The DOs and DON’Ts of gardening if you have pets

Can you have a nice garden if you have pets? Well, Monty Don of BBC Gardeners’ World is living proof that you can! While we might not all have a Longmeadow out the back, with a little horticultural know-how, our gardens can be both pretty and pet safe. Dogs dallying among the African daisies? Cats curled up in the camellias?
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14th March 2024

Can you have a nice garden if you have pets? Well, Monty Don of BBC Gardeners’ World is living proof that you can! While we might not all have a Longmeadow out the back, with a little horticultural know-how, our gardens can be both pretty and pet safe.


Dogs dallying among the African daisies? Cats curled up in the camellias? Rabbits romping by the roses? Is it really possible to enjoy a decorative, flower-filled, flourishing garden if you have pets?

According to gardening guru Monty Don, with a little give and take it is. When discussing his dogs, he says that “they (rarely) dig holes or crash through the flower beds.” Although he admits: “They do treat the long paths as bowling alleys down which they career in chase of the ball that we are obliged to throw, but it is harmless enough.”

In fact, as Gardeners’ World magazine suggests: “There are lots of things you can do to ensure you live in harmony with your four-legged friend, including planting non-toxic plants, creating dedicated dog areas and keeping the garden secure.”

Striking a balance enables you to enjoy quality garden time with your pets

Ayegardening, a Surrey-based landscaping company believes it’s all about striking a balance between providing a safe environment for your pets and preserving the aesthetic appeal of your garden.

The company says: “Designing a pet-friendly garden needs careful planning, but the result is a safe and fun space that both you and your pets can enjoy together. By choosing non-toxic plants, installing secure boundaries, and carefully choosing your landscaping, you can transform your garden into a haven for your beloved companions. A pet-friendly garden not only enriches their lives but can also deepen the bond between you and your pet as you spend quality time together in your garden.”

To help you plan your garden layout and pet-friendly planting, we’ve compiled a handy list of DOs and DON’Ts...


TOP TIP!

For a garden that both people and pets can enjoy, the RSPCA suggests:


DO make the garden an inviting place to be

Gardeners’ World suggests: “Creating different routes through the garden, such as clearly defined paths and designated play or digging areas will keep your dog stimulated. Differing textures of the surfaces can be stimulating underfoot, and plants such as salix and ornamental grasses dance and sway, providing entertainment.”

Creating paths through your borders will also discourage your pets from running roughshod through your plants, or you could add a low-growing box hedge to protect them, or even opt for raised beds.

PDSA advises: “Paved paths are best for pets. Stones and gravel can hurt their feet or get stuck between their paws. Some dogs might pick up stones and accidentally swallow them. Paved paths can also help keep your pet's nails nice and short by naturally wearing them down.”


TOP TIP!

Dogs wee on lawns – fact. To avoid those unsightly yellow patches, Gardeners’ World recommends hosing down the area after they’ve spent a penny.


Blue Cross advises: “Trees or platforms around your garden can provide cats with a place to observe the world below. For rabbits, a secure run with a shelter on the lawn is best so your pet is safe from predators and can’t nibble garden plants. Many plants can also provide stimulation and interest for pets, cats like catnip or catmint for example.”

If you have small pets, why not grow forage especially for them? There are all sorts of safe plants and herbs you can grow in a garden, window box or even a plant pot. There’s even a book, Gardening with Rabbits, by horticulturist and rabbit owner Dr Twigs Way available from Rabbit Welfare. It provides you with all the information you need to grow bunny-friendly plants including alfalfa, blackberry, borage, chicory, chickweed, comfrey, cranesbills, golden rod, and meadowsweet.


TOP TIP!

Dogs Trust recommends designating a quiet spot with shade, shelter and fresh drinking water for your pets to relax in. This will also keep them protected from the sun on especially hot days.


DO plant sturdy, pet-friendly plants

This is especially important if you have a young, inquisitive dog who like to investigate anything and everything with their paws, particularly if they are any kind of Terrier (the name is a giveaway – 'Terrier' comes from the Latin word Terra, meaning earth).

Gardeners’ World recommends: “Boisterous dogs can damage young plants, or those with delicate stems, either by digging them up or running through them. Plant large, established perennials and choose robust plants such as nepeta (catmint), astilbe and hardy geranium (avoid Pelargonium species, which can be toxic to dogs and, confusingly, have the common name geranium). Use a good backbone of sturdy shrubs such as viburnum or shrub roses.”

Other attractive pet-safe plants that will add colour, interest and scent to your garden include snapdragonsasterscamelliasrosesunflowerselaeagnuscentaurea (cornflower), impatiens and calendula.

Dogs Trust explains: “Digging is normal dog behaviour, but you won’t want your pet to dig up your carefully planted shrubs. Dogs dig for all kinds of reasons. They might be looking for the source of an enticing smell or spreading scent from the sweat glands in their paws. They could be roughing up the ground to prepare a cool and comfy resting spot or burying something they want to keep safe for later.”

The charity recommends making a digging pit to help your canine chum dig in a way that’s fun for them, while also protecting your flowerbeds.

How to make a digging pit

  • Choose an area of your garden that you're happy for your dog to dig in.
  • Find a sturdy container (like a cat litter tray or a heavy-duty plastic box).
  • Dig a hole deep enough so the top of the container is flush with ground level.
  • Fill the container with the earth you’ve dug out from the hole. Or you can use dog-friendly sand.

Dogs Trust says: “Teach your dog to dig in this area by scattering or burying treats for them to find. You could also half-bury some of their outdoor toys for them to dig out.”


TOP TIP!

Slugs and snails may seem pretty harmless, but they can carry lungworm, a potentially fatal disease in dogs. Dogs can become infected if they eat slugs and snails deliberately, or by accident, for example when munching on grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking up toys left outside. A regular vaccination and parasite routine, as advised by your vet, will provide protection against worms, ticks, fleas and other nasties. 


DON’T plant anything poisonous

If you have pets, it’s absolutely essential to gen up on your plant knowledge.

Gardeners’ World warns: “Many garden plants are potentially toxic to dogs. They include buttercup, chrysanthemum, aconite, daffodil, daphne, delphinium, foxglovehydrangea, oak, tomatowisteria and yew (Taxus baccata). If you notice any worrying symptoms and think your dog may have ingested part of a plant, take your pet to the vet.”

Most evergreens and plants that grow from bulbs are poisonous to rabbits – Rabbit Welfare has a comprehensive list. Cats Protection has a list of outdoor plants that are poisonous to cats as well as a list of cat-friendly ones. To help you identify what’s safe and what’s not, Gardeners’ World even has a video on plants that are toxic to dogs.


DO think about safety and security

A good fence is essential to keep your pet safe and secure in the garden. PDSA advises: “Make sure it's in good repair. Your pet might be able to squeeze through any gaps or holes and go on an unwanted adventure! Your fence needs to be tall enough that your pet can't jump over it. Dogs and rabbits might be able to dig under your fence so check regularly for escape tunnels.”

Gardeners’ World comments: “Some dogs will dig under fences, or escape through holes in fences, so make sure your borders are secure at the base. Dogs can jump surprisingly high, so make sure your fences are at least 6ft high if you have a medium-sized dog. Keep gates secure at all times.”

Also ensure your compost bin is secure and off-limits. Gardeners’ World recommends: “Compost bins containing food scraps can potentially be attractive to dogs, and may contain contents that can harm them. Some foods, such as avocados, grapes, raisins and onions can be harmful, so make sure that they can't get into your bin.”


TOP TIP!

Sheds are potentially packed with sharp implements and harmful chemicals, so keep doors firmly shut to protect inquisitive pets – but always check your pet is not inside first! The same goes for summerhouses and conservatories, which can become like ovens on a hot day. 


DON’T use chemicals or cocoa mulch

If you have pets, ditch the slug pellets. Also avoid chemicals including weed and bug killer, and insect-repellent citronella candles as these are toxic to all wildlife. Don’t use any additives to ponds or water features as your pets (and wildlife) will likely drink from them.

To keep garden pests at bay, why not try companion planting, where common plant combinations protect each other. Examples include growing nasturtiums with beans, mint with carrots (the strong smell apparently confuses pests) and marigolds, which repel whitefly and attract beneficial insects including hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds which will munch up pesky aphids for you.

Also avoid cocoa mulch. While this might seem like a natural solution to keeping weeds at bay on your borders, this by-product of the chocolate industry can be harmful if eaten – and the chocolatey smell is tempting. Instead, use an alternative mulch such as bark chippings.

Some environmentally-friendly fertilisers contain fish by-products, blood meal and even ground poultry feathers – ingredients that some dogs will find appealing but will do them no good at all if they eat it. Using a liquid fertiliser is a safer option – but keep pets away until any product you use has completely dissolved.


TOP TIP!

If you think your pet has eaten a toxic plant or substance, Dogs Trust advises that you contact your vet straight away, as symptoms may not always be immediately obvious. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhoea and skin irritations, depending on the plant or substance and how much your pet has eaten.


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