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Tips for Pet-Friendly Garden and Plants

The combination of curious pets and potted or garden plants can lead to messy and sometimes costly consequences. Damaged plants and spilt soil can be a real test of patience. 

Perhaps of most concern, though, is worrying about our cats or dogs chewing on or ingesting a plant that might hurt them.

Good news, though! There are plants you can choose for inside and outside your home that are considered non-toxic for dogs and cats. Thanks to Elle Prince from Plants in a Box, we'll take a peek at some of these pet-friendly plant varieties in just an instant!

But first, here are her quick tips on how to keep your pets away from your luscious plants.

3 Tips for Protecting Plants Inside Your Home

Before you go clearing your house of plants and tossing your Monstera Deliciosa “Albo-Variegata” (aka Variegated Monstera) to the curb, why not look at some ways for plants and pets to live together in harmony?

Tip #1 - Keep plants out of reach

Plants in a Box Founder Elle Prince
Yes, this is a simple solution, but it can be a good starting point until you implement some other tips. Popping your plants out of reach from dogs is generally easier than for cats, as you will know if you are a cat owner.

Keeping plants out of reach of your clever dog can be as simple as putting your plants on cabinets or shelves. Most plants will need at least some indirect sunlight, so be careful not to tuck your plants too far away. Once your furry friend gets over his/her fascination with your foliage, it’s more than likely that you can just put them back over time.

If you have a particularly nimble cat (pretty much every cat) who likes to get into plants, hanging baskets could be a good option?

Tip #2 - Citrus

Although most of us like a citrus fragrance, the citrus smell is not so pleasant for our pets.

There are commercially available citrus sprays to deter pets from plants. However, it’s reasonably easy to make some DIY citrus deterrents if you have some orange or lemon essential oils. Other oil alternatives are clove oil, citronella or lavender.

The exact combo of oils you use is up to you. It only requires a few drops of the oil diluted with water, and you can spray it around plants that you want your pets to leave alone. Or, instead of making a spray, you could try soaking a cotton ball with essential oil and hiding it right next to the plants or even just under the soil.

If you don’t have oils at home, an even simpler solution is to try some diluted orange or lemon juice. Or you can even try using fresh orange and lemon peels or slices scattered near your plants.

Tip #3 - Cover your soil

Sometimes our pets like to get into our potted plants not for the plants themselves but because they enjoy digging in the soil or using it as their litter box. You may have noticed this happening if you have some indoor plants in large pots. It’s particularly natural for dogs to do some digging, and a large potted plant might be the only place they can see to do it.

To make the soil of your plants less appealing for digging, you have a few options. Keep the ground covered with gravel or coconut coir mats to take away the temptation to dig. Importantly, choose a covering that doesn’t prevent water from getting into the soil when it comes time to water your plants. That’s why gravel or coconut coir mats are great options.

3 Tips for Protecting Plants in your Garden

Let’s look at a few tips to keep plants from being uprooted or eaten in your outdoor garden.

Tip #1 - Preventing unwanted digging

If your pet likes digging in the garden, sometimes young plants pay the price.

Why do dogs dig?

While some dogs will grow out of digging, that might not be the case with your doggy, and that’s okay because it is a natural behaviour. If the digging is happening when you are away from the house, then it might at least in part be due to boredom. 

Providing your dog with plenty of company, exercise, toys, and cool areas to rest may be enough to keep your dog out of the garden altogether. 

You can even make a dedicated area of your backyard where your pooch is given the green light for digging. Toys and treats in that specific area can encourage your pooch to go back there rather than your garden.

Why do cats dig?

Some cats like to dig in the garden just to sharpen their claws. Preventing cats from digging in the garden can sometimes be as simple as providing them with a scratching post they can use instead. Your cat might also like to explore as it hunts, plays, or is just curious about what it might find.

Digging deterrents

If you have tried the above and still your dog or cat likes to dig in the garden, you can try some digging deterrents. Take away the appeal of digging in garden soil by covering your ground with mulch. Any mulch combination that makes the earth less pleasant to explore can help. 

In some garden designs, gravel can look appealing while also protecting your soil. Other options include cane mulch mixed with sticks and twigs, bark chips, or chunks of pine cones.

Tip #2 - Using smells pets don’t like

We have already looked at ways odours can protect indoor plants and apply tricks to your outdoor garden. You can try the exact citrus solutions mentioned earlier, although you might find that you have to top up the smell quite often after it rains or you use the sprinkler.

If you have particular trouble spots in the garden, you can use chilli powder or tabasco in those areas. Chilli powder should deter dogs and cats from going into areas where it is applied.

Another smell cats and dogs don’t like is coffee. If you make your coffee at home, you can apply coffee grounds to areas of your garden where you don’t want pets to go in. However, just be careful with how much coffee you use, as it can change the acidity of your soil. It’s okay to sprinkle a little bit around your garden but mix it first with some compost, sawdust or other organic matter if you can. It’s good to note that succulent plants do enjoy a bit of coffee and pick-me-up now and then.

Tip #3 - Motion-activated sprinklers

A spray of water can be helpful to deter cats or dogs from going into a garden. If you spray your cat or dog with a hose, they might associate the water spray with you and not the green. So perhaps a better solution is a motion-activated sprinkler. As a bonus, a motion-activated spray of water can also be effective for keeping possums away from fruit and vegetables.

Getting splashed with water is a deterrent for lots of animals but not all!

You may even have a Golden Retriever that will stand happily under a sprinkler, getting soaked in water like it’s a treat. However, this method can be worth a go for most cats and dogs if other techniques have been less successful.

Plants for Your Home & Garden that are Non-Toxic for Cats & Dogs

We know all pets are different, and none of the techniques mentioned above is one hundred per cent fool-proof for keeping your pet out of the garden or away from your plants.

With that said, let's check out some great plants that are non-toxic for curious cats and dogs.

Pet-Friendly Indoor Plants

✔️ Hoya Carnosa Pink

A tropical climbing plant that produces beautiful pink flowers and will grow inside. Give it a well-lit area but not in direct sunlight, such as next to a window. Hoyas look great in a hanging basket which is also a good option for keeping plants out of the reach of pets.

✔️ Calathea Rufibarba

The colourful foliage of Calathea Rufibarba makes a lovely addition to shaded areas of the home or office. The trick to growing your Calathea well is to let the top couple of centimetres of soil dry out in between watering.

Senecio Jacobsenii - Weeping Jade

Another excellent option for hanging baskets. Use a high-quality potting mix, and be sure to choose a hanging basket/pot with a drainage hole.

✔️ Pellaea rotundifolia - Button Fern

With its cascading foliage, the button fern is another hanging basket candidate but will also look beautiful in a plant stand. 

It’s a very easy-care fern and will only need occasional watering and a spot in the home out of the direct sunlight.

✔️ Chlorophytum comosum - Ocean

A compact variety of Spider plants with fantastic bright green foliage. 

It’s another easy-care plant (one of the easiest of all); just be sure to pot her in high quality, free-draining potting mix and choose a well-lit area of your home.

Pet-Friendly Outdoor Plants

Now let’s check out some pet-friendly plants for your outdoor garden.

✔️ Callistemon Firebrand

Add this native beauty to your garden and enjoy bright red bottlebrush flowers around spring and autumn. 

Callistemons are low maintenance, drought and frost tolerant plants that will grow on steep slopes where not much else might want to grow.

✔️Liriope Evergreen Giant

You can use Evergreen Giant plants as a border plant or mass planting in sunny to partly shaded areas. Their glossy green foliage looks great, and they can also produce brilliant purple flowers from spring to summer.

✔️ Dwarf Mondo Grass

As you may have guessed by the name, this grass-like plant doesn’t grow very tall. It only grows to about 10 centimetres, but it’s an excellent option for low traffic pathways and understorey planting.

✔️ Westringia Fruticosa Smokey

This is a versatile native shrub that is drought tolerant and can also handle coastal conditions well. 

The foliage alone will quickly make this plant a favourite in your garden, but you also get flowers that attract birds and bees.

✔️ Lomandra Hystrix Katie Belles - Matt Rush

Another flowering beauty and a native that does well in almost all conditions. Its drought and frost tolerant and will grow in wet or dry conditions. 

What’s more, these plants can also produce a sea of fantastic yellow flowers.

By picking pet-friendly plants for your home and garden, you can have the glee plants bring and the reassurance of a healthy pet. Ideally, your plants can live in peace, but if your dog or cat makes a meal of your foliage, you know your loved family pet will be okay.

written by Elle Prince, August 2021 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

About the writer

Elle Prince
is a plant lover, pet owner, and one of the founders of the family owned Australian online nursery Plants in a Box

If there is one thing Elle enjoys more than raising happy healthy plants, it’s sharing the joy of raising happy, healthy plants with others.

For more information on pet-friendly plants for your home or garden, delivered directly to your front door, please visit

Follow them on Facebook 
or Instagram @plantsinabox

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