Those who love both their dogs and their gardens often seek ways to protect their plants from the stress of daily dog traffic.
There are no dog-proof plants. If flora are frequently trampled, you can expect torn leaves, broken branches and mud. But there are ways to help dogs and beautiful gardens happily coexist.
My preferred solution is to separate the dog from the garden. Other options include taking pets to obedience school and creating a naturalistic design using tough ground covers, perennials, shrubs and trees and simply adopting a "survival of the fittest" mentality regarding plants.
Sometimes a sturdy fence is the only answer, but even an 18-inch-high wire fence can ruin the look of a garden. Instead, for small dogs, consider installing an 18- to 24-inch-tall picket fence to enclose a perennial and shrub garden. Dogs can dig under fences, so install the fence into the soil or add a rock barrier at the base.
Pets like to explore, and it's in a dog's nature to patrol borders, including fences. Plant flowers and vegetables in raised planters with mulched or grassy paths between them. Leave buffer zones between plants, walls and fences. Mulched paths can be used to guide pets to areas away from beds to play or to take care of other business. If a path network is not extensive, use pavers, which will be smooth on dogs' paws.
If your pet loves the garden, plant sturdy flora where it likes to tread. Black-eyed Susan has a stout character and will retain flowering value while your pet romps. Others include verbena, shasta daisy, liatris, butterfly weed, Russian sage, raspberry and viburnum, and small flowering trees like halesia and eastern redbud. For information about other plants that can better tolerate foot traffic, check out Stepables.com, the Web site of a company that specializes in such plants.
Most pet owners know lawn chemicals can be harmful to their dogs and cats, but many forget that some plant material can be toxic to animals.
Sometimes animals know which leaves and berries to avoid, but don't count on it. Plants to avoid include azalea, hydrangea, nandina, oleander, English ivy, rhubarb and castor bean. A longer list of toxic plants can be found at www.cybercanine.com/toxicplants.htm.
If you already have some of these plants, minimize exposure by fencing them off, if possible.
Avoid tying dogs to trees. It can kill the tree and create an aggressive animal. And don't leave dogs out for too long. When a dog begins to dig to find a comfortable spot, it has been in the yard too long. Make sure your pet has an area of soft lawn or shaded soil for lying outside.
Pull weeds by hand, and use caution with any chemicals. Look for products promoted as pet-safe. Organic isn't necessarily the best approach. For example, one organic method of adding phosphorus to the soil uses pulverized bone meal. Dogs love bones, but the bone meal could make them sick depending on the origin of the bones and any ingredients that have been added.
If a potentially more harmful substance is required, keep pets away from treated areas. The First Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats, by Amy D. Shojai (Rodale, $20), suggests keeping pets off sprayed surfaces for a week.
Joel Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md., and author of "Anyone Can Landscape." Contact him through his Web site, www.gardenlerner.com.