10 garden plants that are safe for cats

These garden plants that are safe for cats will make great additions to a pet-friendly backyard, and they will look and smell great too

A cat climbing on a backyard fence with flowers
(Image credit: kelvinjay / Getty)

These plants that are safe for cats are worth growing to create a sensory experience for your feline friend, but they're also beautiful and impactful from the gardener's point of view. From easy-to-grow flowers like sunflowers to perennial shrubs and herbaceous plants, there's a good variety of plants to choose from if you are concerned for your cat's safety when spending time outdoors. 

Avoiding plants that are toxic to cats is essential to prevent stomach upsets and visits to the vet, but enhancing your cat's outdoor time with plants they like sniffing and/or nibbling on is even better. Sit back, relax, and enjoy backyard time spent in the company of your pet. 

Note: Do remember that when we talk about garden plants in this article, we mean whole, growing plants – not dried and definitely not essential oils, most of which will be toxic to your pet. The exception is lavender: this plant is usually safe for cats in its dried form, but not as a fresh plant.

1. Catnip

Catnip or catmint in bloom closeup

(Image credit: Jacky Parker Photography / Getty)

Catnip is our number one recommendation because this plant is not just safe for cats but it is beloved by them as a recreational drug of sorts. Jason White, the CEO of All About Gardening, advises that if you have cats, you should 'plant some catnip in your garden and watch your cats have fun with them. 

'There’s a reason why the plant is named as such. Catnips emit a scent that elicits euphoria among cats, which causes them to be hyperactive around the plant. Don’t worry about your garden getting ruined as this hyperactivity among cats is typically just harmless rolling around, flipping, and rubbing.'

Catnip plant seeds can be bought on Amazon, which is probably the better place to get them as plant nurseries don't always stock this plant. Catnip also happens to be a natural mosquito repellent plant.

2. Blue mist

Blue mist or bluebeard shrub

(Image credit: Tom Meaker / Getty)

Blue mist, or Bluebeard, or Caryopteris, is a deciduous sub-shrub, which is to say that it's a plant with woody stems that partially die back over winter. It has unusual-looking fluffy blue flowers that make a beautiful statement in your planting scheme. Blue mist is also completely safe for cats. White recommends planting some 'blue mist shrubs in your cat garden to make it more feline-friendly. This will give your feline friends a lot of shelter and privacy to do their business.'

3. Sunflowers

Sunflower growing next to a fence

(Image credit: Jacky Parker Photography / Getty)

Growing sunflowers is one of the best options for beginner gardeners – they are very easy to grow from seed and make a real statement next to a fence or garden wall. What's even better is that all parts of this plant are safe for cats. The founder of the home improvement and garden publication PlumbJoe Joe Taylor says that 'the massive flowers will provide shade to your cats and something for them to play with. Your cats can also climb on the plant and observe the surroundings.'

4. Asters

Blue aster or Michaelmas daisy in closeup

(Image credit: © Debi Dalio / Getty)

Asters are a valuable addition to any backyard scheme, great in borders or along a garden path.  They come back every year if planted in a sunny spot (and will do fine even in part-shade), but their best feature is probably the fact that they provide color when most other things have finished blooming, often well into October. Asters are safe for cats and wildlife. 

5. Rosemary

Rosemary blooming in full sun

(Image credit: Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Getty)

Not all cats like the scent of rosemary, but they'll at least have a sniff, and those that are interested and taste the plant won't be harmed in any way. In fact, rosemary can even be beneficial for cats struggling with digestive issues. If your cat has had a stomach issue and is nibbling on rosemary, it's a good sign as it's likely they are instinctively seeking out a medicinal plant. Rosemary is also one of the best drought-tolerant plants, so if you live in a dry area and have a cat, it's definitely one to consider. 

6. Cosmos

Cosmos blooming in full sun

(Image credit: Rosemary Calvert / Getty)

Cosmos is a pretty, bright annual that comes in attractive shades of pink and red, as well as in white. Cats are unlikely to nibble on it as it's not very fragrant, but they won't come to harm if they do. Best planted in a garden border where your cat will likely walk around the flowers rather than step on them. 

7. Valerian

Valerian plant with moth

(Image credit: Gary Chalker / Getty)

Valerian, much like catnip, induces euphoric hyperactivity in cats which interestingly, is the opposite effect from the one this plant has on humans. Valerian is somewhat unfairly neglected as a garden plant, but its bright pink blooms are very pretty. Valerian also makes a great addition to a wildlife garden, beloved by pollinating moths and butterflies.

8. Violet

Common violets growing out of a wall

(Image credit: Rosmarie Wirz / Getty)

The common or dog violet is easily the most low-maintenance plant you'll ever grow. Once established, this tough little plant with a sweet, powdery scent will keep going for years (even decades), growing in even poor soil or out of a garden wall. It's also one of the best shade plants and makes for perfect ground cover under trees and shrubs. Completely safe around cats, it tends to please them with its fragrance. 

9. Zinnias

Zinnias in bloom

(Image credit: Chuanchai Pundej / EyeEm / Getty)

If you want to start a cut flower garden, zinnias should be at the top of your list of flowers to plant. Easy-care annuals, they produce showy, bright flowers that make great accents in bouquets. Safe for cats even if nibbled on.

10. Jasmine

True Jasmine, or Star Jasmine

(Image credit: Daniela Duncan / Getty)

True jasmine, or Jasminum officinale, is completely safe for cats and will add a gorgeous, heady fragrance to your yard during the summer. True jasmine is not to be confused with night jasmine, which is actually a different plant species (Cestrum nocturnum) and is toxic to cats. 

Plants that are not poisonous to cats

Fortunately, many plants are completely safe for your cat and will make a great addition to your garden:

  • Stocks
  • Roses
  • Freesias
  • Lavender
  • Catmint
  • Calendula
  • Nasturtiums
  • Sunflowers
  • Violets
  • Snapdragons

What shrubs are cat friendly?

Bamboo, blue mist, bottlebrush, olive, foxtail, and crape myrtle are all considered to be cat safe. Rose bushes are not toxic but they can be a problem because of the thorns. Jen Stark, a master gardener and founder of Happy DIY Home, doesn't recommend 'any plants with thorns because it will cause injury to your cat.'

What can I put in my garden for cats?

Stark advises 'choosing a pet-friendly fertilizer such as seaweed concentrate should be considered in addition to selecting healthy plants. Herbicides and insecticides should never be used since they may harm your cat. Because cats are drawn to the smell of dung, bone, and blood meal, it is strongly advised to utilize such materials with caution as they may be dug up, rolled in, or even eaten.' Organic plant magic is a good pick available on Amazon.

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.