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Planting a Garden Dogs Will Respect


QUESTION: We are planning to landscape our backyard, which is also home to our exuberant 90-pound dog. We want to install a sod lawn, shrubs and ground cover that will withstand the dog's digging and chewing. What do you recommend? Please, no cactus and don't tell us to get rid of the dog--she's a member of our family.

--M.B., Glendale

ANSWER: Dogs and gardens can get along, but it requires a lot of effort. Years ago, Sunset magazine surveyed readers, vets and even dog psychiatrists for solutions. I would suggest looking up this classic article: It appeared in the April 1987 issue.

Sunset suggested training the dog (and had some good tips), establishing an area around the perimeter of the garden where the dog could make its rounds and using tall raised beds or low fences that--combined with training--would keep the pooch out of the pansies or potato patch.

The article pointed out that dogs hate prickles, but you don't have to go so far as to plant cactus. It mentioned roses, pyracantha, mahonia and junipers--used as barriers to more delicate parts of the garden--and said that dogs are less likely to run into such vining ground covers as ivy and vinca. Obviously stiff plants are tougher than soft plants.

The idea of letting dogs establish paths through the garden, then planting around them, is especially intriguing because dogs are creatures of habit and tend to follow the same routes.

As for the lawn, John Rector at Pacific Sod suggested a spreading grass. He recommended 'El Toro' zoysia, a fast-growing grass developed a couple of years ago by the University of California Extension. If you cannot find this sod, try a hybrid Bermuda like 'Tifgreen.'

He suggested seeding one of the tall fescues on top of the zoysia so the two grow together to hide the zoysia's long dormancy (two to three months each winter).

Landscape architect Michael Lombardi of Pamela Burton & Co. in Santa Monica tried Rector's suggestion. He planted an 'El Toro' sod lawn in September and overseeded it with Medallion rye in November. He has two black Labs that "act like wild horses" in his backyard, yet the lawn is hanging tough--resisting claws and recovering quickly from holes and spots.

In his Lakewood garden, Lombardi found that the zoysia never went completely dormant but did slow down. In summer, 'El Toro' is an aggressive, fast-growing grass, so make sure you contain and control it with an edging and regular mowing and maintenance.

Grubs in Compost Won't Harm Garden

Q: There are quite a few healthy white grubs in my compost pile. I have read that they are the larvae of beetles; will they eat the roots of my plants if I put the compost in the garden without removing them?

--S.H., Los Angeles

A: These grubs--white with dark brown "helmets" and usually found curled up in the pile--are the larvae of fig or fruit beetles, a type of scarab. The big, metallic green beetles nibble on fruit and are as bumbling in their buzzing around as June bugs, to which they are related. The beetles are most often seen in late summer, the larvae in winter. Although they look fearsome, the larvae eat decaying plant matter, so they actually help the composting process and won't harm your garden.

How to Eradicate June Bug Larvae

Q: My lawn seems to be infested with larvae that develop into June bugs. Crows fly in and attack and rip the lawn to get to the larvae. Needless to say, we have a lot of June bugs in June. How can we treat the lawn to get rid of them?

--D.G., Santa Monica

A: Similar and related to the larvae of the fruit beetles mentioned above, but about half the size, the larvae of June beetles eat roots and can harm lawns and ornamentals, although they are normally not numerous enough to worry about. Crows and raccoons can be even more destructive while looking for the larvae.

There are many kinds of June beetles, with four types common here. All have very similar larvae, often called white grubs.

When there are too many, there is a biological control, a type of beneficial nematode that preys on larvae. Abbreviated as BN, these microscopic worm-like creatures also attack cutworms, flea larvae and other larvae that live in the soil.

Orcon is one brand found at better nurseries. It's an expensive product (about $20 for about 7 million nematodes, enough to cover 2,000 square feet) but like most biological controls, they last awhile, so you don't have to keep spraying. Expect them to live two years or more.

If you want a chemical control, diazinon spray or granules are poisons that kill grubs but also earthworms and other soil organisms. Read and follow the directions very carefully and never use near edibles. Manuel Gonzales of Pacific Green, a lawn-care company in the Chino Hills, says that for poisons to work, you must first lure the grubs to the surface by thoroughly watering the lawn the day before, then apply and water again to force the material into the soil.


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