Can you have a great yard if you own pets?

You can, it just takes a little extra effort
Tuesday, June 26, 2007 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 10:44 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Most of my friends and neighbors have pets. Some of them even manage to have pets and an attractive yard. Others seem to struggle, and in the battle between attractive yard and pet run, often the pet wins and the yard becomes a patchy bit of grass and weeds.

Here are a few tips on how to have an attractive yard as well as “Fidos” and felines. Before planting any area that is a common run for your pets, take a look at There is a list of common plants that are poisonous, even deadly, to pets. Knowing what is poisonous before spending a few hundred dollars at the nursery and then the veterinarian’s office will save you money and grief. Not all plants listed there will be eaten by your pet, but you need to be extra careful with puppies, who may chew on everything, and individual pets who are “chewers.”

With cats, planting an urn, box or patch of earth with rye grass (oats, barley and wheat also work) will keep them happy, and it is good for digestive health. These grasses are also good for dogs. Planting a patch or pot of catnip will lure cats to where you want them to be.

Dogs and grass seem to be naturally exclusive.

For small areas or for the areas in your yard that your dogs have made a path, put in hardscape. It is low maintenance, keeps mud off of paws and can blend well with your home’s character and style. Brick, flag-stone and crushed pebbles look good with most architecture styles.

If you want grass, Bermuda is very tough warm-season grass. If you want a cool-season grass, Kentucky bluegrass is a good choice. Putting a tougher grass in solves the paw traffic problem, but it doesn’t solve dog spots, which are the yellow patches caused by high levels of salts and nitrogen in dog urine.

Most of the yards when I grew up were full of, if not entirely made of, clover. Clover is still an alternative to grass. It will not yellow with dog spots, it is very soft to the toes and paws, but you do have to watch for bees. If you want to spy on your pets all day, you can always dilute the patch of lawn you just saw Fido pee on with the garden hose. Not a life I’d want, but it is an option.

If your yard is fenced, a favorite run is probably the area adjacent to it. Rather than fight it, place a path here and put your plants elsewhere.

Dogs can also be trained to use a certain part of the yard that you designate as a no-grow zone. It’s a good idea to clean this area regularly and flush it with water. You may want to border it with something attractive and eye catching. Even something as simple as a bird bath and a few bird feeders can distract from a small gravel bed. And it provides a good reason to take the hose there regularly. While you fill the bird bath, hose down the gravel bed.

Dogs will often barrel over plants as if they don’t see them. Truth is they may not. A dog’s depth perception is not good, so a single plant may be difficult for it to detect. Plant in mass to avoid this problem; Rover may not see one hosta but will probably see three or four.

Place your perennials against a short picket fence. It provides a natural barrier, helps the dog to see the boundaries and looks very “cottage garden.” If picket doesn’t match the architecture of your property, find a style that does. You may not really need total enclosure. Just a “wall” to delineate the perennial bed or border may do it.

If your dog is lying in the hostas and you know it sees them, it may be that it likes the cool, shady spot. Move the hostas and plant clover or a type of grass. Let the grass grow long so that it makes a nice bed.

For young shrubs, trees or plants that would survive if only they were a little larger, put a small chicken wire enclosure around them for a season or two. Drive stakes, tie on the wire, and they will be protected from paws and pee.

If you have other tips on landscaping with pets, let me know and I‘ll pass it along. Happy pets and plants, it can be done.

Tammy Bush has been a Master Gardener of four years. She has been a pediatric nurse and educator, but now works from home as chauffeur to her two teenage sons. Two cats and a husband round out her life. When she isn’t driving she runs a quilting business, putters in her gardens and likes do-it-yourself yard and home projects. Shade gardening, recycling and Japanese gardens are a few of her favorite things. She can be reached at

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