Creating a dog-friendly, water-efficient yard

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Karen Brandenburger designed her water-efficient with spaces for her Corgis and Shitzu to enjoyDogs will be dogs.  Running, chasing, digging, and all the things that doggies “doo.”  How can you create a yard that stands up to canine wear and tear and is also a great place for friends and barbecues?

The following tips can help you create and maintain a yard that’s good for people, pets, and Mother Nature too.

People spaces, doggie places

Plan your yard with your pets’ needs and natural tendencies in mind.  Karen Brandenburger has a lovely yard stretching out behind her Tigard home.  Her two Corgis, Constance and JoyBelle, like to chase each other, so Brandenburger let them create their own “doggie track” encircling a planting bed in the middle of the yard.

Another way to direct pet traffic out of planting beds is with dense shrubs and plantings that serve as a living fence.  Brandenburger likes convenience, and water-efficient plants.  Her shrubs, trees and hardy perennials are grouped based on similar water needs.  “I spend less time watering, giving me more time to enjoy my dogs and my garden,” she says.

A variety of plant and landscape ideas are featured in the Water-Efficient Plant Guide for the Willamette Valley, available on the Regional Water Providers Consortium’s (RWPC) website,  Of course there are certain plants to avoid in your pet-loving yard; a good cheat sheet can be found on the Humane Society for the U.S. website, noted at the end of this article.

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Lisa Mullen designed her backyard with curving paths to keep her dog Rupert from running full-throttle through her planting bedsLove your lawn?

Whether you walk on two legs or four, lush green lawns are heavenly.  Established turf needs about an inch of water a week to stay healthy, but most people over-water.  Locally, Mother Nature provides all the water needed during the year.  Summer is when an assist is usually needed.  Find out what’s actually needed (typically less than assumed) by checking the Weekly Watering Number on the RWPC’s site.  Here you’ll also find information about how to plant and maintain a healthy lawn, plus alternatives that require less water than turf.  Residents of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties who get water from a provider that is a Consortium member can request a free watering gauge kit.

The doggie loo

Let’s talk Potty Talk.  Pet urine is high in nitrogen, and while plants need that, too much is lethal, and yellows the grass.  And if you’ve got dogs, you’ve got droppings. 

Lisa Mullen of NE Portland planted her backyard with beauty, functionality, water efficiency and pets in mind.  Mullen has two dogs:  Rupert, a chocolate Lab, and Maya, a Vizsla.  Mullen replaced her water-thirsty grass with interesting plants that need little water once established, plus two areas of pea gravel that are designated “doggie loos.”  With a little encouragement, her dogs got the hang of it.  Around the perimeter of her beds, Mullen positioned several upright rocks, which Rupert uses, saving other plants too.

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Lisa Mullen has trained her chocolate lab Rupert to do his doggie business in specific areas of the yard. He complies...most of the time.Over time, Mullen has learned which plants best tolerate her animals’ activities.  “I’ve found that ferns, sedum, Black Mondo Grass, other grasses, and anything with a silver leaf hold up well to pet traffic and urine,” she says.  “Fine-textured plants, like Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam,’ or yellow-leafed plants such as Heuchera ‘Key Lime Pie,’ Lamium ‘Aureum,’ or golden barberry (Berberis ‘‘Aurea’) tend to brown more easily.”

Go-to Guides

Creating landscapes that are good for pets, people and the planet is easy with help from the experts:

Regional Water Providers Consortium *

Metro’s Natural Gardening program *

Humane Society of the United States *

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Jan O’Dell is a freelance writer and communications consultant who loves living and working in the Pacific Northwest. Jan has cohabitated with dogs most of her life, but currently, two cats rule her household. Jan has a passion for telling stories that explore how people can take better care of the planet. In her spare time, she loves paddling her kayak, tending her garden, and enjoying Oregon’s wild places.