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Dog-Friendly Gardening

Your dog may be your best friend, but beautiful gardens and dogs do not always go together. With thoughtful design and the right plants, you can keep the bonds of friendship strong and enjoy a great garden with your pup.

Fran Kiesling, owner of Dirty Dog Landscape Design in Minneapolis, specializes in dog landscaping, or "dogscaping," to help dog owners and their pets have fun in the garden together. A good design resolves the natural conflicts.

"Figure out how people are using the space, then figure out how dogs are using it — sometimes they overlap, and sometimes they are divergent," she says. "You have a path system, and so do they." Kiesling advises her clients to plant relaxed landscapes that can absorb and conceal the wear and tear of the daily routines of their furry friends.

Her philosophy of dogscaping is similar to modern zoo landscaping. The animals live in environments, not pens.

Dogs like places to play and places to rest, and they really like to be able to see out into the neighborhood. They move around a lot and can be hard on grass, so Kiesling tries to keep lawns small. Dogs and their owners both like patios and decks, and she often incorporates them in her designs.

There's no universal style of dog landscaping. You have to take your dog's breed, gender, age, and personality into consideration. Boxers are clownish and joyful, Kiesling says. Basset hounds are "like torpedoes" that can destroy perennial flowers with their big feet. Border collies are high-strung and need careful supervision.

Kiesling uses flower power in dog-friendly gardens: dogs see bare spots as an invitation to explore, but a full flower bed discourages digging. She avoids delicate plants and spindly trees, and uses rocks to help establish clear dog boundaries.

Keep the scale of your plantings in scale with your dog, Kiesling says. "Little dogs enjoy little plants," she says. She might have a flowerbed full of short, fluffy daylilies in a garden with Chihuahuas or Pomeranians. If your best friend is a golden retriever, think taller and tougher, Kiesling says: "For him to have something to have a good time in, plant 4-foot ornamental grasses."

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Terra cotta pots and planters aren’t cheap, but if kept in good condition, they will last for many years. To preserve terra cotta, at the end of the season empty the pot and clean with soap and water. Allow it to dry thoroughly, and store in a dry place. To prevent stacks of pots from cracking or breaking, wrap each pot in a thick layer of newspaper before stacking. If a pot breaks, save the broken shards and use to improve drainage at the bottom of other pots.