One of the great pleasures of my work is meeting new people… and their pooches. While some of the dogs (and people now that I think of it) can be a bit anti-social, it is mostly very fun to spend time playing and being with man’s best friend!
Now, the reason for this post. Dogs, particularly the young and large ones (40 pounds plus) can wreak HAVOC on a garden. By no fault of their own, they romp and run, chase balls, roll around, lay down, dig and do all manor of other things to make a garden look… messy,crappy, whatever. While it is virtually impossible to control their behaviors, it is possible to manage the situation to keep your landscape from looking like a war zone.
Understand your Dog. What are their major destructive issues? Are they diggers or do they like to chew on plants? Are they fence runners due to the neighbor’s dog? Do they run through the plants and don’t pay attention to where they are going? All these types of behaviors can be mitigated through proper design and some forethought.
One of the best ways to keep your garden looking nice is to have a dog run, a special place for them to run and romp while you are not home. When you do arrive and let them out, you have a much better chance to keep their destructive behaviors to a minimum. If your animal companion is part backhoe, then understand that you will periodically have to do some work in the dog run to keep it from being a disaster. Many times a way to keep digging to a minimum is to replace the bark mulch, for example, with a larger cobblestone that cannot be displaced as easy.
Does your dog run the fence with the neighbor’s dog, running back and forth and back again? Simply pull plants away from the fence line two or three feet and allow them space to run behind. Does your dog run through the plantings? Many times I have seen people throw the dog’s ball over the plantings and wonder why they run straight for the ball. Have a grass area long and open enough to allow the ball throwing game to not impact your beds. Another way to direct their path is to put up some short, decorative wood screens (18-24″) to direct them from running straight through the beds. Traffic control.
Another issue that can negatively impact the enjoyment of your backyard is the dog’s waste. Some yards I walk through have an INCREDIBLE amount of poop in the grass. Keep your backyard clean of dog waste, particularly during the summer when the temperatures are high. Nothing makes working in a yard worse than the over-riding smell of dog droppings.
Another design material to consider is artificial turf. It has come a long way from the original stuff, with much better engineering for UV protection, overall appearance and manufacturing. While some people have a built-in distaste for anything artificial ( fake grass, no way!), it is a great material for dog runs.
Creating a successful planting scheme is not as hard as you may think. Just buying a bunch of plants because they look nice at the nursery, however, will not cut it. Read on to get some tips from someone who has done this for over three decades now! (has it been that long?)
Tip #1- Learn the mature size of your plant choice. I have always said that I would eventually write a book called “Right Plant, Wrong Place”. Knowing the full, mature size is Job Number One.
Tip#2- Think about leave texture. What this means is that a combination of plantings with the same size and shape of leave will not visually read from across the yard. Choose combinations that have different size and shapes of leaves, and overall form. (think rounded plant next to an upright plant with some groundcovers below)
Tip#3- Factor in flowering times. If your combination includes only flowering plants, try to not have them flower at the same time of the year. That way, your interest will be extended over the season.
Tip#4-Don’t forget evergreens. Depending on where you live, evergreens are the backbone of the garden, particularly when the deciduous plants lose their leaves. While this is not a hard and fast rule, I typically try to include 20% evergreens into a planting plan.
Tip#5- Understand your trees. A tree will grow and eventually throw a lot of shade into your garden. However, while the tree is young and small, your underplantings will need to be able to tolerate full sun, and when the tree matures, these plants will then usually get leggy and start to look bad. Trees will change the dynamic of the garden, so be flexible about your plantings located in their shade.
Tip#6- Understand the plant’s culture. Some plants require an acidic soil to perform their best, while some plants require a more basic soil type.(pH is your concern) Learn what your plant’s needs are and be sure to group them together, or your plantings will never look as well as they could. Learn about applying fertilizer, which is a whole new blogpost in itself!
I like to say that there isn’t a problem in the garden that a good, sharp shovel won’t fix. Ask any old school, self -taught gardener and they will say that they are always moving stuff around until it looks right. If that isn’t your bag, call a professional to help you make the proper choices for a planting plan that sings all through the year!!