‘Petscape’ for peace in the yard

11 Jul

Trying to have both pets and a nice-looking yard can make amateur landscapers wring their garden gloves in frustration.

Dogs can be particularly destructive — not that they mean to be. It’s just that they don’t know the difference between an ornamental bush and a fire hydrant. They don’t see the flowers and other plants along the fence line as anything more than obstacles blocking them when they patrol the perimeter of their territory. They don’t know — or care — that their urine discolors and kills grass.

Many homeowners are frustrated in their landscaping efforts by neighbors’ outdoor cats or feral cats that see flower beds as the natural litter boxes. Really, if you’re a cat, wouldn’t you think that soft dirt is there for your benefit?

Pet owners needn’t give up on landscaping their yards, but should consider “petscaping” — creating an environment in which pets and plants may co-exist, even thrive.


Dog urine “burns” or kills grass because it contains nitrogen. While there is nitrogen in the soil, the amount in urine (and the bigger the dog, the more urine and, therefore, more nitrogen) upsets the balance in the soil, in turn leaving ugly yellow or dead spots in the grass.

Dilute the effects of the urine by saturating the area with water within nine hours after a dog pees on the spot. You can also resod or reseed the area but, of course, if the dog continues pee on that spot, the problem will reoccur.

Replant with a hardy grass such as fescue or  one of the ryegrass varieties, which are more resistant to damage from urine.

Another option has nothing to do with landscaping, but deals with training. Train your dog to do his business in one area of the yard — an area of your choosing. (I’ll give you tips for that in another post.)


Many dogs like to dig. They dig under bushes, in the lawn, along the fence; dogs have even been know to dig up small shrubs. They dig for fun, because they’re bored or to create a cool spot to curl up in.

Filling holes with dirt (or, as some pet owners do, yuck, with a dog’s own feces) is a temporary solution. Think longterm. Give a dog his own space, either by creating a separate yard within the main yard or by building a digging spot.

For a digging area, create a raised bed using railroad ties, rocks or some other type of edging. Then fill the bed with a mixture of soil and sand. The sand will keep the dirt from clumping and the dirt will provide the cool dirt sensation that dogs prefer. Make a game of hiding toys or treat balls in the digging pit for your dog to discover. Make the pit a rewarding place and your dog should stop digging elsewhere.

A yard within a yard involves sectioning off an area and designating it solely for the dog. To make the area attractive, edge it with decorative fencing and line the area with decorative mulch.

The yard within the yard doesn’t always have to be strictly delineated; it may simply be an open area where the dog has room to roam. Don’t fill a yard with so many plants and landscape elements that the dog can’t move around without breaking or trampling on something.


Dogs naturally patrol the perimeter of their territory whether it’s a wall, a fence or a hedge, so anything planted in those areas may be crushed, broken or destroyed.
Dogs also check out any noise they hear outside the yard, so high-traffic areas (such as gates and and where your yard meets your neighbor’s) will also suffer.

Identify the high-traffic areas and plan for them. Leave at least 18 inches along a fence line open for the dog. Cover areas trampled bare with mulches or pea gravel, but don’t use anything with sharp edges (such as crushed gravel).

Although you need to leave space for a dog to move along the fence line, create a fence within a fence by planting a row of low shrubs or varieties that get tall enough and create an overhang with room for the dog to walk under the foliage. If you want a hedge, keep it full on the side facing your yard and trimmed back on the fence side.

Deciduous shrubs to consider planting include crepe myrtle, barberry, forsythia,  buddelia (butterfly bush) and Rose of Sharon. Evergreen shrubs you may want to look at include American holly, yaupon, camellia sasanqua, Burford holly and juniper. Check with your county Cooperative Extension office for more suggestions.

If your dog or cat likes to chew on plants, you can check with the Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for lists of toxic and non-toxic plants.


If you have a problem with cats visiting your yard or digging in your garden spots and flower beds, then you know there are no sure-fire ways to keep them out. But there are things you can do to make an area unattractive to cats.

Before planting in a bed or garden, spread a layer of chicken wire over the planting area. Cats don’t like the feel of chicken wire on their paws and will avoid it. You can cut holes in the wire to give you spots big enough to put plants into the ground.

Engage in scent warfare by planting things such as rosemary, sage, lavender and coleus nanina, which all have pungent aromas cats dislike. Some cats abhor the smell of coffee, so you could spread a layer of coffee grounds in the garden. The scent of oranges turns off some cats, so you could sprinkle orange peels in problem areas.

Some people suggest putting mothballs in a flowerbed to keep cats away. I tried this without success. In fact, I found my neighbor’s cat napping in the middle of the mothballs.

Go for texture. Cats don’t like walking on bristly or rough surfaces, so make the area unappealing with  rock mulch or pine cones.

For folks who want to go high-tech, there are motion-activated devices (such as the Scarecrow Sprinkler) on the market that spray water or make noises to drive away cats, and other animals from specific areas.

A version of this article appeared July 25, 2009, in the HomeStyle section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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