How to have a pet-friendly garden

Tips for turning your backyard into a playground for furry friends.

Ever since he was a puppy, our labradoodle, Rocky, has loved being in the garden. And when I say in, I mean in – trampling all over our freshly sprouted little seedlings with his clumsy puppy paws.

He’s got a special fondness for strawberries; at first I thought it was my kids eating them, but it seemed strange that the fruits were still attached to the plant, with big bites out of them. Rocky also quite likes herbs: he’s a very sophisticated sort of dog. 

When we think about creating a garden, let’s not forget about our furry friends – those beloved four-legged members of our family. Creating a pet-friendly garden will ensure they have a happy and safe environment to enjoy.

Animals often spend more time outdoors than us, so it’s a good idea to keep them in mind when making decisions about your garden, such as what fertilisers to use, what to plant and where to plant it. We also want to make sure, as much as we love them, that our pets don’t destroy our garden – sometimes a fence or two is required. 

There are a number of plants that, if eaten, can make your pet sick. Being aware of these when planting out your garden will avoid mishaps. Some houseplants can also be toxic to pets, so it’s a good idea to keep these ones out of their reach. 

Making some simple swaps in your garden, such as switching to an organic fertiliser like seaweed, can help make your garden pet-friendly. Fertilisers which have manure or blood or bone meal are not ideal as they might be dug up, rolled in or even eaten, as dogs in particular like the smell.

Don’t use any herbicides or pesticides in your garden, as they can be harmful to your pet (and you) if they are absorbed through the skin, breathed in or ingested.

Pet-friendly garden tips:

  • Plant non-toxic flowers such as snapdragons, asters, camellias, roses, sunflowers, elaeaguns, cornflowers, impatiens, calendula, petunias, alyssum, aster daisies, zinnias and marigolds.

  • Create dedicated pet areas that have some shade and water.

  • Avoid using chemicals such as non-organic slug pellets, which could be harmful if your pet eats a slug or snail. There are many natural ways to deal with slugs and snails.

  • Don’t put additives into water features or ponds, in case your dogs and cats drink from them.

  • Make sure your garden is secure. Dogs and rabbits, who are great diggers, may try to escape through holes in or under fences, so make sure the perimeters of your property are secure. Dogs can jump surprisingly high, so make sure they can’t scale your fence.

  • Common plants to avoid for pets are chrysanthemum, lantana, aconite, buttercup, daphne, delphinium, foxglove, hydrangea, geranium, oak, tomato, wisteria, yew, black nightshade, death cap mushroom, New Zealand tree nettle, daffodils (especially the bulbs), ivy (some species), rhubarb, aloe vera, gypsophila, bird of paradise plant, wandering jew, barley grass seeds and lilies. If you notice any worrying symptoms and think that your pet may have ingested part of a toxic plant, take them to the vet.

  • Keep your shed/garage secure. Sheds and garages can contain harmful chemicals and sharp tools – make sure they are kept securely closed at all times.

  • Avoid cocoa bean shell mulch. Like chocolate, this by-product of the chocolate industry can be harmful if eaten, especially to dogs. Use an alternative mulch such as wood chips.

  • Secure your compost bin. Compost bins containing food scraps are a potential hazard to dogs. Some foods, such as avocados, grapes, raisins and onions can be harmful, so make sure your pets can’t get into your bin.

  • Planting in containers, planter boxes or raised garden beds are good options. These ensure pets and plants can be somewhat separated.

  • Encourage birds to your garden by adding a bird bath to the area.

  • Avoid bare soil – it’s a perfect invitation to dig. Close planting and using mulch and pet-safe ground covers are good deterrents!
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