Today, I'll pass on a reader's idea to keep lawns free of doggy- related brown spots. But first, let's talk about the importance of good soil drainage.
QUESTION: "I have just moved to a new subdivision and to dig the pond we had to rent a jack hammer. That's how bad the clay is. We have also made a spot for a vegetable plot and a flower bed but the clay is a problem. My local nursery suggested raised beds but this would be difficult for the veg plot. They also said I could try gypsum and peat moss but didn't mention how much. The flower bed is 8 feet round and the vegetable plot is about 30ft by 15ft. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated." - Aubrey Frost.
ANSWER: To drain correctly, soil needs something known as "large pore space." Soil with a clay content of 20% or more is said to be dominated by "small pore space." This means water is slow to move or perhaps won't move at all, causing the soil to become waterlogged.
Amending the soil with organic matter will certainly help, but as you've discovered, the biggest thing you will need to be concerned about is good drainage. Plants will grow in amended soil but have a tough time establishing in soil that remains compacted with no drainage.
I would remove some of the soil down to about 10 or 12 inches and put in drain tiles. It's not as difficult as you may imagine if you do what they do when laying a drain field for a septic tank. Basically, it's a series of drains feeding into one long one that takes the waters away from the planting beds, or at least down to where the soil percs.
If you plan to do this yourself, it's a good idea to read up on it first. You could start by looking at this online article on soil drainage published by the Colorado State University Extension: http://cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/217.pdf There's a direct link to that site from this column archived at my Web site. You can find drain tile supplies at many home improvement stores.
There are some plants that can tolerate poorly drained soil. These include Arborvitae, Crape Myrtle, Butterfly Bush and some hollies such as Inkberry, Yaupon and Winterberry. However, amending the soil organically and improving the drainage will be the best long-term solution.
HI STEVE: "I am really proud of our creative solution to this (dog- damaged lawn) problem! We have a Lab and six, soon to be seven, kiddos. We did not want the lawn to be a hazard zone, so when our puppy came home, we trained her by taking her out to a designated "potty spot" every time she had to go, out in the back of our yard. So the end result is that she always heads out to her "potty spot" and the lawn looks great and the kids stay out of her poo." -- The Droke Family
ANSWER: Designating a specific area for a canine bathroom (and rewarding the dog after he or she uses it) is a great way to keep the rest of landscape free of urine-browned spots and nasty messes.
The Droke family trained their new puppy right from the start, but maybe some other readers found a way to teach an old dog new tricks! Send me an e-mail if you had any success in that area. If you want to read the original column, go to www.landsteward.org and find the one titled "Dog-damaged lawns need creative landscape solutions."
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org