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.
We share our gardens with wildlife and pets as well as with family and friends. This garden article is dedicated to cats and cat-lovers – and even the neighbor’s cats! If you live near open land, you may need to keep your cat indoors to be safe from all the clever predators in our wild environment. Some few felines become canny survivors and know how to outsmart coyotes and owls, but for most, safety resides in the house. Coyotes have no problem hunting on asphalt streets after dark, either. Even in the more built up city areas, cats are safer indoors away from dangerous traffic or wandering dogs. As a result, house-bound cats need certain concessions to compensate for their lack of freedom.
Many cats will nibble on your indoor plants – if you have them. Perhaps it is the fact that in nature cats would normally consume a basic amount of plant matter inside the bodies of a wild prey diet. Greens are important in the feline diet to aid digestion, help in eliminating fur balls, increase roughage and to provide vitamins in the form of folic acid. Some cats seem more attracted to grass than others. Many of our house plants are attractive but toxic to both pets and children so they should be kept out of exploring mouths.
Bringing in outdoor grass or plants may also include pesticides and other harmful materials you need to be aware of. If you want to keep your cat happy, healthy and protect your indoor plants, you might want to grow your own cat grass. You can invest your money in buying ready-made kits, or you can buy wheat grass, rye, oat or barley seed and grow your own. Growing your own grass is remarkably easy as most seed germinates very quickly when sprinkled on damp soil in a pot. Keep the pot on a window sill where it gets some sun until you see the grass growing to an inch or more, then move it to a counter where it will get good light – preferably some sun — and is more convenient for feline munching. Do make sure the soil is kept damp as the grass will shrivel quickly if the pot dries out. Seeds are usually available in garden centers or on the Internet.
Another plant to grow for your cat is catnip. Although some people fear catnip can be dangerous like some human addictive chemicals, the feline response is not the same as a human’s is to drugs. And catnip is a natural plant with no addictive attributes. Cats vary remarkably in their reaction to catnip. It seems to be a genetic thing that some cats have and others don’t. Some have no interest while others become excited and still others simply dissolve into fits of blissful delight. The response is an olfactory one and it is something our comparatively inadequate noses can not relate to. Catnip is completely safe and if your cat enjoys the stimulation, you can rest assured it is natural and harmless. The chemical nepetalactone in catnip triggers the response. Interestingly enough, even some large cats like tigers are capable of the same responses.
Catnip is the common name for an herb in the Nepeta family. Nepeta cataria is most commonly grown for cats, but the N. grandiflora is also used to produce this pheromone-based intoxication. There are a number of other varieties of catnip that can also stimulate your feline friend. Most of these plants are actually very decorative and look great in the garden. They are remarkably drought-tolerant and don’t even mind poor soils. Since the stimulation only lasts for a short time before the cat becomes accustomed to the effect, catnip is most effective when used for limited periods of time. Your cat may very well return a while later ready for another short indulgence, however. So you might just as well grow Nepeta in your garden where it can be a highly decorative contribution to your garden as well as fun for your cat(s). Just avoid using insecticides or other chemicals on or near the plant.
All Nepetas have long spires of massed flowers that make the plants colorful. Nepeta racemosa, N. faassenii and N. reichenbachiana all have named varieties in blues, purples, pinks and whites. And if you think the plants are somewhat reminiscent of mint in look and scent, that’s because they are in the same family. Nepetas, however, tend to grow in thick, low mounds that are much more ornamental than most of the invasive mints. If you live in an area where there are other roaming outdoor cats, you may occasionally find your lovely plants steam-rolled into a flat mat from a joyfully tipsy feline invader. Even so, they are likely to rebound quickly (the plant, well, and maybe the cat, too!). And these Nepetas are very decorative in the garden.
If you allow your cat outdoors during the day, you might want to design in a sand box for his or her use so the cat doesn’t dig up the garden for elimination needs. Try laying some chicken wire – rather like mulching – over the topsoil where you don’t want a cat to dig. It’s hard for paws to scoop out soil and claws find the metal wire disturbing. This will work well to discourage neighboring cats as well. To keep indoor cat boxes from becoming offensive, consider adding some herbs to the litter or drying out some fragrant flowers and leaves from the garden for a scented sachet or potpourri. Rose petals, sage leaves, lemon balm, rosemary, lavender and a host of other plants offer possibilities. You can hang branches upside down fresh or lay them out in a thin layer on paper or in straw baskets to dry.
If you want your cat to go outdoors safely, you can build a cat run that functions like an extended porch. By screening in a pen or creating a screened in pathway, your pal can bask in the daytime sun without being endangered by predators or other outdoor threats.
The garden can be a wonderful place for you to relax by yourself, with friends or family. It’s a great place to play with canine friends, too. But just because it is safer to keep your feline pals in a more protected environment doesn’t mean your garden can’t be of benefit to them as well! Design your garden for pets and you can both enjoy being outdoors. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you share your garden happily and safely with your cat or cats.
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