High Desert Gardening with Your Pets

By Dr. Laura Hady

Now that the spring winds have eased a bit and the day and night temperatures are more stable, many people are in a rush to get their gardens planted for the year. What folks sometimes neglect to consider, however, is that many of our pets and even some unwanted creatures may enjoy our gardens as well. Special precautions should be taken to enable you and your animals to have fun in the garden while staying safe.

Digging is a natural dog behavior and cats also love to get their paws in the dirt, paying no heed to their destruction of plants and sprinkler systems. If digging becomes an issue in your flowering, vegetable, and fruit beds, I suggest giving your pets their own sandbox while you work to fence in or elevate your garden beds, so they don’t dig there. You might place the animal’s stool around the outside of the bed as dogs will not dig where their own stool is located. Then spray a 50:50 water dilution of vinegar at least once a week to keep them from that area. Another alternative is to bury fencing wire in the locations where you do not want your pets to dig. If you go this route, it is extremely important to make sure the fencing has no sharp edges and that no nails are present that could cut your pet.

The best surfaces and mulch for your plants is one that holds moisture, is easy to walk on, and safe for you and your pets. Sand is prevalent in high desert areas, but it has a tendency to blow away and can get extremely hot in the summer. River rock, pea gravel, flagstone, and/or pavers placed atop heavy-duty landscaping plastic or fabric can help to prevent toxic and allergen-ridden weeds from sprouting while also providing nice walkways. Avoid cocoa bean mulch; cocoa is toxic to dogs. Pine needle mulch and rubber mulch are also toxic if ingested in large quantities. Finer pine and cedar mulch are safer alternatives, but it’s always a good idea to check with your veterinarian first.

It’s also wise to consider scents and colors when planting a garden. Smells that dogs and some cats love include those from catnip, lavender, marigold, rosemary, wheat grass, and valerian. While dogs can’t see colors the same way we do, they can see the blues and yellows in pansies, and pansies are safe if the dogs eat them.

Plants that can be toxic to animals include grapes, chrysanthemums, oleanders, daffodil bulbs, acorns, foxgloves, larkspur, yew, hydrangea, and wisteria. You may also want to avoid thorny plants and trees such as Russian thistle and Pyracantha bushes while creating a visually appealing barrier around rosebushes and cacti.

Add some shelter by planting a tree or building an overhang or awning in an area that is not too moist because this may attract ticks and fleas even in our dry climate. Insect barriers in your garden can include topical solutions, sprays, or dispersible granules such as food grade diatomaceous earth. (Avoid the filter grade, which is toxic to mammals.) Another option is to use oral flea, tick, and heartworm (transmitted by mosquitos) preventives available from your veterinarian to help keep your dogs from bringing these pests into your home. I truly hope that gardening with your pets this year is recreational and that you can all enjoy the fruits of your labor.


Burgess.  (n.d.).  Create a garden that benefits your dog.  Retrieved from:


Leach, J.  (2019).  What are the benefits of diatomaceous earth?  Retrieved from:


Patterson, S.  Mulch and pet safety: Tips on how to keep mulch safe for pets.  Retrieved from:


Featured Posts