How to have a pet-friendly yard
by Jacqueline A. Soule
Sunshine, fresh air and exercise are just as important for pet health as they are for humans, but keeping your pet active while maintaining a healthy yard can be a challenge. With the following tips, you can have a pet-friendly outdoor area that everyone can enjoy.
- Avoid plants with dangerous thorns, spines or stickers. You can also discover which greens are poisonous to pets, such as aloe and daffodil, by contacting your local Cooperative Extension Service office or check the List for a highly rated greenhouse/nursery that can help you make the best selection.
- An enclosure is also an "exclosure," and can help exclude unwanted wildlife. If you have a fence-jumping dog, strategic plantings can help discourage such activity. Most cats will go right over walls, so a cattery with enclosed roof may be required. Keep in mind that even wing-clipped birds can flutter away or be attacked by wildlife. Consider keeping your pets indoors unless you're able to supervise.
- Paws are sensitive and should avoid problem surfaces. Sun-baked brick or flagstone can burn tender pads. Using smooth pea gravel for paths works for smaller pets. Larger dogs may scatter small gravel.
- Pets need an area of yard they can be trained to use. Lawn or gravel are good options. Cats will use a sand pit if you clean and rinse it occasionally. However bird waste can etch even concrete over time. Sealing hardscapes under bird perches helps reduce this problem.
- Dogs and cats can be deterred from digging in beds with a very liberal scattering of dried chili peppers. Wild birds, such as cardinals, will eventually consume the peppers, but by that time, most dogs and cats have developed an aversion to the area.
- If pets are outdoors all day, be sure they have access to drinking water. Water features can be hazardous, so make sure smaller pets can easily climb out if they fall in.
- Pets can be poisoned by microscopic amounts of pesticides, so it's important to go organic. Even natural pesticides such as pyrethrins can be deadly to pets. Mulching plants helps reduce the need for sprays and fertilizers. Cedar bark, pine needles or general forest mulch are all excellent, nonharmful products. All will slowly decompose into the soil and nurture plants.
- Pets just want to have fun, so create a water feature for water-loving dogs. Cats relish a patch of cat grass or catnip. Birds will enjoy sunflowers, or perhaps a fruit or nut tree added to the landscape.
With a little planning, your yard can be a user-friendly place for all to live and play.
Jacqueline Soule is a botanist, writer and educator. A member of the Garden Writers Association, she lives in Tucson and writes gardening columns for a number of newspapers throughout the Southwest. A self-avowed "Darwinistic" gardener, Soule prefers plants that need as little care as possible while providing color, texture and movement in the landscape.