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How to pet-proof your garden

It's spring! You've been looking forward all winter to being outdoors with both your dog and your garden. But now you remember that to dogs, seedlings are for trampling and dirt is for digging. Some tips for preventing damage to your garden.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It's spring! You've been looking forward all winter to being outdoors with both your dog and your garden. But now you remember that to dogs, seedlings are for trampling and dirt is for digging. Fortunately, a little planning can help plants and pups get along more harmoniously.
Your first line of defense is good design. In the pet-friendly demonstration garden at the Oregon Garden in Silverton, Ore., simple ideas like raised beds and clearly defined pathways help keep dogs out of the plantings. Plant choice can help, too, says general manager April Purdy. Plants that grow up trellises or arbors will be out of harm's way.

To really protect things, take a look at your pet's habits.

For example, rough mulches or rocks may sometimes keep pets from digging or lying in certain areas. But if there is a place your dog really loves to sit, it might be better to avoid planting anything there, Purdy says.

Or if he likes to patrol the perimeter of your yard, leave space between the fence and plants. If he's a digger, train him to use an unplanted area of loose dirt by hiding toys or treats in it.

Once you've planned a garden that your dog can't hurt so much, make sure your garden doesn't hurt your dog. Reducing chemical use will make your yard safer for pets and wild creatures.

"Minimize your lawn," says David Mizejewski, naturalist with National Wildlife Federation and host of the TV show "Backyard Habitat." "Add more garden beds with native plants that don't require extra watering and chemicals and intensive care."

Basic good gardening practices reduce your need for possibly harmful chemicals: Weed early before weeds spread and seed themselves. Build up your soil and you'll have less need for fertilizers. And, "Compost!" says Mizejewski. "You can make your own and it's not a big endeavor. It's filled with all the nutrients if you do it properly."

Minimize pesticides. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 5 to 15 percent of the bugs in your yard are pests.

"If you have a chemical-free yard you're going to have a healthy population of predators _ insects, birds, maybe even frogs and toads that are major consumers of insect pests," says Mizejewski. "If you spray left and right, you kill the bad stuff and the good stuff."

Plants themselves may be perfectly natural, but some of them are toxic to animals.

Most of these are not particularly attractive to dogs on their own, but certain organic ingredients used to grow plants can attract dogs to plants that they'd otherwise ignore, says Dr. Tina Wismer, veterinary toxicologist at the poison control center for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A dog that's chowing down on blood meal or bone meal fertilizer may also ingest toxic plant material.

Check out the toxic plant list at

Dogs may also end up chewing on sticks from toxic plants when you're pruning. Watch puppies especially.

Be careful with your compost pile; Wismer cautions that moldy food can cause serious illness. Following good composting practices should prevent this, since the main culprits are items like meats and leftovers that you shouldn't be composting anyway.

Be sure to avoid two ingredients: One is disulfoton, often included in rose products, and the other is metaldehyde, used in slug baits. Both are attractive to dogs, bit can cause seizures and death. And never use cocoa bean mulch _ like all chocolate products, it's dangerous for dogs.

For slugs, Sluggo slug bait is a safe alternative that Wismer and the Oregon Garden recommend. Weed inhibitors made from corn gluten are also nontoxic.

If you find yourself needing to use other products, Wismer says, read the label, use the correct dilution, and apply common sense: "The dog shouldn't be out there while you're using it!"