As the owner of a pet-friendly landscape company, I’m always asked, “How do I keep my dogs out of the garden?” In this unique twist, I want to address how to invite them into it—that is, into their own vegetable garden.*
Did you know that many vegetables offer the same benefits to dogs as they do to humans? And depending on where you live, you may be able to grow vegetables all year; if not, you can certainly begin growing cold crops, such as carrots, broccoli or leafy vegetables, as early as March.
In this case, we want gardens to be inviting. In order to create an inviting outdoor kitchen garden, start by deciding where to locate it. All vegetables, except cool crops, need at least four hours of sun per day. They also need water, so it’s best to establish the garden where it can be easily watered. The site should also be level with the ground and have an open access; usually a 10 x 10 foot area is sufficient.
Once the layout is determined, it’s time to prep the soil. Soil amendments are especially important since vegetables need nutrients to grow. Here’s where that compost bin tucked away in the back of the yard comes in handy.
Or you can go the “store-bought” route; commercial amendments may include manure from any of a variety of herbivorous animals (cows, sheep, horses, rabbits); this material is typically blended with peat moss, which acts as an aerator, breaking down soil so water, food and air can get to the plant’s roots. (If you’re fortunate enough to have access to these manures from the source, so to speak, be sure to let them age for at least six months, as fresh manure will burn plants.) Work the soil amendments into the ground with either a Rototiller or a spade.
A word of caution: Even organic fertilizers can harm dogs, and fish emulsions or fertilizers with a potent manure odor will tempt them to dig up the garden. Ideally, it’s best to rely on good soil prep and compost.
No matter how large or small your vegetable garden, it’s good to practice crop rotation. For example, if carrots are planted along, say, the east side this year, next year, plant them along the west side. Planting vegetables in different locations every year prevents diseases that might have wintered over from damaging subsequent years’ crops. In this example, if a carrot disease survived but broccoli was planted in that area, the broccoli will not be affected. Marigolds can also be a good deterrent, and they attract beneficial insects that actually help the garden. Most dogs are repulsed by their smell, so they don’t eat them.
An informal walkway is another nice feature. Vegetable gardens are very humble and should not have a forced or formal look. Walkways can be made using cut pavers, crusher fines, irregular flagstone or (as long as your dog’s not a rock-eater) pea gravel. A path also allows you to more easily weed and harvest your vegetables as well as welcomes your dog into his own outdoor kitchen.
*Note: If you prefer that your dog didn’t help himself, you can plant in raised beds or enclose the garden with fencing and then invite him to join you on occasion. In any event, fresh vegetables will be enjoyed by the whole family, including the family dog.