Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
July, 2010
Regional Report

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Daisy enjoys the sunshine in her dog-friendly garden space.

Daisies in the Garden: Plants and a Pug

I've been thinking about dogs and gardens because I've been bringing my own dog, a pug named Daisy, into work with me during the recent spell of hot, steamy weather we've had. My office has air conditioning while home does not, so she is much more comfortable curled up in her bed near my desk than sweltering at home in a closed up house. Not only do I want her to be comfortable inside, like most dog owners I want her to be comfortable outside in my garden as well. And I want myself to be comfortable with having her in the garden- I love my dog, but I love my plants too!

So my landscape design has taken her doggy ways into account. In the fenced backyard where she roams, I've arranged most of my garden beds along the perimeter of the yard. They are a lot less likely than an island bed to be torn up when Daisy makes a mad dash across the yard in hot pursuit of a cheeky squirrel. I have also used sturdy shrubs as the backbone of my design; I've put the more crushable flowers in my front yard beds. But I steer clear of any trees or shrubs with thorns that might injure her as she runs through.

Dogs tend to be creatures of habit and often tread the same path through the yard, resulting in thin grass and mud in these areas. So consider putting down stone, gravel or some type of hard surfacing in areas that see a lot of four-legged traffic. I've put in a stone path from the back door to the side fence gate, where Daisy regularly runs to keep an eye on street-side activity. Avoid surfaces that get slippery when wet, and if there are grade changes in the garden, consider a ramp rather than steps if your dog is getting on in years.

When selecting plants, be sure to steer clear of any that could be toxic to your dog if chewed on or ingested. I put plants such as daphne and foxglove in my front yard, out of reach of curious teeth. Other plants that are best grown out of reach of Fido include monkshood, lily-of-the-valley and Jack-in-the -pulpit. But some plants to avoid may come as a surprise. Acorns and horse chestnuts are toxic to dogs when chewed on, not to mention tough on the digestive system if swallowed. Grapes are also off-limits, so locate vines out of reach- I've known dogs that loved to sample dangling fruit off a vine or bush. If you have fruit trees and your dog is the type to eat dropped fruits, be aware that the seeds of apples and the pits of stone fruits like cherries and peaches contain cyanide. Don't leave daffodil bulbs where your dog might get a hold of them before they go in the ground. If you have a compost pile, be sure it is enclosed in a sturdy bin- Rover would love nothing more than snacking on (or rolling in) all the rotting goodies in it! Most dog owners know that chocolate is a no-no for dogs, but may not realize that mulch made from cocoa hulls can be harmful as well.

I try to avoid using any chemical pesticides or herbicides in my garden as a general practice, but this is especially important in areas of the garden where a dog spends time. Research has shown an association between cancer in certain types dogs and the use of lawn herbicides. You and your pets- and children- will undoubtedly be healthier and happier in a chemical-free garden, and I guarantee that your dog won't lose a wink of sleep over a few weeds in the grass. But even things such as organic fertilizers and pesticides should be securely stored where pets can't get into them by mistake.

When choosing plants, consider avoiding those with aromatic foliage. I don't know if it's an issue with all dogs, but mine loves to roll in catmint and some of the hardy geraniums that have fragrant leaves- maybe she's just channeling her inner cat! Container gardening can solve some of the problems of gardening in a space shared with dogs. But remember how much your male dog loves visiting the neighborhood fire hydrant? He may find containers a good stand-in. Hanging baskets, tall containers or ones raised on some sort of pedestal will help to make sure that you are the only one doing the watering!

One of the biggest garden headaches for dog owners is "dog spot", those brown patches in the lawn where Lassie did her business. Because, yes, it is often the female dog that does the most damage as she squats to urinate in one spot; male dogs tend to stroll about as they go, lessening the damage in one area. The grass is injured by the high concentration of nitrogen in dog urine, so flooding the spot with water to wash it away as soon as possible can help help reduce damage. Probably the most practical approach, however, is to train your dog to go in one not-too-visible spot in the yard. Or get a smaller dog- the bigger the dog, the more your lawn will show it.

And while lawns of late have received some bad press, as labor and water intensive monocultures, an expanse of grass is the perfect spot for a game of fetch to burn off some dog energy. Just make sure you both have a shady spot to relax in after the action (along with some fresh water for your pooch) while you enjoy a safe and beautiful garden together.

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