Planning and Planting a Pet-Friendly Garden

Dalmatian dog play hiding in a camellia shrub
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A little planning can make sharing your home garden with pets safer and more enjoyable for everyone, pets included.  Pet-friendly gardens combine beauty, function, and productivity with practical placements and plantings. Whether starting from a blank slate or working to improve the pet-friendliness of your existing garden, little improvements can make a big difference.

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It’s no secret that our pets run the show around here. From the garden to the furniture, what’s ours is theirs. In planning our garden at the new (now old – we’ve moved again) house, we also have a new puppy in the mix. Hello, baby Humphrey! Puppies need extra consideration for security and safety. They’re still learning their boundaries, behaviours, and have a tendency to taste the world. Pet-friendly gardening has taken on a whole new level of importance for our planning and planting.

Being safety conscious doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating all potential hazards from your garden. It can be a balance of placement, access control, supervision, and maintenance.  In our case, we have opted for a balance of supervision and maintenance for some varieties (including our fruit trees), while other plants have been relegated to safer positions in the garden. For their own safety (nibble nibble), our pet’s safety, and a bit of both in some cases! 

Garden Access and Security for Pets

Secure fencing and gates will help ensure your pet stays safely inside your property. Barriers, permanent or temporary, can also be used within the garden to protect vulnerable new plantings, limit traffic in special areas, or restrict access to hazards. Check out our pet-friendly home garden guest post at Dalmatian DIY for more access and security tips.    

If you’re starting from scratch, you can try and pet-proof in the planning stages. If you have an existing fence, you may need to enhance it for completeness, height, or strength to keep your pet secure.  If your pet is a digger, you may also need to reinforce the base. Talk with your neighbours about potential changes to shared boundaries. Check local covenants and council rules before starting work.

Fluffy white cat on a wooden deck in the sun with potted citrus plants

Pet-Friendly Garden Layout and Design

Sharing a garden with pets requires balance, consideration and compromise. Planting choices and placement may need to differ a little, but you can still have a beautiful shared space. I love hanging out with our pets in the garden, and they enjoy mooching around as I do the chores. 

Planning and Designing a Pet-Friendly Garden

Consider including gaps or paths through plantings so that your pet can patrol without trampling garden beds.  In existing gardens, you pet may already have some natural routes. Work with these, if possible.  In new gardens, consider how your pet is likely to move between points of interest. Border patrol is always high on the list for our boys.

Include some open space or grassy play areas, if possible. Choose materials for other shared spaces that are gentle on paws, avoiding sharp or uncomfortably hot materials.  Ensure that your design includes shade and shelter for your pets, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors. If your outdoor furniture is off limits, include some durable weather-proof outdoor beds in your decor plan.

If you’re keen to attract bees, birds, and butterflies to your garden, include areas where visiting birds can perch out of reach and water sources other than your pets drinking bowls.  Tiger has spent many happy hours watching the bird life in our garden from a safe distance.

If you have potentially dangerous wildlife in your area, determine what, if any measures are needed to keep your pets (and family) safe. Thankfully, dangerous wildlife isn’t a significant concern in our part of New Zealand, but when we lived in Australia it was a very different story for keeping our pets safe.

Plant Placement and Protection

When planning your plantings and layout, select tough plants for high-traffic areas. Avoid the frustration and save your delicate specimens for more protected positions elsewhere. Resilient plants work well for ground covers and in borders and other areas where they may be frequently brushed, trampled, or (like my dogs) used as comfy nesting locations! 

Depending on your plans and space, you might even want to include a few special plants just for your pets. Catnip, anyone? Remember that neighbourhood cats might find it just as alluring, though! We’ve included some plants for the dogs to brush against for scent and walk through for pleasure (Oli is a long grass fan). I also plant their favourites in our edible garden for sharing.

If your pet is a garden raider (my dogs are berry fiends), you may need to protect edibles with barriers and/or raised beds. I added the photo below to our post years after it was first shared. Humphrey has gotten bigger, but the rest of their antics are much the same. Haha! Cheeky rascals. Barriers can also be used to protect vulnerable young plants, as noted above, or limit free access to potential hazards. This can be especially helpful if your pet is prone to eating random plants and/or objects. Eeek! 

Two Dalmatian dogs sniffing strawberry plants in garden

Be Aware of Toxic Plants

Many common plants can be toxic if eaten and/or cause contact irritation, for people and/or pets. The effects can range from mild to severe, and some are more potentially appealing (and therefore risky) than others.  The planting aspect has been a much bigger part of our recent plans than during past gardening, as our puppy still has an unhealthy desire to taste the world. The ASPCA has one of the best sites that I have come across for checking for potential pet-toxic plants.  

Some garden vegetables, fruits, and berries are deliciously safe for humans, but can be toxic, hazardous, or both to pets. Consider which foods (and their supporting plants) may be toxic when choosing plants and planting locations. Be careful with stone fruits which can pose a choking/obstruction hazard even if non-toxic.

Mulches and Groundcovers

Bare dirt is very tempting for digging dogs and (nasty) neighbourhood cats looking for a convenient toilet area. Try to avoid bare soil at ground level, where possible, by using mulches and ground covers. If you have an outdoor cat, consider creating a convenient outdoor toilet area to minimise the chances of the cat choosing your garden beds (or the neighbours). Sand is a popular choice. 

Bark mulches can be tempting for dogs to chew, not unlike sticks. Be careful with they type of material you select, especially if you have a puppy or a known nibbler. If cocoa bean mulch is sold in your area, don’t use it in your garden. It’s scent is attractive and it can be harmful if eaten.

Ground cover plants should be tough enough to handle occasional trampling paws, especially in areas that pets are likely to transit through. Be careful with placement on heavily flowering ground covers to reduce the risk of pets or people being stung whilst walking through.  

Garden Chemicals, Tools, and Equipment

Protect your pets from fertilisers, insecticides, baits, fungicides, and other garden chemicals. Remember, organic, eco-friendly, or natural products can still be very toxic. Read labels carefully, try to select safe alternatives, and store with care.  Be cautious with fertilisers, as these often smell irresistibly delicious. Even natural fertilisers like blood, bone, seaweed, manure, or compost can be risky for rolling or eating.

Training can be just as important outdoors as indoors.  When Humphrey was a wee pup, we were working on the old garden from bare ground up in many areas. It was far too tempting digging territory for the little man, but fortunately he learned quickly. 

Training can help with annoying issues like digging, but also to avoid risky behaviours around potentially dangerous garden tools, like lawnmowers and string-trimmers. Remember that in addition to contact risks, there are noise hazards and potential objects being flicked about when you are using power tools and equipment. Safety first, for you and your pets.

Dalmatian dog digging a hole in the garden

Compost Piles and Bins

Mmm…Stinky! Compost piles and bins may smell great (to dogs), but rotting materials may contain dangerous moulds and other pathogens. Make sure that your pet does have access to dog in or scavenge from your compost. Compost can be deadly for pets. 

Lawn and Garden Pee Patches

Urine is high in nitrogen, which can burn or kill plants, similar to over-fertilising patches of your garden. You can read more about dog pee patches in our detailed post, including tips for reducing the damage to your lawn.  Oh, and scoop that poop, too!  It’s also a nitrogen source (although slower release), but much more importantly, a clean garden is a key part of protecting your pet’s health and your family’s well-being.

Dog pee patch of dead grass on lawn

Pet-Friendly Gardening Idea Sheet

The follow-on infographic idea-sheet was created many years ago, before Green in Real Life transitioned from Blogger’s blogspot to our home here at greeninreallife.com. The branding and design is dated, but good ideas are always in fashion, so we’ve keep it with our updated post:

Home garden pet-safety and pet-friendly gardening ideas

Additional Pet-Friendly Gardening Ideas

Looking for more pawesome pet-friendly garden ideas? You can find all of our pet-friendly gardening and greener living with pets posts under the respective tags.  

We also collaborated with Dalmatian DIY to share a comprehensive post on How to Create a Pet-Friendly Home Garden.   Check it out for tips on garden design, plantings, problems, and more. They also have a great post in their archives on fruits, veggies and herbs that are safe for sharing with your dogs and other handy tips. We’ve pinned it and other pet ideas to our growing collection of greener living pet pins on Pinterest.  

Planning and Planting a Pet-Friendly Garden

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