VOLUME VIITips and Tricks for a Pest-Free, Pet-Friendly GardenBy Nikki DavidsonOne of the silver linings of the coronavirus pandemic is that it inspired many people to pursue their passions, including becoming newfound pet owners and testing out their green thumbs. The National Gardening Association reports that 18.3 million people started gardening in 2020, and 89% of that group intends to continue planting even after the pandemic. Meanwhile, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) documented that the percentage of pet owners in the country increased from 67% in 2019 to 70% (or 90.5 million families) in 2020, an all-time high.

The popularity of both lifestyles may make new pet owners want to try their hand at creating a garden in their backyards. However, gardening and four-legged friends don't always mesh well together. One wrong move and a beloved family pet could end up seriously ill, or worse.

This article will break down tips and tricks to successfully avoid an emergency veterinary clinic visit while also enjoying a bountiful journey into horticulture.

Toxic Plants to PetsIt's easy for new gardeners to get overwhelmed with information and ideas when they first start growing. Pet owners can simplify this process by doing plenty of research before heading to a plant nursery or placing the first seed. What works well for a pet-free garden is quite different from what a dog or cat owner needs to consider.

Accidental pet poisoning by plants is more common than many people realize. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) identified bouquets and plants as the fifth most common cause of pet poisoning in 2020. The organization received 9,000 more calls in 2020 than the previous year due to pets getting sick after ingesting plants or flowers.

Pet owners must educate themselves about the toxicity of plants before they put them in their garden. Not every plant will be equally poisonous to a dog and cat. Still, some common flowers and greenery can be dangerous to both species.

Pet owners can find an extensive list of plants that are toxic to animals on the Pet Poison Hotline’s “Poison” list. Unless a homeowner can build a fence or enclosure to keep a pup or feline out of their garden, the Pet Poison Helpline suggests avoiding the following plants.


All parts of this plant can be dangerous to animals. Dogs or cats that eat even a tiny amount could experience vomiting, diarrhea and even death.


Ingestion of the bulb, plant or flower could be devastating for a pet. The toxins can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and abnormal breathing that require an emergency vet visit.

Sago Palm

This plant is popular in the subtropical climate of Texas and Florida. It's hazardous for pets due to its toxic leaves and nuts. Survival rates for a pet who ingests sago palm are bleak. Even with aggressive medical treatment, only about 50% of animals live.
Which Produce Is Not Pet Friendly?While some homeowners may have had their minds made up about growing a food garden pre-pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that consumers can expect the price of fruits and vegetables to increase this year by as much as 3%. Nowadays, growing a grocery list may now sound even more appealing.

However, if pets are going to be in the garden, their owners need to be sure that what they grow won't cause them harm. The American Kennel Club advises that most fruits (ex. apples, bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, cranberries, cucumbers, mangos, oranges, peaches, pears, pineapples, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon) and vegetables are safe for pets—with a few exceptions.

Onions, leeks and chives can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain in cats and dogs. Tomatoes contain a toxic substance that could make a dog sick if eaten in bulk. Grapes are very harmful to dogs and cats; they can cause sudden kidney failure in both species.

Pitted fruits can get complicated. The flesh is perfectly healthy for animals, but the pit inside is not. Cherry and peach pits may cause cyanide poisoning in dogs and cats. Keep canines away from the avocado; the entire fruit contains toxins that can trigger vomiting and diarrhea.

AKC also recommends making sure your dog doesn’t have access to nuts of any kind. Some are toxic, and all are high in fat and can cause pancreatic issues.

A fresh produce garden can also attract pests. Pet owners can ward off unwanted visitors by planting non-toxic herbs. Mint, basil and lavender are popular pet-friendly natural pest preventers. Catnip has a dual purpose. Not only does it cause a euphoric effect in cats, but it also serves as a miracle mosquito repellant. Researchers from Northwestern and Lund University recently published a study that found the herb's effectiveness is comparable to DEET.

Tips To Prevent Fleas, Ticks and MosquitosTicks and mosquitos aren't only a health hazard for gardeners; they can cause severe complications for pets. The risks of pet exposure to pathogens caused by these pests continue to increase throughout the United States.

Pets get heartworm disease through mosquito bites. There's currently a higher-than-usual risk for this illness in pets living in Central and Southern Florida. Experts attribute the shift to a decrease in preventive strategies like medication and pest control during the pandemic. The parasite council also reports that while cases of Lyme disease are low in Texas and Florida, more infections are appearing in the South and West than in previous years.

The creepy crawlies can be kept away with a few preventive tricks. Gardeners should mow the lawn and keep the grass free of litter. Deer and other large animals often harbor ticks that can drop eggs in a garden, so putting up a fence is best to reduce animal traffic. The added benefit is it might also keep wildlife from devouring a freshly planted row of produce. Gardeners can also plant pet-friendly natural insect repellents like basil, catnip, lavender, mint and rosemary.

Before choosing to spray a garden with insecticide, keep in mind that insect killers and associated products can pose a toxin risk to pets. On the same ASPCA top-10 rundown (mentioned above), insecticides and garden products ranked ninth and tenth.

Don’t Create a Snake’s ParadiseAlmost all of America's most venomous snakes identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention live in Texas and Florida. That can be especially concerning for pet owners because domestic animals are bitten anywhere between 150K and 300K annually, reports the Merck Veterinary Manual. Dogs are the most common victims of snake bites, and smaller dogs tend to have the most fatal results—even from a small amount of venom.

It's not unusual for coral snakes, cottonmouths, copperheads or rattlesnakes to find a cozy new home in Florida or Texas gardens. Some of the best pet-friendly ways to keep snakes at bay are installing ground-level, snake-proof fencing, along with removing clutter that creates tight hiding spots. Gardeners who happen to have a fire pit on the property may be pleased to know that smoke is an excellent natural snake repellent.

Double-Check Fertilizer ContentsOne of the most challenging obstacles gardeners with pets must overcome is finding an effective yet harmless fertilizer. Even some natural varieties can make domestic animals sick. They often contain meat byproducts that are appetizing to dogs and cats although they are difficult for their bodies to digest.

Popular pet-friendly fertilizer options include formulas made of seaweed, fish emulsion and manure. The tricky part will be keeping a dog from digging it up. The best method to prevent that risk is creating some kind of enclosure that will keep the canine at a distance.

It can also be challenging to find the right mulch. Poison Control warns that dog owners should stay away from Cocoa Bean Mulch. The mulch made from cocoa bean shells contains the same chemicals as chocolate, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, tremors and seizures.

Research Before GardeningSuccessful gardening and pet ownership can go hand in hand if proper precautions are taken early. Pet owners must keep track of how their animals react to new additions, and note any changes in their behavior or wellness.

A well-maintained garden comes in handy as an alternate for grocery shopping and an eye-catching view. Following these tips and tricks will create an excellent outlet to burn off extra energy and be a pet-friendly home. 

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