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The ABCs of Gardening with Pets

The ABCs of Gardening with Pets:
Safe Natural Flea & Tick Repellants

By Stacy Mantle

The use of herbs as natural pest repellents on pets and in gardens is nothing new, and it can be a very effective way to decrease or eliminate your reliance on chemicals. However, when planting herbs, be sure to consider herbs that add to the health of you and your pet, while naturally repelling fleas and ticks.

There are a number of plants that can help you naturally control pests on pets in your garden and around the house. When the proper herbs are mixed between your plants in a garden, they can help naturally repel fleas and ticks, while attracting valuable insects such as ladybugs and worms.

Beware of Toxic Plants
Some of the most effective herbs used to control insects are not only toxic to fleas and ticks, but to pets as well. Common herbs that are generally recommended for flea-and-tick repellent, but can be toxic to your pet if consumed, include:

  • Flea Bane (Pennyroyal)
  • Eucalyptus
  • Citronella
  • Fleawort
  • Wormwood
  • Tansy
  • Sweet Bay
  • Rue

These herbs should be avoided in the yard and garden when you have pets.

Safe, Natural Repellents

This leads us to some useful plants that not only act as natural repellents, but are safe for your pets if they decide to snack on them while you’re away. (Note that while these will repel fleas and ticks, they might also work to attract other animals.)

Star Anise is a cousin to the magnolia vine, and placing whole star anise pods around your home can help keep cockroaches and termites at bay. Anise is a natural dog attractant, and many canines have been known to react in the same way cats react to catnip. Star Anise is known to promote vitality and the licorice-spiced plant has quickly become one of the most sought after plants in the world for its healing qualities—shikimic acid, the starting ingredient in the human prescription medication, Tamiflu, is extracted from it.

Catnip is from the mint family and is a very safe and highly effective for the control of fleas and ticks. According to Iowa State University, nepetalactone (the essential oil in catnip) is 10 times more effective than DEET. Remember that anything from the mint plant family is very invasive and can easily take over a garden if left unchecked. Instead, consider some well-positioned containers to keep mint under control. As you know, catnip will act as an attractant for most cats, so you may find your favorite feline rolling around in your garden each morning.

Rosemary is a natural pest repellent that works especially well as a flea, tick and mosquito repellent. You may see rosemary as a natural supplement in many herbal shampoos and conditioners due its effectiveness in repelling pests while serving as an invigorating and refreshing scent for pets and people. Since it does well in nearly any climate, Rosemary is a wonderful addition to any garden.

Lavender is a natural calmant for pets and people, and it also happens to be a great option for natural pest control. These are perfect for containers and will keep pets calm as they lounge on the patio. Not only is it a great way to repel pests, it can help heal sensitive skin after a bite. Simple rub some essential oil directly on the bite and the itch and pain will immediately dissipate.

Lemongrass is not only used to create delicious Asian food, it’s a natural mosquito repellent. You’ll find that this herb naturally attracts cats and naturally repels dogs (under most circumstances), so keep that in mind when you plant. Another benefit to this plant is its ability to keep deer from your garden. Generally, the more fragrant a plant, the less likely deer will be interested in approaching. Consider placing in containers as it has the ability to take over your garden.

Sage has one of the longest histories for medicinal and culinary plants. Egyptians used it as an agent against delirium; the Romans used it to stop bleeding; and it is still used to reduce swelling in injuries. Not only does sage have medicinal values, it’s a natural repellent for fleas and ticks. Consider planting some in containers around your garden. Since it’s a desert plant, sage is naturally drought repellent and low-maintenance, doing particularly well in dry desert climates.

Chamomile is not only easy to grow; it makes for some wonderful tea and offers a broad range of medicinal purposes for man and pets. It’s also a natural repellent for fleas and ticks. Steep a tablespoon of in a cup of water, then cool and add it to your pet’s food or water. This can help relieve gas in pets, encourage healing, expel worms and act as a natural calmant. This makes chamomile one of the most versatile herbs around.

Sprinkling food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) around plants can also help stop most pests, especially fleas and ticks. Not ready to start a garden? You can also apply food-grade DE to your pets coat and on their bedding to repel keep fleas and ticks. To obtain food-grade DE, check your local garden store or order Flea Dust directly from DERMagic. Flea Dust is safe for all animals, including birds and fish. (Do not use pool DE or DE that is not food-grade as it is treated with chemicals during processing.)


Stacy Mantle is the founder of PetsWeekly.com, a columnist for many publications, including Animal Behavior College and Pet Age, and the bestselling author of the fantasy novel, “Shepherd’s Moon.” For more information about Stacy, please visit www.StacyMantle.com

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