The second week of April is a great time to add trees, shrubs and perennials to the garden. Rhododendrons, azaleas and flowering trees are also in bloom this week and easy to find at local nurseries. If you notice a lovely plant growing in someone else’s garden but both you and the neighbor are unsure of the name, just snip off a small piece and carry it to a nursery or a Master Gardener clinic for identification.
You won’t be barking up the wrong tree if you’ve noticed a lot more dogs being walked in the neighborhood. Americans love their pets but as the size of the average back yard shrinks, the size of the family dog and number of family pets seems to grow.
Planning a dog-friendly landscape goes together with training a garden friendly dog:
The Dog-Friendly Garden
1. Beware of using fertilizer, moss killer or even lime on your lawn if you have pets. Some pets lick the pads of their feet if they become irritated from soil amendments and ingest the product. Many moss killers contain iron and when this gets tracked indoors on the feet of your pets it will leave rust stains on carpet and furniture. Either water in any application of fertilizer, pesticide or lime or wait at least 48 hours so the product can dissolve in the rain if you are concerned about what your pet is walking on top of.
2. Place borders around beds to keep out the dogs.
Raised beds made from stacking stone or timbers not only look good but also make it less likely that your pets will trample your plants. You can take supple tree limbs from spring pruning and bend these whips into “U” shaped forms by sticking both ends into the soil so that you’re framing the beds with a twiggy fence. For puppies and big dogs you may need to install temporary wire fencing around beds while your pets establish roaming habits.
3. After seeding or planting an area with new plants lay thorny branches (got roses that need pruning?) on top of the soil. You can also try sprinkling the soil with red pepper flakes to teach your pets not to dig.
4. Use a thorny hedge of barberry or roses to discourage or redirect pets from entering an area or taking a shortcut into a garden bed. Landscape designers use this trick with humans as well.
5. If you can’t beat them or retrain them, then provide a pathway of paw-cushioning cedar shavings in the area your pet has beaten down the grass or destroyed the plants. Cedar not only repels fleas but lasts for years when spread on top of a weed blocking layer of newspaper or cardboard. Border the new cedar chip pathway with rocks or tree limbs and you’ll have a natural woodland look in the garden instead of a path worn down to mud.
The Garden-Friendly Dog
1. One of the most important things you can do for your pets is to train them to use one area of the yard to do their business. Pick a spot out of site and cover a 4-foot-by-4-foot zone with drainage gravel. Have a covered waste can nearby or sink a garbage can deep into the ground so that only the lid is showing. You can even find waste cans that will open by stepping on an above-ground foot pedal. Always line the waste can with a plastic bag. Have a “pooper-scooper” handy and use it. Animal feces can contain parasites so it is best for the environment and your health if you scoop the poop and deposit it into a garbage can for disposal wrapped in plastic. Never compost pet deposits. Indoor dogs can be trained to make their deposits on special mats.
2. Don’t encourage your dog to “mark” his territory by peeing on someone’s tree, shrub or the neighbor’s lawn. Dog urine is high in nitrogen and can burn and damage plants. Responsible dog owners will have their dogs do their business on their own property. You can provide a metal fence post in the gravel potty area to entice your dog to mark the area. Cap the post with a birdhouse or other garden accent. After your pet does his business you can offer the positive reinforcement of a walk in the neighborhood or trip to a dog park.
3. Dogs that dig are trying to help you. They either smell a rodent intruder or saw you flinging earth about as you were planting. Some breeds just need to dig. Choose a spot in the yard for doggy digging and train Fido to dig up toys and treats in this area only. Bury a toy or treat to give them the idea. Even old dogs can be taught new tricks if you practice persistence and positive reinforcement.
Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.