Gardening with Your Dog

3aI adore gardening, and I love my dog. Fifteen years ago I retired with two goals. One was to learn more to enhance my townhouse garden, and the other was to get a dog. Fast forward 15 years, and I have a 14-and-a-half year-old toy poodle named Chocolat, and I have become a Green Spring Master Gardener. My garden is still a work in progress, and sweet Chocolat is my constant companion while I design, dig, prune, water and putter. When I was taking classes at Green Spring and studying at home, I also was learning about gardening with my best friend. A book I found helpful was Cheryl Smith’s Dog Friendly Gardens-Garden Friendly Dogs.

2aThe Master Gardener mantra is “Right Plant-Right Place.” This could not be more accurate for sharing the garden with our furry friends. Dogs like to investigate and trot around plants. If you’re into training, teach “stay out of the beds.” Chocolat learned this very early. If you find yourself more tolerant of dog garden exploration, plant vigorous plants. Try, for example, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, liriope, or Mexican primrose. A few tough shrubs include Pieris, laurel, and viburnum. Hollies and barberry are prickly bushes that might discourage some dogs. Do not plant any variety with sharp thorns or points. They might injure a dog’s eyes. If you have a specific plant question, find a Master Gardener at a Fairfax County Farmer’s Market or on Saturdays at Green Spring Gardens.

While you garden, stop and play with your dog. Provide him/her with outside toys. If you have space, give him a section to dig. Teach your dog to defecate in a specific area. Pick up fecal matter as quickly as possible to keep your dog healthy and to discourage rodents. I learned not to weed in front of Chocolat. She would copy my behavior and begin digging up flowers. Container gardens can be a good solution for pet friendly gardens.

5aEco-Savvy gardening was a big part of the Master Gardener classes. I now always use nontoxic products. If you share the garden with your animal, you really need to be strictly organic. The National Institutes of Health found that canine lymphoma is significantly elevated in dogs exposed to lawn pesticides. Using cocoa mulch also can be harmful to your pet.

Last summer I thought the squirrels were eating my strawberries until I noticed Chocolat happily nibbling them off the bush. I shared this with a Master Gardener friend who told me her Golden Retriever loved raspberry canes. Chocolat is only five pounds, so she did leave some strawberries for the squirrels. The humans in the house got very few. I will put in more plants this season.

1aDo not leave your dog unsupervised in the garden. In our house, a big dog is called a “real” dog. Chocolat is tiny. She can’t be left alone because the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk finds her fascinating. He often flies low to investigate her. If you have a real dog, leaving him alone will probably encourage digging. Being in the garden with him can stop the digging before he makes a mess and thinks that it’s all fun and games.

A great deal of bonding can take place when you’re out in the yard with your four-legged friend. So get your plants and pet and enjoy the time outdoors.


Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Master Gardener.


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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

1 thought on “Gardening with Your Dog

  1. John Lawrence

    I’d love to do that. Indeed, a great deal of bonding can take place when you’re out in the yard with your four-legged friend. Gardening only is fun, however gardening with your pet is another story.


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