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Does sharing your yard with a canine companion mean forfeiting your love of gardening? No way!
Creating a dog-friendly garden takes some research and strategy, but no more than any other prerequisite for a thriving garden (such as sun, soil quality, or growing zone). And as with other aspects of gardening, you can expect a lot of trial and error. Many plants may be sacrificed to exuberant paws.
Follow these tips to cultivate a pet-friendly green space.
1. Prepare your dog for success
General obedience basics never hurt. If your dog understands your commands to stop, heel, sit, etc. they’re less likely mow down plants or nibble on acorns. This will be especially helpful for dissuading your dog from napping in the dirt of a cool flower bed. Can’t blame them for trying.
Puppies can start learning basic behavioral guidelines as early as six weeks, and old dogs can learn new tricks. If dog training allows you to communicate that certain aspects of the garden are off-limits, you’re off to a fantastic start.
You can also set the standard that the garden is a place to relax in the sun. It’s best to take them elsewhere to be rambunctious, or just out on a walk.
2. Know your dog-safe and dog-toxic plants
To get started, check out the most poisonous plants for dogs and this list of ten dog-safe plants for any garden. This is the only step where, if you have a food-driven dog or a chewer, it’s best to avoid errors if possible. No one wants to take a trip to the emergency vet.
- Inventory your existing garden plants. Don’t overlook the trees.
- Check that your existing plants are non-toxic. For an exhaustive list, consult the ASPCA catalog of toxic plants for dogs.
- If space allows, set aside a section of the yard where your dog won’t have any access so you can grow plants you love but that aren’t friendly to your pet (we’re looking at you, tomato lovers).
- Remove any toxic plants, including the root structures to avoid regrowth. Do not use any chemical plant poisons. Alternatively, if you have an area set aside that is inaccessible to your dog, you can transplant dog-toxic plants you’d like to keep to this safe-to-grow area.
Once you have a non-toxic area set aside for your pet, you can begin to introduce new plants that you have checked are dog-friendly. Again, try consulting a trusted source such as the aforementioned ASPCA list, but you can also check with your nursery. If you suspect your dog has ingested a toxic plant, consult your vet immediately.
3. Select mature starters
Being a dog owner comes with its costs, and here’s another one! To assure your starter plants survive their canine yard-mate, select larger, more mature plants, particularly with varieties that are slow-growing or difficult to establish. Again, your nursery should be able to help you with these decisions.
Starting with more established plants helps create a pet-friendly garden in several ways:
- Plants will have more of a chance to create strong roots quickly and survive dog cohabitation
- A larger plant serves as a visual cue to your dog to dodge the plant when chasing a toy or squirrel
- If your clumsy (but adorable) dog happens to snap off a branch or two, plants will most likely survive into the next season and have a chance to outgrow your dog (species dependent, of course).
4. Utilize sturdy border plants and barriers
In your garden design, protect any delicate plants (sensitive to trample, urine, or just plain bumping into). The more dainty items can be blocked with sturdy, thick border large plants that provide a natural barrier, dissuading your dog from barreling over your favorite dainty floral or burgeoning lace-like fern.
Or you can choose to erect signal barriers that will help establish no-go garden spaces for your dog: decorative fences, rocks, or sticks work (though a stick-loving dog may immediately disassemble your hard-won stick pile barrier).
Depending on temperament and breed, small dogs can be stopped by affordable 16-inch fencing, and even for larger dogs, it creates a boundary that makes training easier. Again, surrender to trial and error.
Certain plants—particularly vegetables you don’t want the dog to dine upon—may require chicken wire fence or cover to defend against snacking.
5. Use containers and raised beds
Container gardening is a good option for small spaces or for dogs who just can’t resist digging or get a little wild in open spaces. You can elevate or otherwise strategically place so your dog has less access. Some ideas:
- Plant in sturdy containers such as horse troughs or large pots.
- Hanging baskets or plant shelves help protect your plants from digging paws.
- Raised beds clearly demarcate growing space from play space, especially if you use chicken wire or another barrier to prevent your dog from getting into them.
However, these strategies aren’t recommended for growing dog-toxic plants in otherwise dog-friendly spaces. For instance, if you miss a harvest of your tomato plants, suddenly your dog will have access to overripe and toxic treats that have fallen to the ground.
6. Sturdy fences for unsafe places
When growing delicate or dearly loved specimens and/or dog-toxic plants in your outdoor spaces, be sure you have a solid barrier to protect your pet as well as your plants.
The extent and type of the fencing required will again depend on your dog’s temperament, size, and breed. Some dogs are escape artists (here’s looking at you, huskies). This is another area where cost may be a factor in how dog-friendly you can make your garden, as sturdy fencing can run at a hefty cost.
7. Give your garden a perimeter and dog paths
Simply creating a clear, dog-friendly perimeter path can help your dog feel they have a job to do in the garden as much as you do. With dog-designated paths and a well-defined border, your dog may very well feel it’s their duty to patrol the border. In fact, they may be very useful in warding off squirrels, rabbits, or other vegetable raiders.
Make sure it’s a pathway with a paw-friendly surface for your dog, like small cedar chips or pea gravel.
The perimeter might also be enhanced with driftwood or other forms of edging that communicate the boundary clearly. This same material can cut through the garden in various sections so your dogs are more likely to stay on the path. Again, don’t get attached to the placement of those sticks!
8. Strong smells to deter digging
As with most of our tips, deterring some of your dog’s impulses will likely be necessary. Here are some scents that may help to curb digging dogs in the garden:
- Spices can be used to ring particular plants or garden spots where Fido isn’t welcome. Dried mustard or crushed dried pepper can be effective.
- Coffee grounds generally make dogs steer clear. An additional bonus is that coffee grounds make for a great fertilizer in many cases, so you get two benefits in one!
- Some swear by a plant called Coleus Canina to ward off dogs and cats, especially along a border as a deterrent.
- Rosemary, sage, and bitter orange have pungent smells, and dogs are less likely to approach them.
9. Designate play space—even for digging
No dog owner wants their outdoor space to be all garden and no dog-play, however, so here are some ways to make the place fun for your pup:
- Create paths to patrol around your garden beds.
- Train your dog to play in sturdy areas and/or reserve time outside of the yard for running and playing.
- Use logs, stumps, and rocks for visual interest as well as fun obstacles for a running pup
- Create a dig spot, a loose area of otherwise unused dirt where their dog can exercise that digging instinct.
- Allow for relaxing in the shade and keep out fresh water.
Dog-friendly gardening and garden-friendly dogs
As the post’s title implies, creating outdoor spaces for plant and domestic animal cohabitation goes both ways, allowing for your dog’s needs as well as the needs of your plants. Maybe throw in a hammock, too, for the humans.
- Poisonous plant guides from Rover, including by region
- How to make dog-proof garden fencing
- 7 tips to stop your dog from digging up the yard