To grass or not to grass? That is the question that every dog owning gardener asks themselves. Thank goodness this is a much easier question these days. Twenty years ago, you just couldn’t have a garden without grass – it just wasn’t the done thing. Today, it is perfectly acceptable to have a garden without grass. You just have to consider the options and decide what is most suitable for your requirements.
Depending on your circumstances, it may be perfectly feasible to keep the grass. You can’t expect to have a “bowling green” type of lawn if you decide to allow your dogs access to it. You are likely to have to make some compromises, but then that is what gardening is about, and the dogs are worth it.
If you only have one or two dogs and a garden of a reasonable size, then your only real issue is likely to be coping with the brown patches that develop on your lawn. Bitches tend to have a worse reputation than dogs in this area, however this is probably only caused by the way in which they distribute urine. Since dogs tend to lift their legs against something, they don’t often leave patches in the middle of the lawn. So, what can you do about the patches?
The patches are caused by nitrogen in the urine. Whilst nitrogen is a fertiliser, in excess quantities, it burns plants, including grass. The cheapest and easiest way of dealing with the situation is to follow your dog around and get the watering can out every time they pee. This is rather a time-consuming option and few of us would consider it practical. Many stories abound which suggest that the feeding tomato sauce will alleviate the problem. I have never found this to help and there is sound scientific evidence that it is unlikely to work. I have recently come across a product which appears to help the situation – Dog Rocks.
The big problem is that when a large volume of liquid is deposited in one place, it is all concentrated onto a small volume. Since dogs are more likely to select particular locations than bitches, you could try putting stones around their favourite tree. These days, any self respecting garden centre stocks a wide variety of stones and cobbles in many varying sizes. Don’t just make a neat little circle around the tree; create a small mound such as you would get around a water feature. Put larger ones toward the bottom and smaller ones on top. This way the liquid will be spread across a wider area, and the tree has a chance of surviving the onslaught.
If you decide to lay a new lawn then ensure that you use a tough enough grass, which can stand up to a lot of wear and tear. You need a heavy duty one with lots of ryegrass in the mix. This stronger wearing grass will perform better, but you are still likely to have to repair the patches in your lawn from time to time, it’s just one of those things. If you choose to sow your new lawn, you could try following the idea that quite a few public gardens are now employing for areas of heavy traffic. They mix finely shredded old car tyres into the soil before they sow. This seems to really help the grass to cope with the constant pounding. However, if you do choose this method, you will have to keep the dogs off the area for some time. Typically grass seed takes 7 – 14 days to germinate and then you should let it get established before allowing the dogs access.
However, if you are seriously asking yourself the “grass” question, then it is more than likely that grass just isn’t working for you, so have courage and get rid of it. You don’t have to have grass to have a garden. When I came to make the decision, I have to admit to being a little scared of removing all the grass. I found it really difficult to visualise a garden without grass. I spent many hours watching garden design programs trying to come up with a design that would meet the needs of myself and my dogs.
You could choose to replace your grass with a surface. The most common option is slabs. It’s a very quick solution, even if it is not exactly cheap. The question is whether you want to look out from your house and see a sea of slabs, it’s hardly the most inspiring view. The vista could be improved by having a number of pots and containers around the slabs to make it look more exciting, but they need watering and that can take a great deal of time, particularly in high summer. I want to spend my time exercising and training my dogs, rather than being a slave to the hosepipe.
The other surface which is heavily promoted is artifical grass. I have to say that I have never seen a garden done in this way. I can just about see the attraction of it, if you really feel the need for a green but open space in your garden, but I have no idea how it would stand up to the pressures of a dog. If you choose to go this route, there are a number of different finishes available, from a neat tight sward to a much more relaxed style. You don’t even have to have green, if it takes your fancy, there are red and blue options available for the less conservative.
I decided to go for a third alternative. I have no grass, but have a garden which consists of large beds with paths running through them. I had always wanted to have a lush garden which was full of plants. Getting rid of the grass has allowed me to fill the garden with a wide variety of plants so that my garden has interest throughout the year, and I have been able to save all those hours of mowing. The style of the garden is basically modern cottage, but I do have a formal area with a raised pond, and my three Welsh Springers (and frequent canine visitors) share the whole garden with me. Some of my friends thought that I was mad to want this type of garden as the dogs would be bound to wreck it. Over time, my dogs have given me many gardening challenges to deal with, but I am glad to report that you can have a garden that you share with your dogs and which does not contain grass.