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Make your yard safe for creatures big and small

By MARY COLLISTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 26, 2002

Gardens usually are planned with human visitors in mind, but many of us also share our yards with dogs. Dogs and gardens can co-exist with just a little forethought.

Be careful with chemicals. The Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that July is the No. 1 month for calls to its hotline. One of the top problems is that dogs have swallowed weed killers or fertilizers. Ask for pet-safe products at your local garden supply store, and double-check the label for ingredients and warnings.

Let your summer vacation work for you. If you're going on vacation and will board your animals anyway, that's the time to plan to fertilize your yard or use other chemicals.

Go light on fertilizer. Your dog's urine is full of nitrogen and actually works as fertilizer. If urine creates yellow spots on the lawn, just water that area. It is basically overfertilized.

Landscape with your dog in mind. Use raised beds and containers. Put fencing around gardens that aren't compatible with busy paws. You can also provide special places for your dog to enjoy. If she has a spot where she likes to rest, make that her sanctuary. It's easier than trying to get the dog to change her mind.

There's anecdotal evidence that gardeners' dogs dig more than other dogs, apparently because they're doing what they see their owners do. Create a sandbox and "plant" it with bones and toys.

Beware of poisonous plants, including some popular garden plants. Check out the Cornell University poisonous plants informational database at www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/ and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at www.aspca.org. It can be frustrating to put in hours of work and countless dollars into our landscape and then have our furry friends destroy our hard work in a matter of minutes. Planning and some supervision of your dog will make your garden a friendly spot for our two- and four-legged friends.

* * *

While planning and planting a dog-friendly landscape keep energy savings in mind also. As our air conditioners chug along this summer, think about some ways a well-designed landscape will save on that electric bill.

First, study your site's exposure. Draw your property to scale on graph paper. Add all permanent structures such as the house, fence, sidewalks, driveway and sheds. Add notes about the sun, shade, wind and slope. This map will be the start of your design.

Next, site your trees carefully. Obviously, trees block the sun's rays in summer. In our hot climate, plant evergreens on the south and west sides of the house to create shade. Maximize summer shade with trees that still allow penetration of low-angle winter sun.

To shade the roof of a one-story home that's about 20 feet high, place medium-size trees 15 feet away from the house and large trees at least 20 feet away. Small trees can be placed closer to provide wall or window shade. A common mistake is to plant large trees to close to a house or to each other. A neighbor just recently had four large palms removed. When they were planted about seven years ago, little thought was given to their mature size or their growth habits. They got too large for the area and had to be removed.

Now focus on foundation plantings. Foundation plantings and vines can reduce energy use by shading walls in summer. Planting shrubbery close to the house or mounting vine-covered trellises on exterior walls can help insulate a home against hot summer sun. Don't plant vines directly against the house. The roots can damage the house and make maintenance more difficult. Shade your heat pump but make sure the plants are far enough away from the unit that there is good air circulation.

Next create windbreaks using trees, shrubs, or structures such as fences or sheds. Use a barrier that allows about 60 percent of the wind to pass through. This will break up large gusts but avoid the wind "whipping" over the top of the barrier.

A berm can block and direct wind also. A berm is a mound of soil with sloped sides, usually laid out in a free-form shape. To hold the soil in place, plant the berm with ground covers or low shrubs, or place timbers, stones or bricks to stabilize the sides. For maximum protection from the wind, place berms (or other wind breaks) at a distance five to seven times its height from the area you want to protect. For example, a 3-foot-tall evergreen hedge planted on a 3-foot-high berm should protect a patio area that's 30 to 42 feet away.

Lastly, paved surfaces around a home can raise the temperature in the area. Lawns or large areas of ground cover are a much cooler surface than pavement. These plantings reduce radiant heat and cool the air before it reaches your walls and windows. Where possible, plant trees or tall shrubs to shade driveways and other paved areas. Many of us have removed lawn and other plants because of our drought conditions. If you are adding walkways, think about using mulch instead of a hard surface such as concrete or paving stones.

Even if it's too hot to do planting now take a look around your yard. What can you do to make your yard more dog friendly or how can your landscape help you conserve energy? Plan now for the fall planting season.

* * *

A caller was concerned about rain barrels acting as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which is a possibility.

To make sure you are not adding to the mosquito population, place a piece of screening over your barrel. What I have done is stretch a piece of leftover screen from the lanai across the top of the barrel, then screw on the barrel's top (with middle cut out to allow the water to fill the barrel). I have never had any problems with mosquitoes.

You also can fight mosquitoes by purchasing doughnut-shaped discs that float in the water and contain Bacillus thuringiensis. They are available at Worm's Way, 4402 N 56th St., Tampa.

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