I live with a West Highland Terrier (Terrier from the Latin word “terra” meaning ground or earth) and a miniature dachshund (badger dog and we know badgers live in holes underground). Is it any wonder that these two small dogs can do some serious damage to my yard and flowerbeds? I offer these tips for those of us who are gardening fools:
* Create a digging box. Nail together a small square framed box out of treated lumber. Fill it with dirt or sand and bury a few treats, toys, and rawhide chews. The dogs will learn to dig there instead of in the garden.
And for those dogs who want to find a cool spot in the summer, put an inexpensive wading pool with a few inches of water in the backyard rather than having them dig a big hole in the middle of your shade bed to cool off.
* Supervise your dogs. Most dogs become destructive out of boredom. It is usually lack of exercise or social time with the family that cause the dogs to create their own kind of fun like making sticks out of live shrubbery. Play with your dogs or exercise it to work off energy.
* Plant flexible plants. Use resilient plants that bend and (eventually) stand back up. Plants such as daylilies, lambs ear, mint, rudbeckia, phlox are generally forgiving. For those brittle plants that you must have, put them in container gardens. For large plants, use tomato cages. The plant will soon cover the cage.
Trade plants with other dog-person gardeners or beg resilient looking plants from friends. If they survive, you will be delighted. If they don’t you won’t be waving your nursery receipt in the dog’s face. If you must buy (and all gardeners must), test a plant or two for a season to check its survival rate before sacrificing an entire bed.
* Mulch your beds! Not just for all the reasons we learned as Master Gardeners but also a thick layer of mulch is less inviting than rich, composted soil for digging. You’ll also have less dirt tracked across your floors.
* Think defense. If your dogs run along the fence line, don’t plant your flowerbed against the fence. Start your planting a full dog width from the fence. From your side, you’ll never see the difference.
Create “dog freeways” through your beds with paving stones and the like. If you don’t, the dogs will. Plant your more brittle plants in front of shrubs or larger plants. They are less likely to be trampled.
* Familiarize yourself with poisonous plants. Most dogs as they get older will not eat plants but be careful if you are raising a puppy or a vegetarian older dog.
* Beware of toxic chemicals in herbicides, fertilizers and bug sprays. Read the label! (Now where did you hear that before?)
* Fence areas that you don’t want the dogs in. Only a physical barrier is going to protect your plants. Nothing is going to stop a male dog from hiking his leg on the flowerbed if you don’t have a fence.
Fencing the fruit and vegetable garden may be a wise choice if you have dogs that like to eat people food.
And finally, gardening fools, abandon ideals of perfection. Allow for inevitable casualties. You will enjoy both your dog and your garden more if you do.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.