OF PETS AND PETUNIAS

As the warmth of the season beckons us outdoors, many pet and plant lovers are caught in the crosshairs: Is it possible to intertwine a love of nature with the needs of our beloved domestics?

The short answer is yes—with a little bit of ingenuity.  When dogs look at grass, dirt, plants and shrubs, they don’t see gardens. They see fun – a vast green playground just begging to be rolled on, run through, jumped over or dug in. If you don’t want your dog marauding through your garden, you’ll need some creative strategies to circumvent the possible frustrations. Same with cats, who find the elegance of a garden alluring.

Regardless of your pet, there are a few considerations to keep both plant and animal species safe, happy and well-nourished.

Pet owners should choose fertilizers and mulches cautiously. Shop for organic, pet-friendly fertilizers and soil amendments. Be aware that many environmentally friendly fertilizers contain fish by-products, blood meal and ground poultry feathers. These ingredients are very appealing to many dogs and may cause digestive upset if eaten in quantity. If possible, keep your pets away from newly fertilized beds and lawns until the product has dissolved. Alternatively, consider liquid fertilizers.

When buying mulch, avoid cocoa mulch. It is toxic to pets and lethal if ingested in quantity. Choose root mulch, wood bark or gravel instead.

If you have a dog, consider his essential doggy-ness:

• Canines like to course the perimeters of their territory, aka your yard. If your plantings run up to the edges of your property, they’re likely to get trampled.  To prevent this frustration, keep an 18- to 36-inch pathway around the boundary of your property, especially if you plan to erect fencing.

• Speaking of fencing, many dogs get quite frustrated when they can’t see out of their property to identify noises and passersby.  If your containment system blocks your dog’s vision, consider a transparent window erected at eye level (your dog’s, that is). Often, dogs destroy garden beds out of this frustration and boredom. The product I most enjoy is PetPeek (petpeek.info). A little porthole into the world outside and a nonplanted path around the perimeter can keep everyone on track, so to speak.

• As you begin to shape good canine garden habits, keep your dog inside while you tend your plants. Dogs are very mindful of our activities and if they see you digging in the dirt on your hands and knees, they will soon mimic your technique.

• If your dog enjoys digging, he will likely always relish the feeling of the earth on his paws. If this is the case, you’ll need to provide a dog-friendly digging pit, a small area (think sandbox) filled with half-sand, half-safe mulch where you encourage him to “Go dig!” Do this during playtime to encourage his enthusiasm. If he stares at the digging pit and gives you the “Huh?” face, try burying a bone, toy or treat.

It can be a little tricky to keep dogs out of garden beds. Consider why your dog enters your planting area. If it’s to eliminate or mark, the solution is fairly simple. Give him his own area away from your tomatoes and prized tulips. You can erect a decorative stone or even a faux fire hydrant and encourage him to eliminate there. If you wish to make your dog’s “potty area” a bit more discreet, surround the spot with a hedge or wall.

To help your dog identify where your garden ends and his play yard begins, lay a thick rope down to define the borders or install a more permanent visual boundary – a low rock wall, brick edging or decorative fence. Bring your dog into his play space and then lead him (on a leash) to the border. Discourage him from crossing by pulling him back from the boundary and telling him “Away.” Do this several times along the boundary.  Toss toys and play with him in his area to encourage his understanding.

Finally, create a safe haven for your dog or cat by choosing tantalizing, pet-safe plants. Choose species-specific plantings. Felines are crazy for catnip, lemongrass, parsley and thyme. Dogs are famous for eating grass so be sure their lawn is kept pesticide- and fertilizer-free. When choosing plants, opt for nontoxic garden favorites like astilbe, Chinese lantern, carnation, dahlia, geranium (Pelargonium), impatiens, hollyhock, petunia, phlox and rose.

For a complete list of toxic landscape plants, log onto wagmag.com and search “pet-friendly gardening.” Stay tuned to wagmag online for weekly pet-friendly tips.

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