Have you ever seen a dog or cat munching away on grass and wondered what’s going on? Experts tell us animals will intuitively eat plants to treat their own symptoms—they self-medicate. Why not grow a pet herb garden to help them out?
Here are six tips on how to grow and maintain a pet health herb garden.
Choose the Right Plants
There’s quite a bit of overlap when it comes to herbs that are beneficial for both dogs and cats, but a few are specific. Dual-purpose plants include wheatgrass, valerian, chamomile, and calendula. Wheatgrass is good for digestion, and you’ll often see animals munching on it when they have an upset stomach. Valerian is stimulating for cats but calming for dogs. Chamomile is calming for cats, dogs, and people. The same goes for calendula, which is also an amazing antiseptic when made into a tea and applied to wounds.
Catnip is a no-brainer if you have a cat or two. But you may want to grow it inside in a pot, and out of reach if you don’t want to come home to a mess! Some cats aren’t impressed by catnip, but can’t get enough of cat thyme, so you always have a backup plan(t).
If your dog is prone to stomach-upset or has digestive issues, consider planting ginger, rosemary, and peppermint. Basil is an excellent antioxidant. Both peppermint and parsley are good breath fresheners for dogs.
You also need to avoid some plants like the plague! Common garden plants such as aloe vera, amaryllis, bird of paradise and poppies are toxic to both cats and dogs.
Scope Out the Perfect Location
The key to a healthy garden is a sunny location, especially one that receives morning sun. If you already have a vegetable or herb garden, then you should have no problem incorporating some of these pet-centric herbs into it. However, if you don’t have a suitable outdoor space, don’t despair. You can grow a beautiful herb garden indoors. The main concerns when growing indoors are adequate lighting, airflow, and humidity levels.
Use Good Soil and Containers
If you choose to grow your pet’s herbs indoors, make sure the soil you use is suitable. Regular organic potting soil is perfectly adequate for indoor plants, but an outdoor garden may require a little help from compost to improve its texture. Ideally, your soil should have good drainage and a healthy amount of organic material. Heavy clay is problematic because it won’t provide the drainage you need, and very sandy soil will drain too quickly, and plants may dry out.
Much of your herb garden’s success will hinge on what types of containers you plant in and the environmental conditions you have to work with. Your containers should have drainage holes and trays beneath them to catch the overflow. Smaller sized pots in a sunny location will dry out more quickly than larger pots in indirect light.
Water The Right Amount
Water is the most critical component of your garden’s health. Pay attention to the plants, as they will “tell” you when they need water. Droopy leaves or dulled color is always a sign of thirst. Pressing a fingertip into the soil surface is another way of checking moisture levels. Always wait until the soil has dried out a bit before watering. You can use a watering can, but any vessel for holding water will do.
Generally speaking, watering from the top is just fine. Slowly pour water in until it is absorbed and a small amount flows from the drain holes. For a deep watering, place containers in a bathtub or large, deep container and fill with three to six inches of water. Leaving plants for a few hours like this is a way of “bottom watering,” ensuring that the soil is uniformly moist.
Source Plants Wisely
If you’re planting this garden for your four-legged family members to munch on, you want to make sure the herbs are as “clean” as possible. Only buy high-quality, organically-grown plants from a nursery or plant center. If you can’t find certified organic plants, try your hand at growing from seed! Most herbs take a while to get started, but once established, you’ll have a hard time slowing them down. Wheatgrass is easy to grow but requires a bit of effort at the beginning.
After taking such care to get healthy, organic plants, you’ll want to make sure you fertilize organically. Most potting soils contain enough organic matter to feed plants, but if they show signs of slow growth over time, you may want to add a little compost, compost tea, liquid seaweed, or other organic fertilizer from time to time.
One thing you can do to make your plants bushy and lush is to harvest continuously. To do this properly, use your fingertips or a pair of scissors to cut just above a growth node — where two pairs of leaves grow from the stem. Not only will your plants grow more vigorously, but your pet will be happy to help you with your harvest. For wheatgrass, set the container on the floor and let your pets harvest it by themselves. Some dogs and cats are more interested in plants than others. If your pet is very curious, you may need to place containers out of reach. More tentative pets may need some encouragement to dig in.
Planting an herb garden for your pet is a wonderful way to show them some love and help them self-medicate. It’s easier than you think and requires only the most basic tools. For indoor animals, it’s a taste of the wild they may be missing. Either way, it’s a path to better health and a little wholesome pampering for your furry companion.
Featured Image credit: SirGreen
Francesca Singer is a landscape architect who is passionate about plants, pets, and travel. When not writing, she can be found working in the garden, wrangling her toddler, or hanging with her fur fam in Texas or rural France.