Many dog owners struggle to maintain their landscaping because between digging holes, urine burn on the grass, and trampling plants in their daily laps, dogs wreak havoc on the yard. But author Tom Barthel has a solution: Integrate your dog’s habits into your landscaping. In his book Dogscaping, Barthel explores ways to maintain your yard – even including vegetable gardens – while allowing your dog to enjoy the space, too.
Barthel began his career as a journalist, working as a staff editor at the pet-magazine publisher Bow Tie Press, but he realized that becoming a master gardener was a natural outgrowth for his love of animals. “It was the back to basics, down to earth kind of thing that really appealed to me,” he said.
A Simplistic Approach
Barthel’s approach is simple. He encourages dog owners to observe their dog’s natural, outdoor behavior and work around it. “What people forget is that there’s very little genetic difference between wolves who live their entire lives outside and the domesticated dogs that spend a lot of their time with us indoors,” he said. “People tend to get frustrated or mad at their dogs for doing what they do. It’s not their fault; you need to think about what their needs are.” Instead of fighting a dog’s natural instincts, we should find ways to accommodate the digging, running and patrolling, without sacrificing the entire yard to our dogs. For example, if you notice your dog loves to run laps across one part of your yard, that’s probably not the right place for you to plant expensive bushes.
Dog-friendly Vegetable Gardening
The simplest way to incorporate a vegetable garden into your dog-friendly yard is to raise the garden off of the ground. According to Barthel, even raising the garden two inches off the ground will prevent most dogs from running through the bed. Plus, he says, you can supplement your dog’s diet in your garden. “You can share your vegetables with your dog, too, if you have nice organic vegetables,” he said. A couple crops Barthel recommends are green beans and berries.
There are several plants and flowers dog owners should avoid – or should plant where the dog doesn’t have access – due to toxicity. The ASPCA hosts a database of toxic plants, but Barthel said some of the most common toxic plants include azaleas, rhododendrons, foxglove, holly, hydrangea, lady slipper, and larkspur. In 2009, the Animal Poison Control Center received 7,858 calls about common houseplants. So in addition to knowing which plants are toxic, it’s important to recognize the signs of plant poisoning: confusion, heightened excitability, disorganized behaviors or behaviors that are outside of the norm, anxiety resulting from neurological effects, GI upset, tear production and salivation, lethargy, labored breathing, seizures, paralysis, rash or excessive scratching.
Take an Organic Approach
“When you have a dog and your dog lives in the lawn and they live in your garden, wouldn’t you want something that you know is going to be safe based on their active habits?” he said. “I recommend and encourage that people get the poisons out, get the synthetic fertilizers out because would you want to roll around on a lawn covered in fertilizers?” To help us dog-loving gardeners maintain an organic lawn, Barthel shared his recipe for organic, pet-safe lawn fertilizer:
1 Can of beer (not light)
1 Can of soda (not diet)
½ Cup molasses or corn syrup
1 Cup castile soap
½ Cup liquid ammonia
½ Cup mouthwash
Mix ingredients and pour into a hose-end sprayer. Apply to the lawn in early to mid-morning for best results. Apply every two to three weeks during your lawn’s peak growing season or year round in warmer climates. Apply on a rain-free day and allow time for drying before your pet has access to the area.