Thanks to Dr. Mel Cirinna for sharing her tips for gardening safely with pets, and including them in your landscaping plan!
Growing up my family always had a vegetable garden as well as a number of flower gardens that my mother tended. I always enjoyed seeing the cats relaxing under the bushes and sharing veggies with the dogs. There is nothing tastier than a tomato fresh from your own garden! However, while these are wonderful images from my childhood, I am now learning that there is some planning that goes into enjoying your garden with your pets. The first time I planted my own tomato plants it became a race to see if I could get to them before our black lab Sadie did. The same held true of the raspberry bushes. It was not uncommon to see the rear end of Sadie sticking out of a raspberry bush while she delicately removed all the berries with her front teeth. It wasn’t just the vegetable garden that was at her mercy, Sadie loved to lay in the shaded areas of the flower gardens as well. Any flowers in her way just provided a soft green mattress or she would dig out a cool spot in the dirt below a bushy plant. Thankfully our gardens were never frequented by the local cats, but this is a problem that many gardeners have as cats see our wonderfully tended gardens as giant litter boxes. As the years have passed we have made some changes that allow us to enjoy our gardens and the pets to enjoy the backyard. Hopefully these suggestions will help if you are also struggling to share garden space with furry family members.
Teaching your pets to respect garden boundaries is best done at a young age; however, even older dogs and cats can learn new tricks. For dogs, start by designating a certain area of the yard for elimination. In the beginning you will need to go out with them each time to show them where to go and provide lots of positive reinforcement when they use the appropriate area. With time they should automatically eliminate in the designated area. For cats it can be helpful to provide one sandy area for them to use as a litterbox. The remainder of the garden should be densely planted or mulched. To encourage your cats to use the designated kitty area, plant cat grass and catnip in that area of the yard. Be sure to keep children’s sandboxes covered when not in use!
Once a designated washroom area has been allocated, the next step is to create visual boundaries to keep pets out of garden beds. Fences work best, but can be less aesthetically pleasing than decorative garden edging such as stones and bricks. Keep in mind that even a half foot fence can be enough to visually deter dogs from entering flower beds. Plants can also be used as visual borders, try varieties such as barberries, roses, euphorbia, Joe pye weed or bamboo. Coleus Canina (Scaredy-Cat) can be useful in deterring cats, as can lavender. Also helpful is to create pathways through the garden with mulch, flagstone or pebbles. By nature, pets will use a groomed path over forging their own way through the garden.
Cats often need more than a visual barrier to be convinced to stay out of gardens. Try deterrents such as cayenne powder, crushed chili peppers and citrus rinds. There are also motion activated products on the market that spray water or emit high pitched sound to deter cats.
Another important thing to consider is the potential toxicity of some plants for our pets. Many plants will cause gastric upset when ingested, but some can lead to liver and kidney failure. An extensive list of potentially toxic plants can be found at www.icatcare.org/advice/keeping-your-cat-safe/cats-and-poisonous-plants.
Taking the time to carefully plan out your garden so that it provides space for you and your pets is well worth it so that everyone can enjoy the space. Hopefully with our newly fenced in vegetable garden I will be enjoying some tomatoes this year, although I will be sure to save a few for Sadie! Happy gardening!