How to Plant a Cat-Safe Garden

How to Plant a Cat-Safe Garden

A cat relaxes in the garden.A cat relaxes in the garden.
A cat relaxes in the garden.A cat relaxes in the garden.

Table of Contents:

  1. Choosing the Right Plants for a Cat-Safe Garden
  2. Vegetable & Fruit Cat-Safe Gardens
  3. Common Plants to Avoid
  4. Safe Alternatives to Lawn/Garden Chemicals

During the warmer months, people enjoy spending free time outside amongst the lush plants, flowers, and foliage. Many cats also love joining their owners to take advantage of the nice weather. Unfortunately for our feline friends, some common plants can pose a threat to them and other pets, so extra consideration must be taken to ensure their safety in the garden or yard. With careful planning, you and your cat can enjoy a safe and relaxing environment—free of toxic plants. Here are a few factors to consider when planting a cat-safe garden:

Choosing the Right Plants for a Cat-Safe Garden

Curiosity often leads cats to consume fragrant, eye-catching flowers and plants, which can produce irritating or potentially life-threatening side effects. Being aware of what’s growing in your garden and knowing your options for safe plants will create a cat-friendly environment for you to enjoy together.

Ask yourself what kind of plants you’re prepared to care for in your garden. Annuals grow from seeds and survive for one season, while perennials return year after year from growth at the roots. You’ll also want to determine how much sun your outdoor area receives.

Sunny Gardens

Sunny gardens receive a lot of light, typically 4 or more hours of direct sunlight. If this sounds like your outdoor space, there are a plethora of cat-safe annuals and perennials to choose from, including this brief list:

Annuals:

  • Calendula (Calendula sp.)
  • Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
  • Petunia (Petunia sp.)
  • Snapdragons (Antirrhinum sp.)
  • Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)

Perennials:

  • Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)
  • Catmint/catnip (Nepeta sp.)
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Phlox (Phlox sp.)
  • Roses (Rose sp.)

Partially-Sunny Gardens

If direct sunlight hits your garden for less than 4 hours a day, take note of the following list of non-toxic annuals and perennials that survive with moderate light:

Annuals:

  • Butterfly Flower (Schizanthus sp.)
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.)
  • Primrose (Primula sp.)
  • Spider Flower (Cleome sp.)

Perennials:

  • Columbine (Aquilegia sp.)
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)
  • Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
  • Lily Turf (Liriope sp.)

Shade Gardens

However, if your cat’s outdoor area receives little to no direct sunlight, we have provided a list of feline-friendly plants suited for the shade:

Annuals:

  • Begonia (Begonia sp.)
  • Coleus (Coleus sp.)
  • Impatiens (Impatiens sp.)
  • New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri)
  • Violet (Viola sp.)

Perennials:

  • Astilbe (Astilbe sp.)
  • Bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa)
  • Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)
  • Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)

Vegetable & Fruit Cat-Safe Gardens

If you intend to grow fruits or vegetables in your cat-safe garden, you’ll need a space that receives 4 or more hours of full sun for most produce.

Avoid Toxic Vegetable Plants

Although most vegetables aren’t dangerous to felines, you must keep in mind a few exceptions:

  • If ingested by your furry friend, onions, chives, and garlic can cause anemia, fatigue, and a whitening of the gums.
  • The leafy part of potato plants and the green part of the potato skins contain compounds that can be toxic if eaten.
  • Keep your cat from consuming the seeds/pits of fruits, as some contain toxins. Cherries, apples, peaches, apricots, and plums all contain cyanide within their seeds/pits, causing seizures that can be fatal.

Prevent Cats from Getting into Fruits and Vegetables

It may be difficult to prevent your cats from sneaking into your produce garden, especially when the plants are young and vulnerable, so here are a few tips:

  • Install a clearly visible fence around your garden. Avoid hardware cloth, as the material is not pet-friendly.
  • For those looking for an alternative, motion detector sprinkler systems won’t harm your cats and will prevent them, as well as other wildlife, from eating any produce.

Common Plants to Avoid

This list should be avoided by cat owners altogether because of the toxic threat they pose to your pets. While avoiding the plants listed below is a good place to start, there are others that will also make your outdoor space unsafe for cats. Please contact your veterinarian or local plant expert about any plant of which you are unsure.

  • Castor bean (Ricinus communis)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
  • Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata)
  • Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum)
  • Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
  • Morning Glory (Ipomea sp.)
  • Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander)
  • Precatory Beans (Abrus precatorius)
  • Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

Safe Alternatives to Lawn/Garden Chemicals

In retaliation against insects and other species that will try to eat away at your garden or lawn, you might not even think twice about reaching for a bottle of chemical pesticide or fungicide. Chemical fertilizer feels like an easy solution to an unmanageable lawn. However, with your cat’s health in mind, it is important to think about alternatives that will keep them safe. We recommend that you read the label of any product you plan to apply to your outdoor space. There are many feline-friendly solutions to handle the challenges you may face in your garden or lawn!

Pesticides

If insects are nibbling away at your plants, before resorting to chemical pesticides, you can eliminate or reduce the pests by simply spraying them with water. A soft spray from your hose will gently eject the insects without harming your plants. If the problem is isolated to a few plants, you might just need to use your watering can and some handwashing. The method may take a couple of days, but an infestation can be cleared in a cat-friendly way with no more than a good shower!

If your pest problem is more severe, adding one teaspoon of dish soap per gallon of water in a garden sprayer serves as an irritant that will help break down the insects’ exoskeletons. You can find insecticidal soaps that are safer than most chemical products, but always remember to read the label.

Fertilizers

Don’t let your waste go to waste! Use your recycled kitchen and yard waste as an effective (and free) fertilizer. Apply the compost twice a year and it will serve as the plants’ new source of essential nutrients.

Final Reminders

Here are a few additional tips to create a cat-safe garden right in your backyard:

  • Move your pet indoors while mowing the lawn or applying any treatments to your yard.
  • Paint your gardening tools a bright color. This makes them easy for not only you to identify, but also your cat.
  • Keep your chemicals out of reach and in original containers. If your feline happens to consume or be exposed to any toxins, call your veterinarian immediately and have the product information handy.

With a little research, you, your pet, and your garden can continue to thrive!

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