Creating a Pet-Friendly Garden

Ideas and tips for a durable–and safe–landscape

Spring officially arrives this month. And as you decide what to plant, keep your pets in mind before turning the shovel. Dogs are often the cause of mayhem in the garden: trampling flower beds, digging everywhere and chewing grasses and plants. Dogscaping, as its called, entails designing a landscape for dogs—one that’s beautiful but also maintains space for Fido’s habits and activities.

So before you do anything outside, take note of where your dog likes to run, dig, pee and lounge and also consider the size of the dog, advises David Ross, of Walter Andersen Nursery in Poway. “A large retriever may need a lot of room to run. Smaller dogs may enjoy meandering pathways as much as you do. All dogs should have at least a small area for them to do their duty,” he says.

Want to keep dogs out of certain areas? “Try raised planting areas and barriers such as logs, boulders and mounding plants to create natural borders that discourage dogs from exploring,” Ross says. If your dog routinely upends plants rolling around in the flower beds, consider creating a shady spot for him to lay. He may be trying to unearth the cooler soil on warm days.     

To keep fleas at bay, be sure to rake dead leaves, eliminate weeds and address drainage issues, which quickly become breeding grounds for the jumping insects. And be mindful of what goes into the garden. There are several common plants found in San Diego gardens that can be toxic to pets.

You may remember reading about Amy Kat’s ordeal in the San Diego Tribune last August. Amy, who lives in Paradise Hills, came home to find her great Dane-mix, Remi, injured and her maltipoo, Koopa, sick. The culprit? A popular backyard succulent called the pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli). Turns out, the easy-to-care-for plant is poisonous and has a caustic sap, which can cause skin and eye problems for your dog as well as you, Ross cautions.    

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) lists pages and pages of plants that have been reported as having systemic effects on dogs, cats, even horses. There are 411 pages in the toxic-to-dog category alone. Similarly, there are also pages and pages of safe plants. “A few good choices include Arctotis or African daisy, Heuchera or coral bells, Lagerstroemia or crepe myrtle, and many varieties of sages and rosemary,” Ross says. “And Bermuda grass is a great self-respiring grass.”

Soil amendments and fertilizers—organic or not—should only be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions and stored out of pet range. With a bit of conscious planning and intentional plant selection, you can cultivate a garden that you love and doesn’t put pets in danger.



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