Is your landscaping going to the dogs? Is your lawn riddled with “dog spots?” According to many Birmingham home landscapers, there’s no reason that you can’t have both dogs and attractive landscaping. But home landscaping with dogs does present challenges that may require some compromises.The goal in this balancing act is to achieve an attractive, dog-friendly yard to make your home look its best!
As a busy Birmingham realtor, I have noticed that effective landscaping with dogs begins with the recognition that a business-as-usual approach won’t work. If your dogs have free run of your yard, you may need to adjust your home’s landscaping. Usually this means making concessions as you’ll see from the strategies below. As an alternative, you can instead adjust the dogs to your landscaping. Either way, if you fail to make some sort of adjustment then dogs can make a mess of your yard or continually drag dirt into your house.
Strategy #1: Hardscape Dogs and lawn grass don’t mix well. For small areas, consider switching from a grassy expanse to hardscape. Hardscape offers a low-maintenance alternative to grass that reduces lawn care. Add stone and masonry which minimize the mess dogs make through urination, digging and plain old wear and tear. Make liberal use of crushed-stone mulch. If you grow plants in such mulch in a sunny area, select drought-tolerant plants, since stone gets hot in the summer. Don’t place the stone mulch directly up against the plants. Build a brick patio, a concrete patio or a flagstone patio.
Strategy #2: Smarter Lawn Care — Know Your Grass Types If you are clinging to your grass, at the very least, consider switching to a different type of grass. Some grasses hold up better to foot traffic (and paw traffic!) than others. Among the warm-season grasses, Bermuda grass is among the toughest.
Strategy #3: Green Alternatives to GrassInstalling a tougher type of grass will solve wear and tear on grass but it will do nothing to solve the problem of “dog spots.” Dog spots are the unsightly yellow spots on grass caused by the nitrogen and salts in dog urine. But there is a type of “green carpet” that solves the problem of dog spots: clover. Clover lawns have many advantages over grass lawns. If you’re landscaping with dogs, you’ll especially appreciate the fact that clover doesn’t stain the way grass does after being subjected to dog urine.
Strategy #4: Emergency Lawn Care — Diluting Dog Urine If you can’t bring yourself to renounce grass, you can still prevent dog spots by vigilance. When you see your dog urinating on the grass, rush to the garden hose. Turn it on and bring it over to the area where your dog has just urinated. Douse the area with water, thereby flushing it and diluting the harmful elements in the dog urine. This strategy won’t be very appealing if you “have a life.” I know I wouldn’t want my day to revolve around the urinary habits of my dog.
Strategy #5: Fences for Dog-Friendly Yards One way to keep dogs away from the delicate plants in your yard is by building fences around them. Wood picket fences are especially attractive. Plant some perennial flowers behind a white picket fence, and you’re well on your way to creating an English country garden.
Strategy #6: Wire Cages Place wire cages around trees and shrubs to prevent dog urine from reaching their trunks and roots and damaging them. Dogs can then go about their business and you can relax, secure in the knowledge that Fido’s urine won’t be killing your favorite specimen. Note, however, this strategy represents a severe compromise for your landscaping and is unattractive, with But you could dress up such a wire cage by using decorative posts for your stakes.
Strategy #7: The Path of Least Resistance to Dog-Friendly Yards If a fence surrounds your property, do not try to grow any plants in the area immediately adjacent to the fence. Dogs are territorial, and their favorite path in a fenced-in yard will be right along the fence. Unsightly “dog paths” are the result of this predictable behavior. Rather than fighting it, plan your yard around your dog’s predictability. Install stone walkways over existing dog paths. Now everyone will be happy: the dog still has its path, and you get to have a better looking yard. Stone walkways exude charm and are a desirable addition to your landscaping regardless of dog problems.
Strategy #8: Dog Behavior Modification Another option is to train your dog to use a “designated bathroom area,” Maintain a small, gravel area, a cement block, plain dirt, or even dead grass area and train your dog to go there, and only there. Some have suggested that a change in a dog’s diet (for instance, mixing a bit of tomato juice into dog food) may neutralize the harmful elements in dog urine before it ever has a chance to harm your grass. However, the evidence that this strategy works is merely anecdotal.
A Final Consideration for Dog-Friendly Yards If the plantings in your yard possess any significant degree of diversity, there’s a good chance that you’re growing poisonous plants — without even knowing it. You’d be surprised at how many of the most common landscape plants and native volunteers contain at least some parts (leaves, berries, etc.) that are toxic. However, if you have dogs, cats, small children, or an uncontrollable appetite, it behooves you to learn more about poisonous plants.
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