All too often, pet owners will allow their property to fall into disarray because it just seems impossible to grow a great garden with beloved, but oh-so-destructive pet cats or dogs pawing through the same space.
With our mild climate, both humans and pets appreciate being able to spend lot of time outdoors. There is no reason you can’t allow your pets to enjoy your yard and still have a beautiful garden. Yes, you do need to make a little extra effort to accommodate the needs of your animals when you design and construct your landscape. And you need to make provisions not only an attractive appearance, but for the safety of your pets. 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 for them with pathways that move through heavily planted areas. Carve out a passage that will follow along fences where dogs are likely to patrol. 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, pavers or cement and can provide double-duty as informal seating, reading, play or meditation patios when the dogs are not romping through them. Although your dogs will occasionally trespass on your gardens, they will follow the route of least resistance — your paths and open areas — more than not.
Filling the planted areas with dense, tough plant material will allow the gardens to tolerate a bit of abuse despite an occasional incursion. Look for plants that grow with woody stems and opt for drought-tolerant varieties. These kinds of eco-friendly plants grow the strongest in our chaparral climate and will better withstand pet damage. (Hint: Rosemary and lavenders not only are resilient, but pets return indoors smelling delightful after an encounter.)
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. Offer your boys posts painted in decorative colors — away from your favorite plants and furniture. And teach your dogs to eliminate in areas of washable, gravel, cement, synthetic grass or decomposed granite. Spaces covered with permeable materials will also create excellent drainage in both our wet winters and irrigated summers.
Cater to the needs of your feline friends in the garden by building areas that will be easy for cats to dig. Our feline friends will use loose soil or sand for elimination. By building an attractive cat box section in your garden, you will entice cats away from spaces where you don’t want them going as well as making clean-up easier for yourself. (If you want to build a sandbox for your children, either fence it off from your cat, or use recycled shredded tires for fill instead of sand.)
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 damage done by digging tree squirrels.
Offer your cats branches for sharpening claws and build high fences to encourage them to stay on your property. Plant catnip or catmint (both Nepeta species) to help them enjoy your garden. Nepeta plants grow exceptionally well in full sun and high temperatures. They are quite drought-tolerant, smell like mint and even bloom with decorative purple flower spikes.
Consider building a raised garden for delicate plants and vegetables. Design your planters to be decorative in form, materials and color. You might even add a water fountain placed as a central focal point encircled by edible raised garden plantings. Pets and wildlife will all appreciate the bubbling water on hot days.
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 cool or wet winter weather. Make sure you do NOT leave pet food outdoors where it will attract raccoons, vermin and ants. And factor in all the attractive areas you want for yourself in your landscape. If necessary, use decorative fencing for areas you want to keep free of pets.
Unless your property is fully protected, it is advisable to make sure any outdoor cats are safe inside before dusk. Even if you have good fencing to protect them from coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions, some of our larger owls can still carry off a good sized cat. Small dogs are equally vulnerable. It is your job to keep your pets safe in your home environment, indoors or out.
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.