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Diggin' In: Chew on these ideas for successful gardening with pets

April 27, 2015
 

Safe, friendly gardening with a pet in your household can be a difficult pastime if your yard isn’t set up to handle the wear and tear from a four-footed animal who doesn’t know the difference between your prized petunias and the potty.

In Hampton, Va., gardener Wendy Iles preaches the dos and don’ts of gardening with pets.

"Dogs love to dig, so giving them a place to do that may save them from digging in your garden," says Iles, founder of the nonprofit community gardening effort, Hampton Grows in southeastern Virginia. Her husband manages the area’s newest pet shelter, where she’s planting pet-friendly demonstration gardens and giving workshops on the topic.

"You can also lay down chicken wire to make digging less inviting. A low fence — not picket or chain link — may deter dogs from disturbing your vegetable garden. Netting plants can deter cats."

For dog-friendly plants, Iles suggests perennials such as alyssum, pincushion flowers, bachelor buttons, nasturtiums, marigolds, calendula and celosia. Daylilies are good, too, and pampas grass can be used as a barrier.

For cats, safe herbs include basil, chamomile, chervil, catmint, catnip, dill, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint, oregano, parsley and thyme (all good for dogs, too).

"Catnip, a member of the mint family, can be used to stuff cat toys, easily grown from seed and will self-seed," she says.

"For ‘cat grass,’ consider young grass species of oat, barley, flax, wheat and others, a favorite for kitties to snack on. It grows well in containers, too," she continues. "Tall, ornamental grasses, sunflowers and bean tee-pees provides shade and privacy, as well as visual interest from birds and insects. I have never had the cat try to attack the birds on my sunflowers.

"Ripe tomatoes are fine, but any green part of a tomato plant is toxic," she adds.

In Richmond, Va., Grace Chapman gardens with a 16-month-old, 55-pound female boxer named Timber.

"I learned quickly that my boxer loves to chew and swallow plastic, so I have to be very careful to store plastic nursery pots in a shed or enclosure that she can’t access," says Chapman, director of horticulture at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, also in Richmond.

"Patience is very important. Puppies have natural tendencies to chew and dig, so you might want to wait to plant new seedlings until the puppy grows out of those habits," she says. "I’m a beekeeper, so I had the added challenge of keeping my puppy’s nose out of the beehives. I had to build a fence around my backyard apiary to keep her away from harm.

"I have a six-foot wooden privacy fence around my yard, so I installed a ‘pet peek’ window to allow Timber to see what is going on in the alley. She loves watching the garbage truck, people taking walks and the dogs in the neighboring yards. We call her the neighborhood sheriff because she is always on top of what is going on."

Here are some tips from the Hampton Clean City Commission in southeastern Virginia and other sources on making your pet, your yard and your environment all work together, according to Debbie Blanton, clean city commission director:

Plan a designated toilet area for your dog and train her to use it. The ASPCA has information about how to train your pet: https://www.aspca.org/.

Does it allow your pet some privacy — maybe partially surrounded by low-growing decorative grasses or flowers — yet allows you to follow the recommended training program? Is it paw friendly? That means the surface is relatively smooth, without jagged gravel or other sharp substances. Some sources recommend an area of tallish grass (about 5 inches) because some dogs prefer that. Others recommend flagstones, pea gravel, bricks and small mulch chips. Whatever you use, make sure you can scoop poop from it.

Beware of a pooch digging under the fence and getting lost. Prevent that by making sure your perimeter has a barrier that extends below the bottom of the fence about a foot. (http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/digging—animals—fence.html .)

If escape isn’t an issue but digging up your petunias is, create a designated area. Use a sandbox idea, making a nice digging spot for Pooch, and encourage him to use it by burying a bone or a toy in it and then showing him it’s OK to dig it out of that spot.

Cats generally aren’t inclined to stay in a fenced area, and once they get out, they are subject to lots of potential dangers, including cars, other cats, dogs and wild animals. They also are deadly to birds and our diminishing populations of amphibians, whether in back yards or beyond. Some cat people have devised wire "breezeways" for their cats that allow them onto a deck while remaining safe and enclosed. Others keep them inside. Some train their cats to walk on leashes.

"Please, don’t let your cat roam freely, though, for the good of the cat and its prey," Blanton says.

 

 


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