Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of dog © Robert Queen

Train a dog to do its business in an area of the yard where grasses don't grow well.
© Robert Queen

April 2011

Creature Comforts

Green lawns and happy pets

David Sperling

You don't have to choose between raising pets and having healthy lawns. You just have to pay a little attention to each in its own time.

For instance, dogs need a place to run and you can plant the lawn area with a grass mix that holds up better to heavy use where your pet chases its ball or practices its retrieves. Garden centers and hardware stores can suggest grass seed blends that can handle high traffic and hard play whether from kids or collies. Certain blends also better resist damage from pet urine. Grass mixes with higher percentages of fescues and perennial ryes take longer to show any damage from urination. You could also train a dog to do its business in an area of the yard where grasses don't grow well. Watering areas that pets frequently use can also minimize grass burns.

Be mindful that certain landscaping plants, while attractive, are poisonous to animals. Check out Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants for such a list and also look at the companion list of houseplants that are toxic to pets (17 Poisonous Plants).

Keep in mind alternatives to control weeds in your lawn, driveway and sidewalks that pose less risk to the environment and your pets. There are options to harsh chemicals. Small patches of crabgrass and other weeds that sprout up in the cracks of driveways and sidewalks can often be efficiently removed with a dandelion fork or killed by dousing them with boiling water or five percent vinegar solutions. You can also try sprinkling table salt on small weeds in brick paths and patio pavers.

Bugs on flowering plants and shrubs can often be knocked down by spraying a mild solution of water mixed with just a bit of dish-washing soap. Fortunately most garden centers also carry lots of organic insect controls that use simple insecticidal soaps, natural insecticides like pyrethrums, boric acid crystals and other products that won't harm your pets or other family members. Products with natural oils like hot peppers, ground peppers and fragrant oils will keep away many bugs and insects. Thyme oil, peppermint oil and wintergreen oil all act as natural repellents. In fact, farmers have been known to sprinkle a few peppermint or wintergreen candies in their barns to keep mice and other rodents in check since they don't like these strong odors. That might work in your garage as well.

Take a hint from organic gardeners. Just as you can companion crop vegetables with fragrant, pungent flowers like marigolds, you can ring portions of your property with pungent, peppery plants to keep critters away. If you want to keep your cat or the neighborhood tabbies from portions of your yard, consider planting a perimeter with herbs like rosemary to keep them at bay.

Dogs and cats have sensitive noses and avoid strong odors. They will often steer clear of areas where a few cotton balls are laced with ground peppers or sprinkled with a bit of ammonia, vinegar or citrus oils from lemons and limes. Just be careful. Ammonia, for instance, can cause burns and permanent injury to people and pets, so use these solutions judiciously and don't handle them with bare skin.

Or you can take the opposite approach. If you'd rather attract animals to certain areas over others, consider planting small patches of plants that draw them in. A little catnip near a sunny spot goes a long way.