Garden Design for a Home with Dogs

Parent Q&A

  • Our backyard needs a fairly thorough makeover.  Our drip irrigation is leaky and in need of repair.  We have garden beds that we'd like to take out, and we'd like to put in a children's play structure.  And apart from those two items, we'd like our backyard to just be a more pleasant space for play with our two toddlers and dog.  It's a pretty shady space, too, which perhaps poses some challenges (grass does not thrive, for example).  Any suggestions for a landscaper who can brainstorm with us?

    Try astroturf! We've had it in our backyard for several years and it is AMAZING! You get all the benefits of grass with zero maintenance. It is expensive to install, and you want to make sure that the installation is done well and drains right. We love it, it stays usable all winter, and even with all the rain outside this winter, we were able to go outside and play on the grass right after it stopped raining. Our "grass" used sand, not the rubber pellets, so super great for little ones to crawl around on. 

    Hi--We have a small, shady yard, and we loved the makeover that Tamar Carson Landscaping did! Tamar and her husband (who works with her) have had two toddlers and a dog, so I think they'd be great for your project--we found them really creative, very easy to communicate with, and reasonable cost-wise. They don't have a website, but you can get info about them on Yelp, and this is their phone number: 510-654-8242. Good luck!

     Phone numbe(510) 654-8242

    No landscaper suggestions, but some plant suggestions based on my own experience gardening in Berkeley:  ferns of all kinds, calla lilies (they spread like crazy and thrive in shade), heucheras (so many lovely varieties), clematis, camellia, perenial ginger, hellebore, and Japanese maples.  (Hostas are a classic shade plant as well but I didn't list them since in my experience they do really well in the Midwest but not so well here).  After working with so many landscapers, over time I realized that plant selection is something I can do myself and save a lot of money and heartache, since I ultimately end up replacing the original plantings anyway.  If you choose some of the large varieties of plants above and place them as anchors, and fill in with some of the smaller ones, you'll have a great start, and then you can move stuff around, divide plants, and remove/replace the ones that didn't do so well, as time goes by.  You can also go to Berkeley Horticulture's shade section and just look at the plants and see which ones strike your fancy, but these plants are the ones I've had good luck with in this area.  Berkeley Hort also has some ground cover that does well in shade that you could use instead of grass.  Good luck.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Pet-friendly back yard?

March 2012

I have a small yard with two small chihuahuas. Any recommendations on a pet-friendly backyard? I worry they will eat or pick something up that could make them ill. My yard is extra-small and have left several message with landcape gardeners with no return calls back. Maybe job too small but would like expert advice. Pet-Friendly Advice

You are right to be worried - dogs get into everything! Make sure to avoid use of cocoa-hull mulch, remove any mushrooms, and google lists of toxic plants (then remove them from your yard). Make sure your fencing is secure. Avoid use of snail bait, fertilizers, or rat bait! Try to supervise your dogs on their initial outdoor trips to see what they can get into and where they can escape. Hope this helps! -Pet Owner

De-stink dog ''toilet'' on dirt?

June 2008

pardon me, but I have a tiny patch of dirt under/around my tiny back deck for the dog to do her business. I scoop the poop every day, but the pee soaks in so the dirt is noticeably stinky as the weather heats up. I have plants growing in this patch, and don't want to dump chemicals like bleach, but other than watering it is there a solution? andrea

I'd suggest periodically pouring a solution of Nature's Miracle, available at any pet store, on the affected soil. I doubt if it would be toxic to the plants, it's main ingredient is enzymes that break down the scent, but I still wouldn't pour any directly on the plants themselves. You will still need to soak the soil periodically to dilute and wash through the urine. Cece

Dog-friendly garden space

Oct 2007

We have a small garden area (dubbed a ''Tuscan garden'' when we bought our house). It is right off the living room, with French doors opening out. It has various plants and flowers on the borders, and the ground in the middle (about 7' x 10') is covered in small gray rocks.

The problem is that the whole area smells like dog pee. We have a pug, and she goes out there a couple of times a day. Rather than just walking her every time (since part of the allure of the house was a space for Daphne) we'd like to change the ground cover to something that won't smell like pee so that we can enjoy the garden as well.

I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions for anything besides grass (maybe bark?) that will absorb the smell better than the current ground cover. I like the idea of grass, generally, but the maintanence might be too difficult . . . seems silly to buy a mower (which would have to go through the house) for such a small space). Any suggestions appreciated! mary

Nothing's going to absorb the smell, but I do have some useful advice to offer.

You can neutralize the ammonia (which is what makes it smell) in your dog's urine by giving her Yucca (Yucca schidigera) capsules or extract daily. It's the active ingredient in a product called Green-Um which is sold to help prevent dog urine damage to gardens.

I had a tall male dog & had ''dog pee blight, leg-lift variety'' all over my garden, & was looking for solutions. I found the Green-Um, tried it & it worked in terms of the smell and to some extent the damage, but I didn't want to keep paying the price it sells for, so did some research. Turns out that the ammonia neutralizing properties of Yucca were first used commercially in a product called De-Odorase to eliminate the foul odor in pig pens.

My male dog has passed away, but I still have two females, and when I finally get around to putting in a new lawn I'm going to start giving them Yucca to reduce the brown spots from peeing. In terms of plant damage (which doesn't sound like it's your problem), there is still some damage from the concentrated salt content of the urine since the Yucca only deals with the ammonia, and to reduce that I'm going to try setting my lawn sprinklers to run every day for just a couple of minutes after their first morning pee, which is always the most concentrated. Then I'll also give it a deep soak weekly so that the roots don't just stay on the surface.

I get my Yucca in capsules from Vitacost, the Jarrow Formula brand, and it is quite inexpensive. I experimented with dosages and would give him 1 capsule at night in the rainy season when there was water from the sky to flush the urine from the soil, and an additional capsule in the morning when the weather was hot and dry.

The other thing, which I'm sure you do anyway, is to make sure that your dog always has a generous supply of fresh water available to help keep the urine dilute. Cece

Dog-proof ground cover?

March 2005

does anyone know of a good ground covering for the area of yard where the dog goes potty? we need to landscape our yard but have not done so yet. because of this our yard is mainly dirt and mud. i'd like to put something down for the area where the dog goes to the bathroom so that she doesn't get so dirty when i take her out. it will likely be a temporary solution until we get some permanent ground coverings and plants. many thanks. dirty dog owner!

I'm a horticulturist and owner of 3 dogs- 1 male, 2 females. Forget any thoughts you might have of plants for this area! There is nothing that can take the traffic and the urine, and poop is a drag to clean out of plants.

Gravel, 2-3 thick, preferably packed with a heavy hand tamper, is perfect. Dogs like to 'go' on gravel. My dogs naturally go to my gravel driveway for most of their business, but still like to do some in the garden (dealing with that is a whole other story of tricks and tactics).

Use a 3/4 gravel, which is unlikely to get stuck to feet and tracked inside as a smaller gravel can. Choose an ornamental one (there are many) if it's where you see it, or if it's an out-of-sight area, you can use something cheap like drain rock. Cecelia

Pave our yard for dogs?

Feb 2003

I'm trying to figure out a way to pave our yard, 900 sq ft, cheaply and nicely given that we have two dogs and nothing will grow. I was thinking to use pavers or bricks and just have a border of ivy for them to do their business in. But it's very expensive! Any suggestions on alternatives? Cathleen

If pavers or brick are too expensive to landscape a whole yard, maybe you could section off a portion with bark? Bark is inexpensive. Our dog is trained to go on bark, however she will pretty much go anywhere on command. At our prior house, we landscaped a lot of the yard with something called snowstorm. It looked pretty, with little white flowers, plus it was hardy even though our dog peed in it. A picture can be seen here: We bought this at Navlet's Garden, however I have also recently seen it at Home Depot. It grows well and spreads nicely. Hana

Nothing is going to be dirt cheap! But soft paving is less- like wood chips (1/2'' bark), or decomposed granite (''path fines''), or gravel. Fines make a nice, solid surface if laid in 3- 2'' layers, moist power-tamped at each layer. Gravel will be loose & rolly if laid too thick- use only 1-2'' of a sm to med size. Fines can be laid over gravel & packed in- very nice. Dogs love these surfaces for kbusiness. Re plants: ivy is so boring & invasive- reconsider! Check out easy, low maintenance shrubs & perennials. cflittle