Plant This, Not That! Steps to a Pet-Friendly Garden

Gardens, while lovely, can also harbor poisons that are dangerous for your pet. Here are some common outdoor offenders and alternatives for making your garden a safe, beautiful space.

Poisonous Plants

Baby’s breath Seen in almost every floral arrangement, this seemingly innocent flower can wreak havoc with pets’ digestion. An almost identical and non-toxic replacement is double bridal wreath (Spiraea cantoniensis).

Daffodil Most gardeners will defend their spring-time daffodils with a vengeance, but Fluffy or Fido could swipe a taste when your back is turned. Yellow orchids look very similar to daffodils and are non-toxic.

Lily - So many lily varieties are highly toxic to cats that if you’re in doubt, don’t plant any of them. Ingesting even the tiniest bit can cause kidney failure in cats. Oddly, lilies are non-toxic to dogs. If you have a cat and a lilly obsesson, resurrection lilies are safe to plant.

Morning glory Distinguished by opening its bloom in the morning and closing it again at night, this flower is like LSD for animals, complete with hallucinations and disorientation. Petunias stay open all day and present no harm to dogs or cats.

Oleander This pretty bush should come with a warning sign to ward away both humans and animals. Every part, from flower to root, is highly toxic and should be avoided. Plant the innocuous ixora instead for a red-colored alternative.

Sago palm Common in temperate regions, sago palms assume the twin roles of popular landscaping plant and frequent bonsai choice. All parts, especially the seeds, are highly poisonous, yet dogs and cats find them very tasty. Bamboo palms are less spiky and don’t have the characteristic bulb base, but your pet will survive if they take a bite out of it.

Malicious Mulch

Cocoa mulch Cocoa mulch is probably the most controversial type of mulch, the theobromine (and caffeine) contained in the cacao shells cause adverse reactions in dogs and cats. While many cocoa mulch manufacturers claim to have changed their processing methods to remove these two compounds, the safest route is to avoid it entirely.

Pine, cedar, and hemlock mulch Toxins aren’t a big concern with natural wood mulches, and they are a safer choice than using cocoa mulch. But choking or allergic reactions are a possibility. Some mulch pieces, if ingested, can also perforate a pet's stomach lining when ingested. If using these mulches, make sure you always supervise your pet.

Rubber mulch - This type claims to be chemical free, but plastic is far from a natural substance. And similar to the wood mulches, the rubber variety could present a choking hazard.

A safe alternative to all of these mulches is stone or rock mulch. However, this type of mulch doesn't provide nutrients into soil for plants. Hard mulches also absorb heat and can stress certain varieties of plants. But if you want to keep your pet safe and your garden looking good, rock and stone do make lovely additions to your landscaping.

Ferocious Fertilizer

The safety claims made by synthetic fertilizer manufacturers that produce “dog-safe” fertilizer base the lack of danger on the absorption speed of the chemicals into your lawn. To theoretically keep Fido from harm, he must be kept off the lawn for a designated amount of time. When heavy rainstorms come, however, some trace amounts of chemical may spring up to the surface from puddling.

Worm castings, kelp, fish emulsion, peat compost, and composted manure are recommended as safe alternatives. Regardless of what you use, keep your pet away from any natural fertilizer until it has been completely worked into your grass so that none of it can be eaten by your dog or cat.

With a little knowledge, common sense, and effort, your garden can be both beautiful and pet-safe. For a more comprehensive list of harmful plants, visit the ASPCA Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants website.

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