dog.jpgQ: I have a couple of large dogs and love to garden. Does anyone have tips for how to have gardens that my dogs won’t tear up?

A: At least the dogs causing trouble in your plantings are your own pets. Many people also have to deal with stray animals or loose pets that “visit” their yards and gardens. You mention your dogs tear up garden areas. I’m assuming they’re digging holes and scratching up your planting areas. Other common challenges of gardening with dogs (your own or others’) include traffic-worn paths through turf or groundcover, trampled plants, and gifts of dog “doo” left in the garden. A not-so-obvious challenge is the possible poisoning of dogs with poisonous plants or pesticides.

One big tip for those who are just at the point of considering getting a dog is to research the breeds carefully and to be sure you have the time to spend with this new member of your family. Lots of attention and good training can be the key to having a pet that does not destroy the landscape (or the house, for that matter). You might also consider choosing a breed that is less likely to cause problems in a garden. Perhaps a dog that prefers indoor living and needs minimal exercise could be a good choice.

If you are already the owner of large dogs, ideally you should provide an area of your landscape just for your dogs and then exclude them from the rest of it with fencing or barriers. But please don’t stick them in one of those chain link cage “dog runs” on a cement pad. No dog can be happy in one of those. They get extremely hot and often don’t provide enough space for them to run and play. If you are able to give the dogs an area of the landscape for their own, it will probably not be the prettiest area of your yard after a little while. You will probably have to deal with dirty (but happy) dogs when they finally come in to the house.

Dogs that are often left outside for long periods by themselves will find ways to entertain themselves – including wreaking havoc in your plantings. This is not the best situation for your garden or your dogs. Hopefully you have time to take your dogs out on walks and to dog parks on a regular basis. This will help reduce the wear and tear on your yard and garden.

But if you don’t have enough room to give the dogs their own space, you don’t have to give up completely on having garden areas. Here are some suggestions for how you might handle the various challenges they provide.

Any size dog may like to dig, depending on the breed. For example, some small terriers were bred to dig for rabbits and other “pest” animals. There are a variety of reasons dogs dig, and it can be helpful to figure out why yours are doing it and then address the cause for the most effective long term solution. But in the short term, here are some ideas for you.

If digging is a problem, you definitely want to exclude your dog from any vegetable garden area with some type of fence or barrier. Vegetables in high raised beds or containers are another possibility. As for other planting beds, a heavyweight (but still breathable) landscape fabric placed below your mulch can take the thrill out of digging since the dog can only dig through a few inches of mulch. This is easiest if you can put the fabric and mulch down when first planting the bed. For established beds, consider strategically placed chicken wire squares anchored to the ground with landscape staples.

Heavy landscape fabric also works under any mulched pathway. You could also consider river rock or gravel mulch in some areas (the gravel mulch may still need the landscape fabric beneath it to discourage digging). Rock mulches are also “cleaner,” meaning dogs that run on them won’t come in the house quite as dirty. And if there is one particular area where your dogs dig, a hole they keep redigging, try filling it with large rock or bricks and some dirt.

If your dog is a digger, try to not have it outside with you when you are putting in new plantings or pulling weeds. If it is acceptable for you to do it, then it must be okay for him too, right? One final thought is to provide your dog with a sandbox area in which it is welcome to dig and train it to only dig there.

More next week on dealing with high traffic foot paths, trampled plants, dog waste, etc. Meanwhile, feel free to send in your own tips in the comments.

Text and photo contributed by Carey Harrington, Certified Colorado Gardener