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Dog-loving gardeners with a large yard have plenty of creative options in crafting their outdoor space. But what is a wannabe gardener to do if they have limited access to soil and a four-legged assistant or two?
The answer is simple: container garden! A small space like a balcony or even a staircase can be transformed into an urban oasis with a little planning, elbow grease, and of course, a few trips to the garden center. You’ll have some flexibility in keeping paws and noses out of your precious planters, and can satisfy the desire to dig into some soil without having to break the bank.
1. Get the Ball Rolling
The first thing you’ll want to do is observe the site where you want to place your garden. How much sun does it get, and how many hours a day? Is is windy? Will the plants have access to rain, or will you and your trusty watering can be the only source of moisture?
Once you’ve determined what the strengths and limitations of your site are, you can start researching what will grow best in those conditions. Also, you may want to take some measurements of the space so you’ll know what size of pots or containers will fit. This is a must if your garden will be on a staircase.
Before you run off to the garden center, walk around to check out what your neighbors are growing. Take pictures of the gardens you like best, or if you’re lucky and the gardener is present, stop and ask them about their plants (trust me, there is nothing gardeners love more than a chance to chat about their beloved pastime). If a plant is already established in your ‘hood, chances are you’ll be able to get it to grow, too.
Another great resource is the National Garden Association’s regional hardiness finder. Enter your zip code and it’ll tell you which hardiness zone you live in, which is a major key to choosing plants that will thrive in your area, and will save you a lot of money and heartbreak.
2. Go Fetch
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Now that you have some ideas about what you’d like to grow, it’s time to gather materials. I recommend starting out with a detailed list and a budget; in my experience, things can get out of hand at the garden center. It can be overwhelming to be surrounded by so much pretty—I have definitely entered a fugue state in the dahlia section on more than one occasion.
A good thing to keep in mind is that you can always add more later, so no need to overload yourself.
Before you check out, run through all your plants and make sure they’re non-toxic. Even if your dog isn’t one to chew up plants, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Some super-common plants, like tulips and euphorbia, can be really harmful to dogs and other animals.
Choosing your planters
A word to the wise: big ceramic pots can get expensive, but can be found at deeply discounted rates at markdown stores like Grocery Outlet or Ross.
Another great spot for cheap pots is your local thrift store; just be sure to wipe them down with bleach, as used pots can carry plant viruses and li’l buggy guys.
If you know your dog is a plant-mauler, hanging baskets can be a good solution.
3. Diggin’ the Scene
Time to get your hands dirty!
- Put down some newspaper and set out your plants, pots, fertilizer, and soil.
- Get your little plants all potted up, and then you can start arranging them in your garden space.
- Let your dogs sniff around and get used to this new area.
- If you have the space, consider giving them their own spot in your new garden by placing a dog bed in a shady corner so they can hang out while you flex your green thumb.
- If necessary, use a small barrier to deter digging. Small dogs can be stalled by affordable 16-inch fencing, and even for larger dogs, it creates a boundary that makes training easier.
- Dogs often avoid rosemary, sage, and other strong herbal scents, which means they’re less likely to dig ’em up.
4. Maintain and Enjoy!
With a little time and observation of what works and what doesn’t, you’ll likely want to make some changes to your container garden.
You may find that you’ll need taller pots or plant shelves to keep Fido out, for instance. On the other hand, you may luck out and discover your dog is totally disinterested in the plants—but that happy, wagging tail is a killer.
Whether for fun or necessity, you can look forward to more trips to the garden store. Every garden is a work in progress ad infinitum.
Gardens Are Worth It
I got bit by the gardening bug at a very young age; one of my earliest memories is of pulling a carrot from the ground in my mother’s garden. Over the years, I’ve tried to maintain some sort of garden nearly everywhere I’ve lived. From a spacious, backyard butterfly garden, to an indoor, low-light, tropical foliage garden, I’ve found a way to keep a few green things alive under a wide variety of circumstances.
A couple things have stayed consistent throughout: nothing ever grows as fast as I want it to, and every garden is more rewarding and soothing than I had dared imagine.
Good luck, and happy gardening! You’re in for a treat.