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Written by volunteer Stephanie de Moll

Ah spring…a favorite time of year for many gardeners and their furry friends.  The warm sun, the cool grass, flowers blooming everywhere.  What’s not to love?  Well, maybe the dog digs and the cat chews, or the pups trample everything planted along the back fence.  Training teaches pets what is permitted and expected both inside and out.  The structure of a garden and the selected plantings can make life more enjoyable for everyone. Here are a few tips for keeping your whole family happy in your garden, taken from our own Pet-Friendly Garden.

Some dogs love to roam the fence line, crushing every plant in their wake.  Creating a run zone provides an outlet for the dog’s natural drive and energy.  Hard surface pathways such as stepping stones, pavers, or concrete can be simple or elegant yet won’t wear out under foot traffic.  Raised planters built from matching or contrasting materials are attractive and functional enough to protect foliage.

Dogs are usually happy to do their business within a designated area when instructed to do so, but cats seem famous for going in the places their humans least want used as a litter box.  Cats like soft, fresh soil.  A covering of raised netting or strips of paper held in place with yard staples, small stones, or decorative stakes will discourage feline activity.  Because cats still need to go, set out an outdoor litter box in some sheltered area where the cat feels comfortable and wants to use.  If kitty persists in visiting the flower beds, cover the soil with rock or nut shells to inhibit walking through.  To prevent a cat digging, fill beds with river rock or other large stone.  Densely planted shrubs and bushes will also discourage cats and dogs from parading through areas they shouldn’t.

Water features make a welcome addition to any garden.  They attract birds, serve as ready drinking water to pets and wildlife, and offer a cool bath on warm days.  The natural-style pond in The Oregon Garden’s Pet Friendly Garden invites dogs to stop and refresh themselves.  For the do-it-yourselfer, molded ponds and liners are available at home improvement warehouse stores.  Pre-formed ponds made of polyethylene can usually be installed in one day.  PVC or synthetic rubber liners conform to a custom shape and depth and lend themselves to more creativity.  Ponds should allow safe and easy access and exit for pets and have a shallow area for wading.

While drinking water should always be available for pets, a pond may not be an option or even desired.  A spigot and short hose can wash paws or cool the dog as well as keep a bowl filled.  Or a dog faucet waterer can be attached to a spigot at nose level.  The faucet waterer makes water handy at all times and shuts off automatically.

On warm days dogs are probably happy lazing around in the shade while cats seek the heat.  A nice sunbathing spot is easily made with a flagstone, a stepping stone or other large, flat rock.  Another choice is to plant an area with step-able groundcover for the pets to enjoy.  Dressing up this location is easy with pet-safe annuals, either planted in the landscape or containers.  Most cats love catnip.  Wheatgrass is safe and healthy for cats and dogs and grows well in containers both indoors and out.

Fencing usually works best for keeping pets out of restricted areas including the vegetable garden.  Although most vegetables are harmless, onions, garlic, and chives can cause anemia; plus some fruits pose definite dangers to pets.  Apple seeds and the pits from stone fruits contain cyanide that can cause fatal seizures.  Grapes and raisins can cause acute kidney failure in dogs.

Obvious hazards include lawn, garden, and pool chemicals.  The sometimes overlooked dangers are tools that pets may step on or trip over and hardware cloth that will ensnare a pet.  Soft-bodied insects such as spider mites and aphids are common garden pests.  One alternative to chemicals is simply washing their leaves off with a firm spray of water.  More persistent or serious bug problems could benefit from less toxic, commercially available insecticidal soaps.  For a homemade remedy, mix in a garden sprayer a tablespoon of mild soap with a gallon of water.

Recycling yard and kitchen waste into compost creates the best yard fertilizer and reduces the need for chemicals.  Applied to lawns and gardens twice a year, compost replaces essential nutrients growing plants need.

Pet people want to spend time with their furry friends, and pets want to be with their parents inside and out in the yard.  Whether planning a new garden or updating an existing design, even a few small changes and some thought to pet safety can result in a beautiful garden for the entire family to enjoy.

The following lists are in no way complete.  The full catalog of both toxic and pet-safe plants is extensive.  Plant nursery personnel should be able to guide the gardener through the maze of selecting the best flowers and shrubs for any situation.  Web searches can also yield valuable information regarding pet-safe gardening.  The ASPCA’s Web site has several articles on the subject at and type “pet safe gardening” in the search box.

Pet-safe Annuals and Perennials

  • Zinnia (Zinnia)
  • Snapdragons (Antirrhinum)
  • Cosmos (Cosmos)
  • Calendula (Callendula)
  • Petunia (Petunia)
  • Primrose(Primula)
  • Butterfly flower(Schianthus)
  • Spider flower (Cleome)
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)
  • Begonia (Begonia)
  • Impatiens (Impatiens)
  • New Guinea Impatiens
  • Violet (Viola)
  • Coleus (Coleus)
  • Bee Balm (Monarda)
  • Phlox (Phlo.)
  • Roses (Rose)
  • Catmint/catnip (Nepeta)
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea purpura)
  • Columbine(Aquilegia.)
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera)
  • Turf Lilly (Liriope)
  • Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
  • Bugbane (Cimifuga racemosa)
  • Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)
  • Astilbe (Astilbe)
  • Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)

Some Plants to Avoid

  • Castor bean (Ricinus communis)
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander)
  • Morning Glory (Ipomea sp.)
  • Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)
  • Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
  • Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
  • Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
  • Precatory Beans (Arbus precatorius)
  • Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)
  • Azalea
  • Rhododendron
  • Cyclamen

About Chemicals

Animals are curious and can get into trouble quickly, so chemicals should be stored in their original containers.  In case a pet comes into contact with or ingests a toxic substance, the product label will provide the immediate information needed when calling the veterinarian.

Because many products are designed to have a lasting effect from days to weeks, pets can still be exposed for an extended period after application.  Pets should also be kept indoors when chemicals are applied.

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