Designing with Dog Friendly Plants – Expanded

Note: This article is an elaboration of a quick post we did last year about creating dog friendly landscapes. The topic has only gotten more popular, so we have written a new post with much more information and many more resources!

Dog Friendly Landscapes

Dogs: they’re everywhere! Whether you work in the city or the suburbs, chances are you have had clients with dogs. According to a 2017 survey, 60% of households in the US own a dog, so the desire to create “dog friendly” landscapes is widespread.

But what is a dog friendly landscape?

A dog friendly landscape really means two things:

  • A landscape where dogs can be safe from toxic or harmful plants
  • A landscape that resists the negative effects dogs can have on plants

Dog-Safe Landscape

Choosing non-toxic plants is the easiest part of designing a dog-friendly landscape. The Plantium has a quick toxicity filter to eliminate from your search plants that might harm your client’s cat or dog.

If you are not using The Plantium, do a quick check of your plant list against any one of the toxicity lists widely available on the internet. The ASPCA, for example, has compiled a great list of plants to avoid when considering a yard with a pet.

Dog-Resistant Landscape

This is a much trickier proposition, and probably the reason most of you are reading this article.

Between digging, trampling, and plant-killing urine man’s best friend is far from the best friend of your landscape design. This problem is particularly exacerbated urban situations, where many dogs are concentrated in a small area

But taking fido’s impact on the landscape into consideration from the very beginning of the design will lead to a better long-term product and happier clients in the end.

Design Layout

Although each breed behaves differently, some dog traits are universal: patrolling, bedding down in cool shady areas, and urinating. Designate spaces for all these things in your design, and create barriers with edger, fencing, or very dense plants, to discourage dogs from being in areas where they don’t belong. Check out this article in Sunset Magazine for an example of a dog-friendly garden and dog friendly design layout tips.

Dog damage to fescue lawn.

Dog damage to fescue lawn.

Plant Selection

Dogs are hard on plants! Specifically, dog urine is hard on plants. To understand how we can combat this, we need to first understand what is wrong with the whiz. According to an article published by The Turf Resource Center the nitrogen in dog urine is to blame.

Dog urine is basically liquid fertilizer, and in small doses can actually make plants happier! The problem is that it is usually delivered in large concentrated doses, particularly by female dogs. Male dogs can also overload plants through repeated marking, or marking by multiple dogs.

Just like with any fertilizer, an overload of dog urine will cause “burning.” This is caused by the nitrogen salts in the fertilizer (or urine) drawing water out of the plants. In perennials and shrubs this manifests as yellowing or crunchy brown leaves, and in turf it manifests as a large dead patch.

Fertilizer burn on lawn and shrub.

Including a designated “bathroom” area in your design is one way to minimize the damage doggie damage. But if you know there will be many dogs moving through, such as in a condo or apartment landscape, you should also consider dog urine resistant plants.

Certain species of turf handle dog urine much better than others. Fescues and perennial rye grass handle dog urine much better than Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda Grass. In fact there is even a new turfgrass cultivar called Dog Tuff (Cynodon ‘PWIN04S’) bred specifically to resist dog urine!

When choosing perennials, shrubs and trees at risk of heavy exposure to urine, look specifically for plants that can withstand saline soils and/or salt spray. With appropriate irrigation, these plants are much less likely to show the “burn” effect associated with large amounts of dog urine.

Use The Plantium to filter for both of these criteria to quickly find great dog resistant plants!

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