I have two golden retrievers with varying degrees of intelligence. Bo is big, blonde and goofy. Mia is smaller and more devious. For the most part our garden and the dogs live in harmony. The vegetable garden is fenced to keep the deer out and also serves to keep canine noses within reach of just a few strawberries and only the lowest apples.
They know they have to keep out of certain areas that aren’t fenced but have a distinct change in tactile surface e.g. grass is OK but the wood chips path that winds through the bigger borders is off limits.
The problem arises when they see deer. Or Rabbits. Or a squirrel. Or heaven help us the neighbor because at that point 85 pounds of blonde fur is likely to fly through shrubs and perennials, tail wagging with abandon.
Sound familiar? How can the garden survive such joie de vivre? I find dense planting helps (no clear pathway between them) but certain plants are tougher than others.
I look for flexible branches that will give way rather than snap, tough foliage that won’t shred under paws and multi-stemmed shrubs so that if one or two canes get damaged it’s not the end of the world.
Here are some of my favorite tromp-able foliage plants that look good enough for me and survive happy dogs.
These evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs work hard in the garden. Drought tolerant, deer resistant and rabbit resistant they also have fragrant flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds. Kaleidoscope is one of several variegated forms. Plant this next to a purple shrub such as a smoke bush or weigela and you’ve got the makings of a top notch vignette.
This tough evergreen shrub has a bad reputation for being boring thanks to its ubiquitous use along roadsides, in shopping malls and just about anywhere else you need a low maintenance, fuss-free plant. Hang on a minute though; since when was that a bad thing? These wide spreading shrubs survive deer, rabbits, drought and DOGS. Spring flowers, fall berries and easy going; you may need to put your pride aside and look at David’s viburnum again.
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
I favor the compact variety ‘Little Henry‘ as it fits easily into modest sized gardens but this is a foliage workhorse even at full size (Henry’s Garnet). Fragrant spring flowers and stunning fall color that often persists through winter are two great attributes but this deciduous shrub also thrives in wet soil and grows by suckering. For dog owners that’s a plus as it means there are lots of soft pliable stems so some will remain unscathed after the dog-chases-rabbit rampage is over.
Blue star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)
Many low growing conifers survive the odd tennis ball but the short branches and needles together with its irregular growth habit help the Blue Star juniper easily disguise some minor trampling. Larger pine boughs would definitely be missed by comparison.
Box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida)
If you have a shrub that you can prune anyhow, anytime and it still looks OK then chances are good that it will be fine with dogs too. Box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) is a sprawling semi-evergreen/evergreen shrub with several attractive varieties sporting interesting foliage colors. Lemon Beauty is one of my favorites. I allow it to grow into a wide arching shrub to disguise irrigation pipes in one area of the garden but prune it more closely for shape in another.
Plants to avoid – at least initially
Dogs love to eat grass – especially the expensive ones like Japanese forest grass and mondo so wait a while on adding those if you’re training a puppy. Taller grasses can also quickly be ravaged by boisterous dogs.
Soft, delicate ferns are likely to get torn to shreds (e.g. western maidenhair fern) but the tougher more leathery varieties will cope better e.g. western sword fern
Anything whose beauty is associated with perfect symmetry! That suggests leaving globe shaped conifers behind in favor of ones with a little more personality.
Paws for thought
I haven’t mentioned plants with thorns such as Oregon grape (Mahonia), holly or barberries. These will hurt dogs and none of us wants to do that. When your dogs are trained by all means include these great shrubs if they are suitable for your area, but perhaps set them into the border a little way. Even well behaved dogs have accidents when leaping for a tennis ball!
Share your ideas
We’d love to hear what plants you have used that have survived being torn up by paws or knocked flat by tails (or rolled onto …)
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