Our Dog Makes Me a Better Gardener


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

We have a new puppy — although he’s been part of our family for nearly a year. As our last dog was with us for 15 years, this little guy will hold the “new puppy” title for a bit longer. Maybe it’s how he came into our lives or maybe because I think this will be our last dog, that he seems so precious.

I’m weirdly picky about everything related to this critter. I shudder at the thought of any chemicals near “new puppy,” so this year I opted out of our neighborhood’s yard treatment service. We have banished the fertilizers and weed prevention applications that occur just a few feet away on our neighbors’ properties.

Now that I’m confronting fertilizing and weed control on my own, I’ve made some discoveries worthy of these pages. I also have an attitude which will come shining through so I might as well say it up front: Our need for instant gratification makes us vulnerable to quick solutions, which might be creating more problems than they solve.

Here are the three things emerging from our spray-service-free experiment that I want to share with you.

Weed Control: Without spraying pre-emergent on our lawn, crabgrass popped up early in the year. It took me a few extra minutes a day over the course of about three weeks to pull out the young upstarts. Throughout the season I’ve had to pull other weeds as they emerged. Removing them before they set seed keeps them from spreading.

Our yard is ridiculously small so this is manageable task for me — it’s also turned into a jolly game that “new puppy” plays with me. At the end of this season our lawn was as weed-free as that of our chemically-treated neighbors.

Fertilizing: It had been five years since I last did a soil test so I decided to do another one. I’m glad I did as my yearly amendments have delivered happy results. The Cooperative Extension office in your county can provide you with the supplies and information you need to get your soil tested. There’s helpful information on Extension’s site:

With the results of my soil test in hand, I applied the amendments my soil needed in just a couple areas of our yard. By testing our soil first, I avoided hauling bags of fertilizer, extra expense and fertilizer runoff that would contaminate the stream nearby.

I am pleased to report, somewhat smugly, that this summer our yard endured a dry period better than our neighbors. I attribute this success to the attention I’ve paid to our soil and that our plants were not already stressed by a lack of proper nutrients. Be careful with your soil and it will be care-full with your plants.

Time: Rather than just writing a check to the spray-and-pay company, I had to invest time and effort into weeding, getting our soil tested and doing some research. Over the course of the season I allocated additional time to lawn care, but I enjoyed it and am pleased with the results.

Making the effort to manage fertilizing and weed control tasks myself, instead of a spray-for-pay approach, works for us. I realize that most folks aren’t willing to take this on, but I’m glad I did.

“New puppy” sits on my lap while I type this. He reminds me why we made this change. Perhaps he’s my cover story — I felt as though I needed a reason to turn off the chemicals.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com

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