What To Do When a Dog is Nibbling your Plants

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Sometimes our garden pests are the ones sleeping in our beds.

I’ve had people ask me how to keep dogs and cats out of the garden, but it was typically because they were either trampling things or using the garden as their personal loo.

When the dog decides he has a taste for something green and tasty, it’s a totally different ballgame. My brother and sister-in-law’s rather large puppy, Bruno, decided he likes to sample plants as they go into the garden, and it’s not making for an easy planting season.

Dealing with dogs in the garden

Fortunately, there are several ways to handle the situation. One option that nearly always works is to put up a barrier to separate the plants from the pets, although it negates the purpose of an ornamental garden. Who wants to plant flowers only to have to look at them through a screen or fence? But a physical barrier will prevent them from destroying all of your hard work whether it’s your dog, or the neighbor’s pet, that swings in for a snack.

What and how much you need to protect the plants depends on the situation. Many dogs eat plants when they’re young. This is a good opportunity to train them to know where they can, or cannot, go. That’s my regret with our dog Luna. I never had a dog who ate vegetables like she does, and if I would’ve been smart I would have restricted her range within the garden. Now I have to shoo her out at every opportunity. If you’re dealing with a puppy, you have a better chance to teach them and the first step might just be keeping the plants out of sight. In the meantime, putting a floating row cover over them could be sufficient to dissuade them from eating the plants.

But if you have a dog determined to nibble, you’ll have to step up your efforts. For smaller dogs, chicken wire is sufficient to keep them away from the greenery. You can also protect individual plants with milk jugs with their bottoms cut off. Just be sure to remove the cap so they don’t wind up cooking the plants. For larger dogs, a simple line of electric fence is usually enough to teach them boundaries, or you could install a heavier, more permanent fencing system. The issue with the bigger fence is it is a problem for the humans who have to work in the garden because you’re either stepping over or around the barrier.

Dogs and ornamental gardens

For ornamental gardens where a fence doesn’t make much sense, most gardeners look to repellents to keep the dogs out. A concoction of garlic chopped up and steeped in a quart of water and spritzed on the plants has a nasty scent that is often enough to turn them away.

Add a bit of cayenne pepper and it really gets noxious. Other gardeners sprinkle cayenne pepper, black pepper, or red pepper flakes in the soil around the plants. The biggest drawback to either of these is you will have to respray or replenish the repellent every week. Some swear by oranges or coffee grounds, although I really can’t say how well those work.

One thing you don’t want to use are mothballs. These are basically pesticides that are emitting vapors, and while they smell terrible, I would put money down that our dog would eat one, which demonstrates why you don’t want to use them at all. If ingested they can cause anything from vomitingo diarrhea or even seizures and death. So even though they were once a popular repellent to keep out furry critters, don’t use them.

It can be hard to keep your dog, or someone else’s, out of your garden. It takes a lot of effort, but it can be done whether you have to rely on a fence or a strong smelling mixture to send them elsewhere.

Meet Amy Grisak

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