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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

  • Several options are available to overwinter a favorite geranium. The first is to cut it back and pot it up as a houseplant for the winter to replant outside in the spring. The second is to pull it up, brush off any clinging soil, and hang it upside down in a cool, humid basement until replanting in spring. Or, you can cut 4-inch lengths of new stem and put them in water or damp vermiculite to root. Once rooted, transfer to individual pots and treat as houseplants.