Keeping dogs away from tender plants

Having your pet dog join you for some outdoor fun is one of lifeís pleasures. But when Fido decides to hone his digging and chewing skills on your tender plants, manís best friend can find himself in the dog house!
Hereís a reader who needs help with a dog-gnawed magnolia.
QUESTION: ďLast spring I planted a magnolia Jane and crape myrtle in my garden and they were doing very well until my two dogs got inside the garden and chewed the magnolia down to 5 inches with several small branches attached and chewed the myrtle. I managed to prune the myrtle back to beauty but the magnolia didn't fare so well. Is there any hope in saving the magnolia? Ē -- Juan Luciano
ANSWER: Pets can be harsh on new plants in the landscape. You may have to try several different things before you find the one thing that will encourage the dogs to leave the plants alone.
A few things that come to mind are putting wire cages (chicken wire or stronger) around the trees for the first few years until they can fend for themselves. Sprinkling cayenne pepper around the area of the plant can sometimes keep the dogs at bay as their nose/tongue will burn (nothing violent!) for a few hours. As the trees grow, if the dogs continue to chew on the bark, loosely wrap the trunk with hardware cloth. It is a woven wire type cloth that dogs or wildlife such as rabbits and mice canít gnaw through.
I donít know if the magnolia will come out from the damage. It will pretty much be a wait and see. Give it some protection and if it begins to leaf out, build a sturdy cage around it so the dogs canít get near it.
Another option, until the magnolia is a little larger, is to relocate it to a large (tall) garden pot. I had to do this last year after my dogs decided to dig up the two new crape myrtles that I used to replace two oriental maples that had died over the harsh Easter weekend two years ago. They had never done anything so drastic before, but after they dug up the second set of myrtles planted, we decided to put the plants in some tall garden pots and they didnít bother them anymore.
QUESTION: ďI just recently purchased a home. The lawn is something to question, but anyway I was planning to rake and apply fertilizer with weed control. One person recommended that I use lime as well. Could you explain the benefits or why should I use lime in addition to my fertilizer treatment? Also, I have a hearty hibiscus. Do they return yearly? Can I just plant the seeds that they bore before fall/winter?Ē -- Daniel Felicien
ANSWER: The first thing you should do is have your soil tested. Too often, many chemicals are added to soil haphazardly without testing the soil to make certain that is what is needed, even fertilizer. You can obtain soil testing information through your local Conservation District Office (also known as NRCS), Soil Conservation Service or contact your local Department of Agriculture.
Here is a link to the NRCS. You can find your nearest office by going to that site and clicking on ĎFind a Service Center.í
Fertilizers are only used to bring soil into a neutral level (pH) while chemicals are used to combat specific problems. They do not make the soil healthier, which is where soil should be. Amendments such as organic applications, aged compost, aged manure mix, etc will build up the soil with nutrients making it healthy and less susceptible to weeds and pests. Weed seeds have a difficult time growing in healthy soil.
If the hibiscus in your landscape is a temperate variety (usually a hard bark shrub) and not a tropical variety, it is only dormant and will leaf out in mid/late spring. Temperate varieties of hibiscus (also known as althea and Rose of Sharon) are generally propagated through cuttings. Any seed produced by the plant may not come back true to the parent plant.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steveís free e-mailed newsletter, visit
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