Putting a dog together with the lovely loose soil in a planting bed often results in holes, uprooted vegetation, and hard feelings. You don’t have to choose between your dog and your daffodils; keep both by adding a digging pit to your landscape—a spot where Fido can satisfy his urges without destroying anything in the process.
A digging pit can be a simple depression filled with sand and soil and surrounded by low walls to keep in the debris, or a pile of sand where your dog can scrabble without disturbing garden plants.
Choose a good location. One of the reasons dogs dig is to have cool soil under their bellies when they rest. That means you need to place your pit in an area that gets shade, at least during the hottest part of the day. Don’t put the pit near tender plants, since most dogs will manage to kick some sand out of the pit. Pick a location where the ground will not become waterlogged when you water the garden.
Make it the right size. The pit needs to be about as wide as your dog is long, and one-and-a-half times your pet’s length. These proportions give the dog room to maneuver comfortably, but keep the pit small enough so your dog can’t kick out excessive amounts of sand.
Build solid walls. Wood, retaining blocks, and cinder blocks work well as walls for a digging pit. If you dig the pit below ground level, use two rows of blocks surrounding the pit on three sides to trap the sand. Lay your blocks in an overlapping brickwork style. Unless your dog is really rambunctious, you won’t have to secure them. For a higher wall, lay cinder blocks in an overlapping brickwork style, and then pound rebar (reinforcing rods available at lumber stores) down through the stacked holes of the blocks and into the ground. This will hold your walls in place. Fill the pit with a mixture of about three parts sand to one part soil.
Do some training. Once you’ve built your digging pit, you have to convince your dog this is the one and only place to dig. While it may take time, it isn’t difficult. First, bury favorite toys or biscuits your dog will be happy to find in the pit. Take your dog with you to the pit and make a big show of digging. Get excited and play with a toy you uncover. After a minute or two of play, bury the toy again while your dog watches. Dogs will often dig where you’re indicating, especially when they smell the toys or biscuits. When that happens, praise the dog extravagantly and play again when the toy is unearthed.
Control those cats.
Gardeners don’t like finding “presents” left behind by a cat. There are solutions to this problem, though it may take experimentation to find the one that works best for you.
Educate the owners. If the cats aren’t yours, and you know who the owners are, try a little education. Cats left free to roam outdoors often fall prey to dogs, disease, and cars. It’s far safer for felines to stay indoors—and away from your gardens.
Add a feline playground. If you don’t know the owners of the cats, try adding a “kitty corner” away from your favorite plants to keep the cat busy. Fill this area with sandy soil, and plant around it with catnip, mint, and grasses. This will entice cats to remain in this location instead of in the rest of your garden.
Look for deterrents. Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a well-known cat repellent, used through the ages to keep cats out of gardens. (Some people develop a rash when handling rue, so take care.) Commercial repellents have varying success. Some cats flee; others don’t even acknowledge the products. Many cats dislike the scent of citrus, so try scattering citrus peel around your gardens or using a scent nebulizer (available at health-food stores). Rain and wind gradually wear away the scent of these products, so you’ll need to replenish them frequently.
Get ‘em wet. An automatic sprinkling device called the Scarecrow releases a burst of water when anything moves in its coverage area. A quick spritz is sure to make Kitty think again about a future visit.
Cat image courtesy of Glenda Burry; dog image courtesy of Deborah Freeman.