Give a dog an inch, he'll take a yard
AS ICE and snow melt and mud takes its place, nurseries begin stocking flowers and vegetables for those brave enough to put in a spring garden. If you have a pet, however, gardening can bring a great deal of frustration.
Pets can foil gardening efforts by using the area as a place to relieve themselves, take a nap or dig up plants. Plus, some common garden plants can be poisonous to pets. Did you know that the foliage of both tomatoes and potatoes is toxic?
To keep your garden and your pets safe, the best idea is to make your garden inaccessible to them. A raised-bed garden - one elevated from the level of your yard with concrete blocks or wood planks - works very well. You can build one in the size and shape of your choice, or seek out ready-made raised-bed gardens from online garden catalogs; all you have to do is find the right spot and put them together.
A fence is the best way to keep your best friend in good graces. A short decorative fence at the top of the raised-bed garden can work, although if you have a garden in the ground, you'll need a taller, sturdier fence.
Think about the placement of your garden. Judy Macomber, a master gardener who is a dog owner herself, says to examine your dog's present habits. "Where does your dog sleep outside? Where are his paths for wandering the yard? Where does he find shade when it's hot?" It's much better to locate the garden in an area where your dog hasn't already established himself than it is to change those habits.
Choose plants wisely. The ASPCA has a comprehensive list of poisonous plants on its website: www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/cats-plant-list. Print the list and take it with you when you shop for seeds or plants.
Pesticides can be poisonous to your pet, and long-term exposure has been linked to cancer. Thankfully, they aren't necessary in most home gardens. Instead, handpick insects off plants or simply wash them with soap and water. A few drops of citrus dish soap in a spray bottle filled with water works well.
Herbicides have also been linked to cancer, especially bladder cancer, in dogs. Avoid them by simply pulling or digging up the unwanted plants. If that's not possible, pour boiling water on the weeds.
Chemical fertilizers can burn your pet's paws and are often toxic, but natural soil conditioners, such as those made from earthworm castings, are safe for you and your pets. Also, did you know that coffee grounds and tea bags make great fertilizers? Place several tea bags or some coffee grounds in a gallon of water, let them steep and then water your plants.
Many online resources offer safe gardening tips as well as pet-safe pest-control solutions. Macomber recommends www.mastergarden erssandiego.org. If you have questions about gardening in your locale, a master gardener in your area should be able to help. Find one at the American Horticulture Society's website: www.ahs.org/gardening-resources/master-gardeners.
Guest columnist Liz Palika is an award-winning writer and certified dog trainer. She shares her home with three dogs who are well-behaved in her flower and vegetable gardens. For more, go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books.