Are you the proud parent of a dog, cat, or both? Maybe you don’t have a pet yet, but want to start small with a family rabbit? No matter which point of the pet journey you’ve arrived at, you’ve probably already thought about ways to make your backyard more friendly – and fun – for your pet.
The good news is that creating a low-maintenance pet-friendly garden that will allow you to live in harmony with your four-legged loved ones is easier than you think!
Landscaping with furry friends in mind is all about creating an informal design that lends itself to being shared with pets and choosing hardy plants that can withstand a little bit of wear and tear. Like us, cats and dogs need plenty of shade and spots to lounge in the sun when the weather permits.
From pet-safe pesticides (is there such a thing?) to the plants, flowers, and herbs you should avoid if you have pets, here’s how to get your backyard in shape for sharing with dogs, cats, and rabbits.
Create a shady pet retreat.
Just like you, your dog, cat, or rabbit will appreciate a nice spot to sit in the shade and a place to find a drink on a hot day.
Planting herbs such as tansy and Pennyroyal (a type of mint) near these shady pet retreats can help deter fleas and other insects from invading their space and interrupting their downtime.
Water bowls are placed under every tap so I can easily provide fresh water every day. They love the patches of sun and shade in the garden provided by small shady trees and shrubs, and they respect my raised vegetable patch (which, admittedly, took lots of training when they were puppies).
Put up a fence.
In a pet-friendly garden, a good fence equals a safe dog – four feet is high enough for small dogs, but athletic dogs will need fences about 12 feet high.
Gaps can be a problem as curious dogs can wedge their heads where space allows. Avoid a large gap between the fence and the ground to prevent canine escape artists digging their way out. And don’t forget, a fence won’t keep a cat in, so you may want to consider an enclosed cat run.
Cut back on chemicals.
I am often asked questions about the use of garden chemicals and pets and there have been sad cases in the past of dogs eating snail bait. It’s best to pet-proof your garden by erring on the side of caution with garden chemicals; reducing their use will avoid potential problems with pets and wildlife.
Wait until weed killer sprays are dry on the weeds before allowing dogs to return to the area.
Many people also worry about their dogs drinking liquid seaweed, which many gardeners use on their plants for optimum health; but thankfully, there is no need to worry in this case.
Create a place to go when nature calls.
It’s important to set aside a designated bathroom area for dogs in the backyard. The learning process may take a puppy three weeks and an adult dog a little longer. If you need help, enlist your dog in puppy preschool.
Dog owners with gardens will know all about those ugly yellow spots on their lawn, caused by the nitrogen and salts in dogs’ urine. One solution to this problem is dog rocks which are mineralized rocks that can be added to your dog’s drinking water.
The zeolite minerals in the rocks neutralize the nitrogen in your dog’s urine, which means no more yellow spots on your lawn.
Use pet-friendly plants.
Dogs and cats can be determined to get where they want to go, regardless of any delicate flower beds in their way.
Try creating paths with stones, soft straw, or pavers. Large plantings of shrubs and ornamental grasses can also help – most pets will go around rather than through such plantings.
When adding new plants, larger-sized trees, shrubs, and perennials are more likely to survive. If you have a new garden, try a temporary wire enclosure to keep pets out.
Raise any vegetable garden beds with railway sleepers so dogs can walk around them, and plant dogbane (a plant with strong odor dogs dislike) to repel them from garden beds.
A permanent enclosure, such as a picket fence, is a must for vegetable or herb gardens where you don’t want your pets to go.
Also, try to avoid bare soil – it’s a perfect invitation to dig. I usually plant perennials close together, and plant tough, pet-safe ground covers, such as thyme, lamb’s ears, sage, and succulents between larger woody plants. Avoid thorny plants and be aware of poisonous plants such as hellebore. View the ASPCA’s plants to avoid.
Mulch the garden with straw or gravel where appropriate. If you’re trying to get a new area of lawn to grow, rolls of turf will establish quicker than seed, especially if pets are using the yard at the same time.
Cats will roam between a few favorite lounging spots in the garden throughout the day, depending on where the sun is shining.
On hot or rainy days cats may like to hide-out underneath an outdoor table setting – or an umbrella. Providing plenty of both shaded and sunlit hang out spots for your cat is key.
If you have a good cat who has no inclination to roam into other people’s gardens and is content with exploring her own, you won’t have problems with irate neighbors.
If your cat is less well-behaved, providing a safe and enjoyable garden will encourage him or her to stay within your boundaries instead of exploring the foreign territory. You can do this by providing plants and toys that cats enjoy.
All cats love the chance to play, and one thing they go wild for is catnip (Nepeta cataria), rolling around on it and getting very playful.
A member of the mint family with apparently sedative effects, catnip’s exact effect on cats is a mystery, but there is no question they adore it.
Try planting catnip as well as catmint (Nepeta faassenii) in your cat’s favorite areas.
Not all common plants are so pleasant for your feline friend though, and some are very dangerous. Make sure to avoid all types of lilies, as they are poisonous to cats.
Other essentials for a cat-friendly garden include an outdoor litter box and outdoor scratching post. Make sure you’re a responsible owner by placing a bell on your cat’s collar to alert native wildlife to their presence.
At night, all cats should be brought inside. Of course, keeping foreign cats off your garden is easy. All you need is a day at home and a water gun — cats hate being sprayed with water.
Rabbits are an easy pet to integrate into your yard, so long as you have a solid hutch.
A movable hutch is the best way to avoid lawn wear and tear and allows the rabbit to trim areas of the lawn while fertilizing it.
Rabbits need fresh food, water, and vegetables each day. Encourage children to grow their own rabbit food such as lettuce, celery and carrots, as these are cheap and easy to grow from seed.
An ideal hutch has a run with adequate room for the rabbit to stand up on its hind legs and enough space to allow lots of movement; at the very least it should be able to take three successive hops.
Make sure it has an inbuilt sleeping area with a solid floor and sides to offer shelter, as well as a place to hide.
The floor should be lined with soft, absorbent bedding such as straw, unscented wood shavings, or grass hay and cleaned daily.
Make sure it is built from easy-to-clean materials that are chew-proof. The hutch itself should be cleaned and scrubbed weekly.
Good ventilation in the hutch is also essential – wire mesh sides provide good light and airflow. It should provide relief from extremes of temperature such as wind and rain or hot sun.
The roof should be solid and sloped to protect from the elements and hinged for easier access when cleaning.
Don’t forget to include water bottles, a feeding bowl, hayrack, and chew toys for environmental enrichment, such as tree branches, wooden toys, cardboard boxes, and toilet roll tubes.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Homes to Love.