Tips on how to create a beautiful garden for you and your pets

Pets are part of our family -- and garden.

Pets are part of our family — and garden.

We love our pets – until they tear our gardens apart. And our pets love us, until they get injured out in the garden.

Lucky the cat

Make the garden safe for cats and dogs.

 

 

 

Pets, gardens and owners can share a beautiful, safe and practical outdoor space with some guidelines kept in mind:

Border Collie Pepper

Paths encourage pups to stay out of more delicate areas.

Healthy pets are active animals; they naturally need space to run and play. If you don’t design space for them into your landscape they will create their own. You can have a lovely and successful garden for you and your pets. Build it with both your needs in mind.

Dogs often run along fence-lines, so give them a path where they will not damage anything. Offer them paths with thick plantings or fenced off areas to preserve growth between passageways. Cats love to climb. Give them big branches or tree trunks for scratching claws and curling up in high places. These can be decorative elements in the garden design.

Protect plantings that are precious to you. Raised vegetable gardens or garden planters can help avoid pet damage. Gates and fences can be colorful and decorative and keep more plantings safe. Cover soil with a grid-work of chicken wire or hardware cloth, or mulch with ¾ inch gravel to keep cats from using exposed soil as a cat box.

Keep your garden safe for pets by avoiding chemical sprays and powders. Don’t plant pointed or spiny plants that can injure playing critters.

cactus landscape

Spiny cactus is good for areas where pets don’t go!

You can even train your dog to use a specific area to eliminate or set up color-painted posts to entice male dogs to urinate rather than marking your favorite plants. Build a small sand box in a decorative shape for cat use.  Or dig a dog waste disposer to compost stinky poop.

When pets are outside, make sure there is always ample water and shade. If you live where your pets are vulnerable to predators, bring them in at night or when you aren’t around to watch them. Or provide protected runs, cages, pens or other areas where your animal friends will be safe. Fence in safe areas for them if you live where traffic can be a danger. There are some living spaces where it simply isn’t a good idea to let cats outdoors at all unless they are completely confined in a safe pen.

Colorful outdoor rugs and patches of artificial lawn can be both decorative and comfy spots for a pet to lay on. Shaded areas under trees or shade covers can be delightful for all — two and four-legged — on a warm summer day.

These are just some ideas that can create a peaceful co-existence between you, your garden and your pets.

wait at the gate

Attractive fence keeps Malcolm home

With some creativity and  imagination you can design the practical to become an artistic asset to your landscape.

Garden design with room for pets

Pets in the garden

Pets love playing in the garden

All too often pet owners will allow their property to fall into disarray because it just seems to be too much work to find ways to make the garden grow with the destructive habits of pet dogs or cats. In good weather both humans and pets appreciate being able to spend time enjoying life outdoors.  You can design your garden with room for pets and still have a lovely outdoor space perfect for you to enjoy. Yes, you do need to make a little extra effort to accommodate the needs of your animals when you design and construct your yard area. And you need to make provisions not only for the looks of your garden but for the safety of your pets. But with a little extra planning you actually can have a beautiful AND pet-friendly garden.

Keep in mind that dogs need to run. They need to get exercise. And they need to have space to play.  So design them pathways that move through heavily planted areas and carve a passage that will follow along fences where dogs are likely to want to run. Clearly, the larger and more numerous your pets are, the more space they will want to trample. If you have larger dogs and sufficient property, design your pathways to expand into open areas. These areas can be covered with gravel, lawn, paving stones or cement and can provide double-duty as a nook for informal seating, reading, play or meditation when the dogs are not romping through them. Although your dogs will occasionally trespass on your gardens, most of the foot traffic will stay to your paths and open areas. And if you fill the planted areas with dense, tough plant material the gardens should thrive and look great despite your dogs. Look for plants that grow with woody stems and opt for  varieties that grow strongest in your local microclimate.

Urine can be a problem in the pet garden. Female dogs can create brown spots in lawns whereas male dogs naturally like to urinate up against anything that rises vertically. So build in areas of gravel or decomposed granite that will not burn from urine. These areas are perfect for drainage and are easy to clean. You can also paint decorative posts and set them near places that need protection so your male dog uses them as pee posts rather than your favorite outdoor furniture or your delicate plants. Building provisions to protect parts of your garden will not only reduce maintenance, but will help avoid bad smells.

Cater to the needs of your feline friends in the garden by building areas that will be easy for cats to dig. Cats will use loose soil or sand as a cat box. By making a specific area alluring to your cats you will entice them away from areas of the garden where you don’t want them going. If you want to build a sand box for your children, either fence it off from your cat or use recycled shredded tires for fill instead of sand. Then you can build a sand box specifically for your cat’s use.  Flat areas where you don’t want your cat digging can be protected with a surface layer of hardware cloth or chicken wire. Wire protection will also help avoid the damage so often done by the digging of tree squirrels. Offer your cats large, artistically placed tree branches for sharpening claws and build high fences to encourage them to stay on your property. Plant them some catnip (Nepeta) to help them enjoy your garden space. Both catnip and catmint are loved by cats. These Nepeta plants grow exceptionally well in full sun and do not require a lot of water. They add a refreshing, minty scent to the garden and even bloom with decorative purple flower spikes.

Consider building a raised garden for delicate plants and vegetables. These planters can be designed to be very decorative. You can even have a fountain so long as you position it where it will not only create a handsome focal point, but will remain safe from your pets (especially if you choose to use non-potable additives to discourage breeding mosquitoes in the water). Provide outdoor pet beds in comfortable areas to dissuade your pets from using your favorite furniture. And do some research to avoid using poisonous plants or mulches like cocoa mulch that is toxic if eaten by dogs. Design your garden so it offers shade and water in the summer heat and cozy protection for cold or wet winter weather. Make sure you do NOT leave pet food outdoors where it will attract raccoons, vermin and other pests. And factor in all the attractive areas you want for yourself in your landscape. If necessary, fence off areas you want to keep free of pets.

Use these tips for garden design with room for pets. So long as you plan out your landscape carefully, you can make your pets happy and safe in your garden while creating a lovely space for you, your family and your friends to enjoy.

Enjoy the summer garden safely with children and pets

Toller dog

Make sure children and pets can enjoy the summer garden safely.

We are still in the best months of the gardening season and it’s time to make your landscape as useful and comfortable as you can for the hot summer months ahead. If you have young children or pets using your garden now or in the future, now’s the time to make your outdoor space safe for them to enjoy.

Safe gardening with children and pets starts with thoughtful design. If you are building hardscape structures (permanent features), plan ahead. These landscape features are the expensive parts of your garden that you want to construct correctly the first time rather than tearing them out later and re-building. A swimming pool, for example, should be located where it can be easily viewed from both indoors and outdoors if children will be using it. Also make provisions for fencing or covers to avoid anyone – two-legged or four — from accidentally falling in.  Construct stairways so they are solid and won’t shift, and make sure the foot fits comfortably on each step. Build paths and walkways without protrusions that can trip up unsuspecting feet. And factor in play areas built with safe materials like sand, lawn or recycled rubber tires.

Plan out seating in areas where young children will be playing so you can be comfortable watching them. Designing in some trees will offer much needed shade for young and old alike. And add some simple, but decorative fencing to keep children from straying from play areas

For planting, avoid poisonous plants and sharp prickly growers. Most garden plants are poisonous only when eaten, so if you have anything toxic growing in your garden, keep these plant(s) fenced off until children grow out of the put-everything-in-the-mouth stage. Young pets and even some older pets that never grow out of the mouthy stage should also be denied access.

Pets often need built-in safety measures more than children as animals are likely to be less supervised and they’re often left outdoors for longer periods of time. Dogs need to run. They need to get exercise. And they need to have space to play.  So design them pathways that move through heavily planted areas and carve a passage that will follow along fences where dogs are likely run back and forth. Although your dogs will occasionally trespass on your gardens, most of the foot traffic will stay to your paths and, if you plant tough enough plants, the gardens will thrive and look great despite the activities of your canine pals. Look for plants that grow with wiry and woody stems and opt for drought-tolerant varieties that can take some occasional abuse.

Female dogs can create brown spots in lawns whereas male dogs naturally like to urinate up against anything that rises vertically. So build in areas of gravel or decomposed granite that will not burn from urine. You can also paint decorative posts and set them near places that need protection so your male dog uses them as pee posts rather than your favorite outdoor furniture or your delicate plants. In times when rain is scarce, creating these non-living provisions for your pets makes it easy to hose down urine areas to avoid bad smells

I prefer that cats are always kept indoors due to the danger of preditors and road acidents. But if you have a safe area outdoors and you want your feline to have access to the outdoors, here are a few tips to make things easier on both cat and garden.

Build areas that will be easy for cats to dig. Cats will use loose soil or sand as a cat box. If you want to build a sand box for your children, either fence it off from your cat or use recycled shredded tires for fill instead of sand. Then you can build a sand box just for your cat’s use.  Flat areas where you don’t want your cat digging can be protected by laying a surface layer of hardware cloth or chicken wire. Wire protection will also help avoid the damage so often done by digging squirrels. Offer your cats branches for sharpening claws and build high smooth-surface walls or fences to encourage them to stay in your property. Plant them some catnip (Nepeta) to help them enjoy your garden space. Catnip and catmint both are loved by cats and grow exceptionally well in our area. They are mildly drought-tolerant and even bloom with decorative purple flower spikes

Make sure pets have a shady spot to relax in and plenty of fresh water. Don’t leave out pet food or water at night, however, or you will be attracting undesirable wildlife  like raccoons, snakes and rodents. In the summer, food and water can bring in armies of ants.

Check over your garden now. Set up your space so it is a fun safe place for children and pets to play. And make sure you build in comfortable seating so you, too, can enjoy your outdoor space. With a little forethought, the summer can be a great time for everyone to enjoy the garden – safely!

Toxic Plants that Can Harm Children and Pets

Azaleas are poisonous plants

Azaleas are poisonous plants

Our gardens create décor for our homes, sources for food, places for entertainment, rest and relaxation, sports and games and playground areas for children and pets. They can add a lot to our property values and the quality of our lives. But most importantly, they must be safe. We need to keep hazardous chemicals properly stored, sharp or dangerous materials out of harm’s way, and areas easy and safe to walk through. Less obvious, though, is the danger that can be posed by the very plants that make our gardens beautiful and useful. Since some plants can be poisonous to children and pets, it is important to be aware of these potentials and use them wisely. Here are some tips about toxic plants to children and pets.

 

Most plants cause only minor irritations or upsets, but others, especially if swallowed, can be more dangerous. Young children and pets – those young enough to eat whatever is in reach – are usually those most as risk. If you have any poisonous plants in your garden, try fencing them off temporarily and make sure you supervise young ones when they are in the area. Keep young  pets penned when you aren’t around to watch them, too. If you are planting a new area, you may prefer to avoid any toxic plants that can harm children and pets.

This list is short. Most of our decorative plants are not easy to digest, so eating any garden plant that is not intended as an edible is best avoided. But here is a list of some of the more commonly used garden plants that could be a problem.

OUTDOOR PLANTS

 

Aconitum (Monkshood)

Aloe (some are irritants)

Alocasia (Elephant ears)

Alstroemaeria (can cause dermatitis)

Amarylis belladona (Naked Lady)

Anemone (Windflower)

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Cestrum nocturnum (Night Jessamine)

Convallaria (Lilly of the Valley)

Duranta (berries)

Euphorbia (white milky sap)

Gelseminm (Carolina Jessamine)

Heliotrope (Cherry Pie plant)

Ligustrum (Privet)

Nerium oleander

Potato (green skin + raw shoots)

Rhododendron and Azalea (leaves)

Rhubarb (leaves)

Ricinus (Castor bean)

Robinia (Locust trees)

Solanum jasminoides (Potato vine)

Schinas (CA pepper tree- dermatitis)

Taxus (Yews)

 

INDOOR PLANTS

 

Amaryllis (bulbs)

Caladium (juice can cause swelling of mucous membranes)

Christmas Poinsettia (Euphorbia)

Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia)

Diffenbachia (Dumb Cane)

Ivy (can cause dermatitis)

Olea (unprocessed olives are inedible)

Solanum pseudpseudocapsicum (Christmas Cherry)

 

 

These are just a few commonly used plants that can be toxic to man and beast. Beware of all the decorative plants in the Solanum and Euphorbia families both indoors and out. Interestingly enough, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplants are also in the Solanum family and they, of course, are not poisonous at all!

 

Avoiding sharp or poisonous plants is one solution to keeping children and pets safe, but we need to keep an eye on behaviors of those unfamiliar with the dangers of our environment. Children love to test things orally, cats seek grass or other natural greens, and some canines chew out of curiosity or boredom. Finding healthy substitutes and keeping children and pets occupied with interesting and challenging things to do will keep children, animals and plants alike, safe and happy. Remember that the younger the child, the shorter the attention span. Safe and happy a minute ago could be boredom and dangerous exploration now. It’s hard to be on top of everything, but at least you can be aware of which plants require extra caution in your home and yard and avoid toxic plants that can harm children and pets