mistaken for urine burn.

Why does dog urine burn the lawn and what can be done about it?   See this handy article from Drs. Fosters and Smith.

Frequently, turfgrasses are paired up for seasonal reasons or durability.  For example, Bermuda grass is durable but can be sensitive to dog urine. Overseeding it with some Perennial Ryegrass, however, gives you a winning combination!  Here are some turfgrasses and a turfgrass alternative that could keep you and your pets happy!

In his new book, “The  American Meadow Garden,” John Greenlee points out that, once established, many species of grass are fairly resistant to dog urine.

(Note:  Children love tall meadow gardens too!)


copyright Anne Taintor

My sister and mother made a special request for information about how to  keep cats OUT of their yards because their allergies are going wild due to neighborhood cats using their yards as litterboxes.

Nikki Phipps offers some suggestions in this area as well.

This, too, can be fixed by keeping the soil in your pet-friendly garden moist. Cats prefer dry areas. Typically, the driest areas of the garden are close to the foundation of your home as concrete often takes moisture from the soil. Keeping this site moist with a layer of plastic and mulch should help alleviate any littering problems.

“Orange peelings work well with cats; they do not like the smell of citrus. You can also incorporate natural animal-repelling plants such as citronella or scented geranium.”

David Beaulieu, wrote this very informative article, How to Keep Cats Out of Your Garden: Cat Poop and Gardens Don’t Mix”

Another solution that I learned about recently seems like it’d be a little sadistic but, surely, is effective – a layer of Liquidambar seed pod mulch!  Note:  Be sure to microwave them first to kill the seeds or you’ll then have unwanted trees

Photo courtesy of Scott Robinson


So whether you’re trying to make the pets in your yard happy OR keep out unwanted visitors, there can be a lot to consider.  However, think about how relaxed everyone will be once you’re finished!


Your turn! Please share what’s going on (or will be going on) in your pet Shangri La?


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