Protecting Plants from Dogs in Portland Landscapes
Carol had the opportunity to be interviewed by Houzz about Protecting Your Pet From Your Yard and Your Yard from your Pet. There are more tidbits and photos in this blog. But first, a story…
Some clients of mine had two yellow lab puppies. I say puppies because they were a year old and since they are Labs (and don’t mature in their sweet heads until they are 3 years old), I call them puppies.
My clients purchased their plants for the backyard design and planted over the weekend. Monday evening, when they came home, every plant was neatly popped up out of the ground and laying in the hot summer sun. They re-purchased all of their plants and re-planted the next weekend with their dogs temporarily banished to the garage. Many dogs seem to think they are helping in this way…giving their humans something to do when they get home from work. We love dogs, we even pardon dogs who trashed $1,000 worth of plants. Be warned. The first few months of your new landscape means you need to supervise your dogs interaction with the new plantings. You may need temporary fences that will keep your dog away from your new plants until they are big enough to defend themselves. If your pups don’t get to have the fun, fun, fun, experience of tearing up plants then when they are older your odds are much better your dogs won’t bother them.
Temporary Fencing Ideas for Dogs
For some dogs, all we need to do is provide some guidance – in the form of a temporary fence. These types of fences are inexpensive, usually metal, and stake into the ground at short intervals. Now, if a dog (or chickens, as in the picture below!) really needed to get on the other side of that fence, it probably could. But it works most of the time – a great balance between cost and effectiveness. The purpose of this fence is to allow the plants to bulk up so that they do not get trampled or dug out. I use this solution all the time, and change the recommended amount of time based on the pup. For well-behaved, small to medium-sized dogs, I might only recommend to keep it up for a few months. For the labs in the story above, it might be three years!
Some clients have added a temporary fence because the fence wars were so bad. The neighbor dog was alone a lot and he was crazed. He was a 60 lb dog and would throw himself at the fence. I found it frightening and no one wants to be the straw that would cause someone to euthanize their dog out of frustration so my clients literally built a 2nd fence about 4′ off their fence line. It made a huge difference but obviously is not an ideal situation.
Perimeter Patrol along the Fence
For some, running the perimeter of the yard is a benign behavior, perhaps to get the zoomies out or exchange a sniff with the friendly neighbor dog. In those cases, I will incorporate it into the design by creating a space along the fence where the dogs can sniff and run back and forth without ruining your plants. I call that area the dog perimeter area or the dog highway. Let them have 24″ or so next to the fence and cover it in sturdy cedar chips. Then make the planting bed several feet away from the fence. After a few years, the plants will grow up and you will not even see the perimeter path.
I once had clients whose dog passed toys back and forth to the neighbor dog through the fence. When time came to replace the fence, the clients will keep Charlie and Maggie in mind to continue the adorable exchange.
Dog Run Reinvented
A dog run is a permanent structure or area that is meant for everyday use. These are absolutely great for the quick and frequent bathroom breaks, especially if the alternative is a muddy mess. Our favorite material for covering the ground in dog runs is big playground cedar chips like NW Play Fiber or Rexius Forest Products Fiber x. It lasts for years, masks smells, is easy on dog feet and backs, and is a natural material. Alternatives for the Portland climate include artificial turf (may need to be sprayed down in the summer due to urine odor), crushed rock and pavers or flagstone with 4″ spacing.
The cost of a dog run is higher than the other options I mentioned above, but your dog can truly be unsupervised without worry. When someone is outside, or at least home to keep an eye out, the dog can explore other parts of the yard. Here are a lot of great ideas for dog runs – any of these can have cedar chip floor instead of the artificial turf the article is suggesting.
Use the Right Plants
Urine, especially from boy dogs, can be the most common cause of plant death. Many city clients don’t expect their backyard to be the primary potty for their dogs. These dogs go for daily walks and have play dates with other dogs at a local park year round. It’s called dedication. Most plants can handle a little urine but if a plant near the back door is getting “watered” regularly by your dog it’s not going to survive. Consider how many quarts of urine your dog will deliver to one spot in your grass. If you have a mastiff, give up and go with synthetic lawn that has an irrigation system to water the smell away. My client with two Rhodesian Ridgebacks opted for a cedar chip play yard for her dogs rather than a muddy patchwork lawn.
Multiple Tricks to Protect Plants From Dogs
Regardless of how fastidious you are about walking your dog, it’s good to employ some tricks in every dog friendly backyard to have your best chance at a successful garden. When developing the planting plan for a dog-conscious design, tough plants are necessary. Native Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica), and Hardy Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) are my easy top 3 plants for serious doggy yards. Placement in the design matters – a swath of tough Hardy Geranium in front of a Hydrangea, for example, works well for many dogs. Utilizing planters and raised beds can help too, especially for female dogs or shorter male dogs.
Be Careful with Ornamental Grass
Be aware that if you want ornamental grasses in your yard, some dogs will eat them and promptly barf all over your rugs after eating the grass. It’s apparently really fun for dogs and cats to eat grass and then come in and barf. Luckily, Roxanne, pictured here in the Carex, does not actually eat the plant. She loves to rub her face in it and this plant, Carex marrowii ‘Ice Dance’ is tough enough to withstand her 20 lbs. of glory. Now a bigger dog, or two, you might need to provide the fencing we were talking about earlier.
So there you have it – many tips and tricks we use to design landscapes that protect your plants from your dog….with dogs happiness in mind too. For more information check out the many articles I linked here, or better yet, have a designer create a plan precisely for your situation. Contact us today!