July 15, 2010

by Tammy Barben, Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt

Master Gardener Intern Tammy Barben's dogs are intrigued with free roaming turf in the country, where they love to wreak havoc.
Tammy Barben's 500-plus pound cow loves plants in the garden. By nature, cows are curious and repetitious in pattern. A heavy gauged, 6-foot-tall fence was added to keep out both domestic friends and wild critters. A good cattle guard and fence have also been installed around the landscaped yard.
The dogs have been found in the vegetable garden playing in between plants, digging in the dirt and eating plants. The brown and black male Labradors are known for marking their territory wherever they go.
Do you cringe when letting your four-legged friends outside, knowing they are headed straight for your flower beds, landscape or vegetable garden? If you let your animals have free reign as I do, they can wreak havoc in no time. However, with some planning, patience and rework, my pets and I are learning to cohabitate in my gardens.


Pre-planning is one of the most important steps to a successful relationship between you, your pets and your new flower bed. Before you start your next outside project, watch your pets at rest and play as they need to relieve themselves, places to run and play, and a place for a nap in both the sun and shade.


Plan your bed around the areas you notice your pets call their own. Dogs are creatures of habit so try to go with their flow.

Well-worn path can become garden pathway - If your pets have a path that is well worn, use that as an invitation to install a pathway of stepping stones. Both you and "Fido" will then have a path to follow without getting muddy.

Easy installation includes laying several inches of mulch a few feet wide where you want the path, placing stepping stones or large flat rocks amongst the mulch, so that both of you can travel the path stepping on the newly-laid stones.

Maintenance prevents rolling in dirt - Don't plan a new bed where your baby currently sun bathes, you will forever be saying, "What was I thinking?" Let them have their space and you, too, can have yours. Remember, if there is dirt, dogs will dig and roll in it. It is best to keep areas well-maintained and your grass groomed, so as not to create a place they can make their mud hole.


Male dogs are probably hardest on plants. Our brown and black Labrador boys are constantly marking and remarking their territory. Lately, that territory has become my once beautiful azalea bed. Urine is high in nitrogen and will burn almost any plant, eventually killing it. I have replaced my azaleas twice with no change in the dog's behavior. Just changing out your plants does nothing to change their habits, so I am trying a couple of things to break them of this naughty behavior.


Sprinklers and granules - I have one bed with sprinklers that spray when the animals approach the plant and another bed with granules spread on the ground around the plants that are supposed to steer them clear of the area. Remember, anything you find successful in changing behaviors must be maintained because the dogs will revert to their old habits.

Raised and bordered beds, citrus oils, mints or menthol - Raised beds, fencing and heavily bordered beds will also deter your four-legged friends from entering where you would rather they not, to play or to relieve themselves. You can also try placing citrus oils, mint or menthol around the beds as a deterrent because dogs find these offensive. Remember to replace these weekly or after rain to maintain efficacy. Since I have automatic sprinklers, I have not found these deterrents to be very helpful.

Shock and citronella collars, leash training - There are also shock and citronella collars, which work from a remote, from which you can give your pup a reminder to stay out and away from the precious plants. If you want to stay away from gadgets and save your pocketbook you can implement a one-month, leash-training program. Take "Fido" to the same corner of the yard, and praise him lavishly when he toilets in this area.

Ornamental grasses vs. flowering plants - Another alternative is to plant ornamental grasses, which are known to stand up to this behavior better than flowering plants.


Cats, like dogs, need a place to play. Scratching posts are good to have around for your cats. You can also plant a bed with catnip or catmint in it to lure in your cat, so they have a place to play and keep your other plants from becoming kitty food. I have read that catnip is like LSD for cats. To keep your precious rose bed from becoming the kitty litter box, you can spread citrus peels and coffee grounds around the bed. Many of the gadgets mentioned previously and used for dogs, work for cats, as well.


For those of you who live out in the country like me, you may also have the 500-plus-pound, four-legged pets - a donkey and cows for me - and they, too, can wreak havoc in the landscaping and vegetable garden.

Last year, mine laughed at the rinky-dink fence I erected around my vegetable garden and let me know quickly that was just not going to keep them out. This year, I showed them. I installed a heavy gauged 6-foot-tall woven fence, which has kept out both the domestic and wild critters. I also learned to invest in a good cattle guard and fence around my landscaped yard.

Electric gates are nice but just not enough deterrent. My country pets learned quickly that leaning on the electric gate would allow them enough room to enter, graze my plants and then relieve themselves.

I have lost more plants than I care to admit trying to make the gates cow proof. The cattle guards are being built as I write this article.


Remember to plant pet-friendly plants and to use mulch that won't make for a poisonous snack. The ASPCA has a list of poisonous plants and mulches at, or you can call them at 1-888-426-4435.

I hope you and your four-legged friends can enjoy your outside time together without stress and replaced plants. Happy gardening with your pets - not pests.

Let your children plant some sunflower seeds, and watch their eyes light up when the seeds germinate, grow and bloom. You are sure to be pleased with the wide-eyed blossoms of these unique flowers
Create: Walking path
Plan: Areas for your pet
Use: Raised beds, fencing or borders
Use: Motion detector sprinklers
Try: Citrus oils, mint or menthol
Last resort: Use shock and citronella collars


Lay several inches of mulch a few feet wide
Place stepping stones or large flat rocks in the mulch
Both you and you four-legged friends can travel the path
Less mud and dirt will be tracked in

Plant pet-friendly plants
Use mulch that won't make for a poisonous snack
Contact ASPCA for a list of poisonous plants and mulches, or 1-888-426-4435
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at