Pet peeves

Gardeners can win battle between four-legged friends and victimized flowerbeds

Man's best friend? Some gardeners might disagree.

How to keep our pets happy and those prized peonies not looking like Fido's personal featherbed can be a real challenge. How do we keep our canine companions from tiptoeing through the tulips, or our feline friends from using the daffodils as a favorite spot to defecate?

Worse yet, what if it isn't even your pet who misbehaves? A feud as storied as that between the Hatfields and McCoys could erupt if your neighbor's pet is the culprit, and there are no fences high enough to squelch that sort of disharmony.

Midge Grinstead, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society, has been dealing with pet peeves for close to a decade now.

"We get about 50 dogs turned in for digging or chewing outdoors," she says. "We receive many complaints regarding cats that dig in people's gardens; it is usually a neighbor's cat. We probably take in a couple hundred cats for that reason alone."

Most every pet professional will tell you training is key to settling the disagreement between your pet and your petunias. My own experience with having a Great Dane as a companion has been out-thinking my wily girl. She's tall, so I started gathering large trellises and iron bed frames to enclose my flowerbeds. Now my alliums and hibiscus live in harmony with my giant pet. Many problems easily can be solved with a little ingenuity.

Diggety dog

Do you find yourself sinking into cavernous potholes your dog has created throughout the yard, cursing the possibility of a twisted ankle and vowing loudly that your mutt is going to the pound after you return from the doctor?


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Gardeners who struggle to keep their flowerbeds from being victimized by their pets sometimes may question the truth of the phrase "man's best friend." But a little ingenuity and a few simple techniques can help our pets and gardens co-exist peacefully.

Before you abandon the family pet, consider some alternatives:

¢ Try designating a sandbox just for the dog to dig in. Bury little treasures that your dog will love to discover, and praise the pet when he digs there.

¢ Use chicken wire under a layer of mulch. The plants still can peek through, but a dog will not dig there. Another inventive idea is to sprinkle sharp objects, such as pine cones, prickly holly foliage or rock mulch - all of which will hurt the tender paws of any pet and encourage them to steer clear of the area.

As far as why pets dig, Grinstead says, "Dogs usually dig because they are bored. Try spending quality time outside with your pet. That will certainly help. Creating alternative places where it is OK for them to dig is a good solution as well."

On the move

If you don't have a greyhound and have not found a dog track that will accept your basset hound as a racing competitor, never fear. There may be some perfectly suitable solutions to your quandary.

¢ Incorporate raised beds into the yard. A dog on the move probably will just skip right over the bed, avoiding it altogether.

¢ Invisible fences don't just need to be for the perimeter of the yard. You can put them around your beautiful plants as well. One drawback, however, is that they will not work on other animals who might wander into the yard.


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Keep dogs from digging in the garden by making them a designated sandbox for play. Bury little toys for them to dig up.

¢ If your dog is too destructive and you just don't trust him, construct a dog run. They can be made to look attractive by planting vines to crawl up the sides. The flora will add shade for your pooch as well.

Little stinkers

There is little more aggravating than stopping to smell the roses and instead getting a big whiff of urine. Not only is this unpleasant and alarming, but the excretions of a feline carry the risk of infecting humans with toxoplasmosis, which can be especially problematic for pregnant women. What to do?

¢ All dogs and cats can be trained to do their business in designated areas.

¢ There are low-protein dog foods that may help eliminate brown spots in the lawn. Brown spots are caused by the nitrogen level in a dog's urine. High-quality veterinarian-bought food may help, too; it tends to contain more digestible proteins. Consult your veterinarian before changing a pet's diet.

¢ Fescue and perennial rye grasses are more resistant to damage caused by pet urine. White clover is impervious to pet urine.

¢ If kitty wants to use the kid's sandbox to conduct her business, try covering the box when the kids are not using it. It will not only keep the cat out, but the sand will be cleaner and fresher for the kiddies.

Avoiding an area

Sometimes you simply must outsmart your pet:

¢ Try planting coleus canina, also called Scaredy-Cat. Animals dislike the scent of this plant and will avoid it. Keep in mind, humans aren't too fond of the aroma either, so plant accordingly. There are also a couple of scented geraniums - Mosquito and Citronella - that deter pets as well.

Poisonous plants

These plants may be dangerous for pets wandering in your garden: ¢ Oleander ¢ Yew ¢ Castor bean ¢ Lily of the valley ¢ Autumn crocus ¢ Azalea ¢ Rhododendron ¢ Buckeye, horse chestnut ¢ Rosary pea Note: Toxicity depends on how much of a plant is consumed and by how large a pet. Insecticides also can poison your pet. If you must spray, you should allow quite a few hours before giving your pet freedom to roam again.

Good Web sites for pet products:,

¢ Cats and dogs don't like the small of citrus, so instead of tossing out those lemon peels, try scattering them around your flower beds. They will compost into the soil, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

¢ Planting flora close together can leave a dog or cat looking elsewhere for a pleasant place to rest. You might also try placing twigs upright interspersed in the garden. Using this form of guerrilla warfare will make it uncomfortable for pets to move about freely.

¢ If you love to bird watch but you feel like you might be an accessory to murder when your little pussy cat pounces on an unsuspecting bird, you might try giving the birds a fighting chance by having your cat wear a bell.

¢ Distract your cat to another area by planting catnip. The kitty will smash it down and spend an entire afternoon rolling in it, leaving your prized plants alone. Cats also love cat thyme.

Pets and gardeners can live harmoniously with a little inventive thinking, and perhaps a bit of training. A stern "no" when a pet is behaving poorly can go a long way, but always remember to praise your pets with treats and love when they behave well.

It may also be wise just to accept the fact that your garden might not be picture-perfect. But remember this: When you were toiling in the garden, you had a great friend right by your side.

Sources:, Garden Gate Magazine


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