With Memorial Day just around the corner, many of us are fishing our trowels and gloves out of the sheds and heading into the backyard for some serious (or not-so-serious) gardening. If you’re gardening with your pet this year, we have some great ideas to help keep them safe and your garden intact. When tending to last year’s garden or establishing a brand new plot, keep these ideas in mind to make the best of a great summer’s harvest and quality time with your pets.
Be Careful with Chemicals: Fertilizers and pesticides are dangerous to people as well as pets, but what makes them so dangerous for our four-legged friends is that they can’t protect themselves against the chemicals’ effects. Pets can come in contact with dangerous garden chemicals through their skin, their paws, and through their airways. Their respiratory systems work much more quickly than ours, so our pets will begin to feel the ill effects of these chemicals long before we even begin to realize we may be using too much. The best way to keep your pets safe and your gardens lush is to choose pet-safe chemicals. Look for veterinarian- or EPA-certified fertilizers and remember that even plant-safe organics can pose a hazard to our pets. Choose from these 3 options when possible: grass compost (recycled lawn clippings can make for a nutrient-rich garden fertilizer), calcium (egg shells can be blended into a powder and applied for a vitamin-rich fertilizer great for both plants and soil), humic acid (a combination of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium that is great for your soil and harmless to your pets).
Outdoor Summer Safety: Spending long hours under the hot summer sun is a concern for all of us, and gardening with your pet is no exception. Just as you should wear proper sunblock and light clothing, drink plenty of water, and take breaks when you need to, your pets will need to be properly protected as well. Take special consideration with a planned shady spot, setting up an outdoor umbrella for your pet to relax under if your space doesn’t have natural shade, and be sure to have a bowl of cool water easily accessible. Remember that they need more rest breaks than you do, so be sure to coax them back inside more often than you would need to rest.
Keeping Pets Safe from Plants: When planting a garden in a pet-accessible location, keep your pets’ curiosity in mind. Even the best-behaved pet may not be able to keep his curiosity at bay and may try to sneak a nibble of a plant at nose-level. Unfortunately, several species of common garden plants are toxic to both dogs and cats, including all daffodils, apple blossoms, English ivy, dahlias, hibiscus, all varieties of lilies, geraniums, irises, etc. If you are planning a garden that includes toxic plants, be sure to keep it inaccessible to your pets and if you plan to bring cuttings of toxic flowers into the house, remember to keep them away from curious critters. For a full list of plants that are toxic to both cats and dogs, take a look at the list compiled by the ASPCA: http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/poison-control/Plants
Keeping Plants Safe from Pets: A gardener’s worst nightmare might be to design and establish a beautiful, healthy garden only to find one day that her beloved pet has spent the afternoon playing in, digging in, lying on, or otherwise making an absolute mess of her prized plants. Luckily, you have several options to help keep your pets and plants safe. Mainly, pets need to know their place in your garden. Are there special areas they are allowed to roam around in or is the entire garden off-limits, for instance? Training your pets every time you both head out to work in the garden is a great way to ensure that they understand where “their” areas are and where they aren’t allowed. A great way to do this is to make gardening interactive. Dogs in particular will want to play and explore with you and will quickly grow restless if you’re paying more attention to your plants than your pups. To help them feel more at ease, you might have a special stash of toys that your dogs only get to play with in the garden. These should mostly be solo toys that dogs can use to occupy themselves while you’re busy, but you can also include a few toys that you can throw or play with as well. Again, these should be garden-only toys to help your pup realize that gardening is a special time for you both and that there are special toys available only during this time. Most importantly, this discourages your dogs from using your plants as playthings.