Deryn Davidson: CSU Extension: Pet-friendly landscaping tips
As we roll through August, our gardens are showing the full expression of their design. This is a great time to assess your landscape and think about what you might want to adjust for next year. One such consideration is how your pets use the yard. We know that some dogs love to dig, chickens like to scratch, and goats will nibble on just about anything. Instead of trying to create a space where those things can’t be done, accept that the furry and feathered members of your family do those and design accordingly. There are a few tips that will help you enjoy your outdoor space without constantly trying to convince Fido to stay out of the peonies or keep Billy from eating… well, everything. Of course, there are behaviors that might need to be addressed by your vet or an animal psychologist but knowing your breed’s personality will help you both when it comes to training and sharing your yards.
All landscape designs should start with a simple site analysis. You need to know what you’re working with before you can decide what should go where. Where is it sunny, shady, where are existing plants and hardscape, etc.? Next, it’s time to consider the users of the space. If you have three kids and two golden retrievers, your design will likely look different than if you are single and have a chihuahua; Different users interact with spaces differently. Do you need an open play area, bathroom area, hiding spots, off limit areas, etc.? Thinking through what already exists and what you need or want, will allow you to make more informed decisions about the space and lead to a more successful design.
Next up for consideration are materials like edging, hardscape, mulch, and plants. Dogs (and people) can trip and/or potentially cut themselves on straight steel edging. There are alternatives available like metal with rounded edges or hard plastic. Hardscapes used for walkways and patios can retain a lot of heat in the summer or be slippery when they’re wet. Mulch is an important part of any landscape, but some can be dangerous to dogs like ones made from cocoa husks (chocolate is toxic to dogs), and others don’t stay put very well. Consider using rock mulch for certain areas, particularly in spaces that dogs relieve themselves – it makes for easier clean-up. Plant choice is important since some can be toxic to animals. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a website and 24-hour emergency number (888-426-4435) that you can call if you ever have concerns about a plant your pet may have ingested. Have a compost pile? Great! Keep in mind that it can be attractive to curious critters (besides racoons) and can potentially be dangerous. If they have access to the area you keep the compost, think about having a system that contains the materials so they can’t get in and eat it.
If you have a barker, they might just be curious to know what’s happening on the other side of the privacy fence. Try cutting out a small window at their height and install wire with small holes or an actual acrylic dome like an Expawlorer (found online). Being able to see that they’re not missing out on anything might do the trick. If you have a digger you can try creating a designated area for digging and encourage use by putting toys and treats there. This won’t always work, but again, you may be able to satisfy that innate desire to dig.
For more in-depth information, check out the webinar Pet Friendly Landscaping recorded on Aug. 10, 2022, at the CO-Hort Blog and webinar site csuhort.blogspot.com/p/csu-extension-spring-gardening-webinars.html . While you’re there you can access many other gardening webinars too.
Deryn Davidson is the horticulture agent for Colorado State University Extension Boulder County in Longmont.