Gardening for Man’s Best Friend

We love our pets. Surveys indicate that around 65 percent of American households have pets.

In 2015, Americans spent an estimated $61 billion on their pets. By category, it is second only to Christmas spending and nearly double what we spent on plants and gardening supplies.

For many of us, our pets are our constant companions and sometimes even our children. I’ve shared the last six years with Tip, a beagle who has been totally blind since birth (that’s him in the picture, a few years ago). He came to me from Little Victories Animal Shelter when he was 2, and we’ve been through a lot together — from his fear of being in the yard when the trains go by, to losing an eye to glaucoma. And we can’t forget Benjamin “Benny” Franklin, our feline friend who came to live with us a few years ago, or Lucy, our other dog friend who moved in last year with her human.

It comes as no surprise that many gardeners make gardening decisions keeping the needs of their pets in mind. I know that if I didn’t have a dog, the backyard would be completely landscaped. However, we keep it mostly grass to facilitate both play and potty areas.

There are several ways that gardeners plan their gardens to keep their four-legged friends in mind.

Safe chemical use

While some gardeners may choose not to use chemicals, others do. Keeping pets in mind when using chemicals is key to safety. This entails either making sure that chemicals we use in the garden are pet safe or keeping pets out of chemically treated areas until the danger has dissipated. Reading the label on any garden chemical is key to making sure your critters are safe. Keep in mind that being organic doesn’t automatically mean that the chemical is safe for pets. And this doesn’t just include pesticides — salt used to melt snow and ice on sidewalks can damage tender paws, but there are safer alternatives available. Toxicity also depends on the species of pet. For example, pyrethroids are a commonly used garden insecticide that are also used in many spot-on flea treatments for dogs, but these chemicals are often toxic to cats. Rodenticides (rat poison) can sicken or kill pets if they accidentally ingest it. For more information on pets and pesticides, contact the National Pesticide Information Center: 1-800-858-7378, or the Pet Poison Hotline: 1-800-213-6680, www. or contact your veterinarian.

Avoid toxic plants

Some plants in the garden can cause stomach upset and diarrhea in pets while others can cause serious injury and even death. While most pets will avoid toxic plants, there are those who will let their curiosity get the best of them. In the flower garden, foxglove, daffodil, monkshood, autumn crocus, larkspur, iris and lily of the valley can present issues, as can azalea, Rhododendron, the berries on lantana, laurels, wisteria and yew. In the vegetable garden, rhubarb and alliums such as onions, garlic, leeks and shallots are toxic. One of the most toxic plants that gardeners don’t think of are grapes. Even a small number of grapes can cause acute kidney failure and inability to urinate. Since many dogs love the flavor of grapes, this is of particular worry. If you grow grapes, be sure that none fall on the ground or hang low enough for dogs to reach.

Flowers for Fido

There are actually a few plants you can grow specifically for your pet. Of course there’s catnip for your feline — if your cat loves it like mine does you won’t be able to grow it because kitty will basically destroy it. Not every cat reacts to catnip. For dogs, you can grow great snacks in the vegetable garden. Lots of dogs like carrots, and some even like potatoes, radishes and turnips. My parents once had a Chihuahua that ate all of the cabbage plants out of the garden. There’s lots of other pets, such as rabbits, that would appreciate snacks from the garden as well.

Design a potty/play area

While most people have a yard area for their four-legged friends, other design specific spots for their pets. Many times allowing dogs to potty where they wish will result in brown spots in the grass or damaged plants. You can train dogs to use specific spots in the yard, but many people are devoting specific spots with either grass or something like pea gravel or sand to help keep waste in specific places rather than all over the yard.

Animals prefer to go in areas with loose soil that is easy to dig in, which means they will often go in garden beds. This can especially be problematic in the vegetable garden, where there is the potential for food safety issues.

There are many “solutions” to this problem, but many don’t work. Things that don’t work include mothballs and sharp objects. Not only are they ineffective, they’re also dangerous for your pet. One of the best solutions is to put down a barrier such as chicken wire to keep animals from digging.

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