When Jasper came to stay, I had two small raised bed gardens in my front yard and several small regular flower beds in back. I’d spent the previous few years building the soil in the back yard beds from clay with roofing nails and other odd bits of junk into rich, dark, fertile gold. My plants in back were just beginning to love life, and although working the beds was hard on my back, I was keeping up with the weeding. Jasper took to gardening like a pro. In no time at all, he’d managed to aerate and clear all my back yard beds with his industrious digging skills. I was not happy.
The next summer, I put up some wire fencing to keep him from digging up all my plants again. Mostly it worked, but as he was a tall dog and really wanted to help out, he reckoned he’d take up the watering part of garden. He’d just learned to pee with one leg lifted, and he figured that was a perfect way to ensure my plants got all the refreshment they needed. Half my beans went yellow before they’d reached shin-height and the other plants who survived produced neither fruit nor blooms. Again, I was not happy.
Raised beds turned out to be the solution to both Jasper’s purple-claw and my back problems. We converted the first of my back yard beds this spring. I chose a 24 in./61 cm tall frame for the center piece bed. That one was going to be for medicinal and culinary herbs, and I was planning on a 3 ft/1 m square bed, large enough for a dog to think he might help out if I didn’t make it tall enough to discourage such thoughts. For the smaller side beds, I decided to try an 18 in./46 cm tall frame partly for the aesthetic and partly for the cost savings. I reckoned that 18 in./46 cm was about the maximum peeing-height my pup could manage, so most likely my herbs and flowers would be safe.
I purchased my raised bed frames from a local company, but you could just as easily build a set like the ones we built for our front yard beds. If you’re aiming to make gardening easier for your back, build frames as tall as you can afford. If you’ve got a gardening dog like mine, watch how high he generally pees when he marks the fences, fire hydrants, and other vertical scent spots on your daily walk. That’ll be the minimum height frame you’ll want for your beds.
If your pup’s a digger, go with the tallest beds you can to keep him or her from thinking about jumping right in. If tall isn’t a good option for your space, make the width and length smaller. Take a look at your dog’s bed or favorite sleeping spot to get a reasonable idea of how small a space is too small for him or her to feel comfortable. My pup sleeps in a bed that’s approximately 2 ft/61 cm by 3 ft/100 cm, so a 2 ft/61 cm square raised bed, especially a tall one, is too small for him to dig comfortably.
My last tip is to let your pup have a token bed for gardeining. Watch to see which happens to be his or her favorite digging spot. Declare that to be the Dog Garden, and let your pup know that digging there is okay. You can work the soil and plant a few annuals or other plants you don’t mind losing there. Keep it weeded, but don’t stress out when your pup helps out. As you build up your other beds, tell your pup that the new raised beds are yours to work and that you’d like him or her to stick to digging in the Dog Garden. Once you’ve laid down your expectations, be sure to regularly mention to your pup how wonderful his or her bed looks and how glad you are he or she’s working his or her skills there. If you need to remind him or her to stay out of your beds, finish the discussion off with lavish praise and admiration for the work he or she’s done in the Dog Garden to end it on a positive note he or she will likely remember.
Tips for Gardening with Your Dog
- Choose a height that works: Watch your pup’s habits for clues on how high a frame you’ll need to discourage him or her from jumping right in or marking your plants.
- Choose a size that fits: A bed space that’s a little smaller than your pup’s favorite sleeping spot will most likely be too small for digging in his or her opinion.
- Create a Dog Garden: Give your pup a place to dig. Tend it like your other beds, and appreciate your pup’s work when he or she decides to help out.
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