Dog-Friendly Shade Gardening

I’m starting a number of gardening projects this year, but landscaping the backyard is first on the docket…and by far, the biggest challenge. The backyard is a fairly small (~23’x23′) space, which I’m hoping will serve as an extra outdoor room during the warm weather months. I’ve been envisioning a small, private hideaway, rather like the secret garden in Frances Hogdson Burnett’s children’s novel.

Challenges:  A good part of the yard is shady, though we do have some spots that get a couple of hours of sun. Also, puppy-monster likes to dig, and tries to eat just about everything, so any plants need to be relatively sturdy, as well as non-toxic for dogs.  As much as possible, I’d like to include native plants and create a little bit of bird/bee friendly habitat.  Finally, this space is also used to store several kayaks, bicycles, and other outdoor equipment.


The ‘Before’ of our rather sad, muddy backyard. Hopefully, ‘After’ pictures will be coming soon!

Whew – I feel like I have a lot of hopes and dreams for one rather small parcel of land!!!  However, the one good thing about long winter months is that I’ve had quite a bit of time to plan this out, and I think that I’ve come up with a solid design for the hardscaping, at least. I’ll share this design in the next couple of weeks – once the hardscaping is installed, and I have some pictures to post. In the meantime, I’m starting to plan the plantings and have been doing quite a bit of research on what plants are toxic and non-toxic for dogs.  I started out with ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants, and also consulted some other online references listed below.  (I included notations* where plants came from sources other than the ASPCA website).

Shrubs and Small Trees

A number of shade-tolerating shrubby stalwarts were immediate no-gos:  Azaleas, hydrangeas (bummer!), rhododendron, pieris japonica. However, as one might expect from the name, dogwoods are not toxic for dogs.  Red-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea) seem like a perfect choice to start out with! These shrubs tolerate hard pruning, so hopefully won’t suffer too much if puppy-monster decides to chew on some of the stems, and I hope that the red bark will provide a lively bit of color even during the winter months.  Cinquefoil (Potentilla sp.) can take a bit of dappled shade, as can Oregon grape-hollies (Mahonia aquifolium) – both are non-toxic for dogs.  Dog-friendly small trees include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and silver bell (Halesia carolina).

Dog-friendly, (Somewhat) Shade-tolerant Perennials:

  • Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya )
  • Coral Bells
  • Boston Fern
  • Astilbe*
  • Columbine*
  • Bee Balm*  – Very pollinator friendly!
  • Lambs Ear **
  • Cone Flower** – Another good plant of pollinators and wildlife.
  • Hardy Geranium** Note:  These are the perennial geranium sp. (flower colors of blue, white, or light pink), not the Pelargonium sp. geraniums that are sold as annuals.
  • Liriope***
  • Goldenrod? – I’ve seen comments in several other blogs noting that their dogs eat goldenrod with no ill effects.  I’ve seen a couple of variety of goldenrod listed as tolerating partial shade – we’ll see how that goes.

Dog-friendly, (Somewhat) Shade-tolerant Annuals

  • Alyssum
  • Impatiens
  • Snapdragons
  • Globe and feathered Amaranth
  • Calendula – partial shade
  • Gerber daisies – evidently don’t like too much heat.  Several websites recommended planting in areas with morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Coleus***
  • Cleome***

I’d really love some feedback from other gardeners who have planned dog friendly garden spaces.  What has thrived, and what has been destroyed?  What other suggestions do you have, for both sunny and shady areas?


Dog-safe Shade Perennials* – This article is written for west coast gardeners, but many of the species grow in the Mid-Atlantic region as well.

Dog Friendly Gardening**

How to Plant a Pet Safe Garden***

Dogs in the Garden

Poisonous Plants for Dogs


The menace to my garden!
My favorite garden menace!



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