My garden has gone to the dogs!

As soon as we purchased our home in Vienna, I started working on the garden. However, for years my efforts seemed futile. Yes, we got some delicious vegetables, but my backyard still was a muddy, weedy mess. Dogs and landscaping do not really go together. Over the past few years, through trial and error, we’ve managed to get our yard to a point where it is finally looking nice. I’m getting a lot of questions from my clients about my garden this year. So I thought I would share a few suggestions that have worked for us.

1. Fencing. Yep, it is that simple. I don’t even bother planting any vulnerable plants without it. I use all types of fencing. My vegetable garden is entirely fenced, a yard within a yard.

I also fence individual plants. I have all kinds of different types of fencing, the cheap wire does keep out my dogs for the most part and you can see some of it in the picture above. I also use nicer decorative fencing. In my perfect world I’d have fencing that looked really nice around everything, but realistically speaking it gets pricey. That said, be creative, and remember that wire fencing is not always noticeable from a distance.

I also have found that if I fence a plant for a season or two, sometimes my dogs stay in the habit of leaving that plant alone. So at times I have been able to remove the fencing and the dogs leave that plant alone. I only test this out with well established plants though.

2. Minimize lawn. I have yet to figure out a way to get grass to thrive in a multiple dog household. Dogs rip it up, especially in early spring when everything is wet. My yard is partially shaded to boot, so not ideal for grass growing. Eventually, I would like to get the amount of grass down to a minimum, but in the meanwhile, it is a work in progress. One solution we recently came up with was to have this swath of lawn that followed my dogs natural running track (code for “path of mud”) regraded and covered with mulch. A decade of fighting and trying to get grass to grow there was just not worth it. So far, its working very well. I really hated how that area looked so much I never took a complete photo of it. I preferred to live pretending it didn’t exist. Here is a picture that shows a small part of the area.

Before regrading and mulching project.

And the way the area looks now.

After regrading and adding mulch

Now, I can hear my clients saying–but my dog eats mulch. Most dogs eventually outgrow eating mulch or just get bored of it. I provide a number of toys that I rotate in the yard to try to draw my dog’s attention away from mulch, shrubs, so forth. That said, if your dog is really focused on mulch, then obviously, mulch is not going to be the right choice. Look at other substrates like pea gravel (of course, if your dog likes to eat rocks, you may have to be even more creative!)

3. Plant dog-resistant plants. Liriope and daylilies do well in my yard and I do not protect them with any type of fencing. My dogs don’t eat them and they seem to survive in spite of being repeatedly urinated on. We also have two Yucca plants, and both are still alive. When I think about what will survive my dogs, I go for native plants and look at the public plantings along route 66. I figure, if it is low maintenance enough to survive next to a highway, it stands a chance at surviving my dogs.

One thing I don’t have to worry about is my dogs eating plants. They really don’t eat plants other than grass sometimes and those nasty clumps of grass left behind a freshly cut lawn. If your dog may eat plants, you will want to check whether any plants you select are poisonous to animals.

4. Provide some appropriate canine entertainment. We have some durable dog toys that we rotate and leave out in the yard as well as some very low height agility equipment. In the summer, we put out a small plastic wading pool for the dogs. Sometimes I hide treats in my yard and let my dogs have a great time tracking them all down.

5. Supervise your dog when he is outside. You can make good use of your yard time by playing with your dog yourself or doing a little training session. If you leave your dog alone, you may find your dog has worked on his own landscaping plans.

6. Have a sense of humor and be ready to experiment. Not everything is going to work out, but then that’s really part of the adventure of gardening. Sometimes, it is better to just let the dog enjoy the plant. My little Firefly loves to pick strawberries, and I think it looks too cute when she forages to deprive her. Periodically I let her come into the fenced garden so she can pick a few and enjoy them too.

I am not a professional gardener or landscaper at all and I’m always looking for other ideas on how to make my dog-friendly garden even better. If you have any ideas to share, please do feel free to chime in. Happy gardening!

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