Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The pros and cons of a dog-friendly garden

Liam the pug next to pumpkin flowers
Liam and my pumpkin flowers.
This year was a first for Liam, as he had access to a fully functional garden. I wanted to plant some treats he'd enjoy (including carrots and pumpkins), as I've been worried about the amount of pesticides he might ingest from produce I bought at the store. But, I also had some concerns about planting a garden with two little dogs in the mix. What if Liam and his sister ate things before they were ripe? What if Liam peed everywhere?

Many of my concerns were well-founded, and I never did come up with great solutions (anyone have some?). But there are some good tips and tricks I learned this year that I thought might be helpful for future green thumbs. So, here goes!

Many plants like tomatoes and strawberries need a little boost of fertilizer in order to set fruit. Even if I bought non-toxic fertilizer, I knew the dogs would snorf that stuff off the ground before it had a chance to work into the soil. My (imperfect) solution was to plant these items in pots. Keeping the soil contained in this way allows for more targeted fertilization, but it also keeps curious dogs from doing much exploring.

Not all plants can grow in a pot, however, and those on the ground still need TLC. They need water, for example, and dogs like mine love the water. Keeping the pooches inside for the hour or so that follows watering is the best way to ensure that baths aren't part of the day-to-day action involved in keeping a garden up to par. Using a spray nozzle, rather than a sprinkler, can also be helpful in removing any pee marking the dogs choose to do on the plants.

During crucial growing times, when tiny leaves are just emerging from the ground, my dogs found it fascinating to run and jump through the garden beds. I have no idea why this is the case, but I know they thought it was great fun. I used chicken-wire fencing to keep them out, and I removed those fences when the plants were a little bigger. That way, I didn't crimp the growth pattern, but I kept wee feet from going crazy. When the fruit was about to ripen, I put fences back for a day or so. That keeps the dogs from exploring the beds with their mouths and running off with the fruits of my labor. 

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier with a pumpkin

On the con side, my plants didn't do as well as I had hoped. My pumpkins were blighted with powdery mildew, and since the dogs spent so much time running through those fields, I didn't feel comfortable using any kind of spray on the leaves. As a result, my haul was pretty small. Additionally, the dogs did trample a few of my plants, and Sinead ate a tomato or two, along with some strawberries. These are little complaints, of course, but they are complaints I'll have to address next year.

But in the interim, we're all enjoying the harvest, and maybe that's enough.

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