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Can I get something to grow in a tiny backyard with 5 small dogs trampling about?

 
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Hey growies,

I am working with another suburban family small-backyard very low-maintenance-, low-cost-needs project.

Has anyone else worked with a permaculture project involving a lot of small dogs and a small backyard?
The soil is currently very high ratio of sand, like it almost looks like sand, and when I dig about a half a foot in some areas, there’s some red clay swirled in. Nice ingredients to begin soil building, but I don’t think this family wants to create a muddy dog paw situation. The sand is much easier to clean off the floor.
There are five dogs and the size of the yard is only about 2 schoolbuses. Existing oak tree shading almost half the yard. No other plants, hardly even grass or weeds at all. They think it’s because the dogs trample or playfully destroy anything they try to grow. But they want more plants, and a cuter, more appealing landscape to see while outside with their dogs. This is a project I am returning to, after unsuccessfully trying a first time 2 years ago. I planted 2 dwarf palms directly into the sand (low budget project for a friend) and a few ferns near the oak. I mulched with some grass clippings and oak leaves from the curbside, but nothing survived. The family I'm doing this for are the type of folks that believe they kill any plant they touch though, and I want to prove them wrong and give them some encouragement!

Can one of you help me get something to grow in this doggy play pen?
 
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Contain the dogs or contain the plants. If the dogs are small, mayhaps a raised bed would do.
 
pollinator
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I think I would make some raised beds, or protected beds. Maybe table top gardening. You can do marvelous things with wood pallets, which is the cheapest way to make these kinds of gardens.
 
pollinator
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I had a toy and a mini poodle.  They weren't too bad about being in the garden but when I put in raised beds 1' high they almost never went in.  I had to put up with them in the beds while I was making them, but a couple of 'No's taught them to stay out, so I had success.
 
Marlo Blythe
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Good soil for raised beds is too costly for me right now, since this project is a gift. And, since these dogs love to playfully destroy plants, I think it would be impossible to keep them out of raised beds without a big fence, which, since it's such a small space already I think more fencing would take away from the feng shui. I think I am going to plant a couple of very thorny but lovely shrubs, and see how that works. And maybe if I sow some wild climbers along the fenceline, they won't be disturbed as much but would have the effect of transforming the space.
 
master steward
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French Marigold are smelly so the dogs might not like them.  Were you wanting recommendations of flowers or vegetables?

The herb rosemary makes a nice smelly hedge which will be pretty tough after it is established.
 
gardener
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This won't be good for fenshui, but I know that people with chickens sometimes plant shrubs inside an old tire. You cut one side wall out and place that side down, leaving a protective ring to prevent digging. To get the soil to fill the tire, you'll need to create a "lowered path". If you can get free tree chippings, I'd then fill in the path with the chips, which will gradually decompose and provide more soil to work with. Do these guys pick up and garbage the dog "offerings"? With 5 dogs if you could get them hot composting with wood chips they might be able to make soil safely with doggie doo, although it will be a very slow process.
 
pollinator
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I would find some 3-4ft welded wire fencing, untreated pallets,  or whatever the largest-gapped material you can find that will keep the dogs out. Then make an enclosure for the plants of whatever shape you want. If you can’t afford soil make it a compost bin first, with a mix of free materials like leaves, grass, food waste and coffee grounds, woody debris etc. When the compost is done you can spread it further around and expand the plant area or just plant right into it. You could also grow potatoes right away in a leaf filled enclosure or anything that won’t heat up to much. You could shape the enclosure to increase edge, look good, and the dogs will actually enjoy having something to run around.
 
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I've done it in a small yard with 3 German Shepherds (but I am also a dog trainer and my dogs don't willfully destroy plants, they prefer frisbees lol).    My current yard has some compromises with "full on" permaculture design to leave exercise space for the dogs (a long grassy flat run,  enough for a serious frisbee or fetch game).    I've used pallets and chicken wire to build a perimeter garden area about 6ft wide around the outside.    The space between my dogs and the neighbors fences are FILLED with small trees, shrubs, and perennials.   I also planted some small tree beds in and around the dog area,  trees hold up well with just a small temporary fence if dogs are inclined to dig.  Large rocks placed at the base of plants that are potentially in danger of a being run over by a stray ball.   I think in your case I'd get ahold of some cheap fencing materials and build something to divide up the yard.   Small dogs can run around established forests without too much damage once you have an abundance, but give them their own run during establishment, that would be my advice.  
 
pioneer
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Marlo Blythe wrote:Good soil for raised beds is too costly for me right now, since this project is a gift.



Hi Marlo,  

Check out my post on wicking barrels in this forum.  They are about 20 inches high so they should keep the dogs out, but if not some cheap decorative fencing around the top of the barrel should certainly do the job.  As far as cost, they only cost about $10 to make and I used sand in the bottom of the barrels so your soil will work.  You will need to add a bit of organic amendments to improve the soil a bit, but that should be no more than $5 per barrel.  I will be posting a thread soon on a vermiconposting version of the barrels which will compost in the barrel with worms to constantly be improving the soil while the plants are growing using your kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, etc.  These barrels have a 5 to 6 gallon water reservoir so they can easily support two full size tomato plants per barrel or three pepper plants or equivalent and usually only need to need water every other day.

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
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