One of the pleasures of writing this column is the feedback that I
receive from you, the readers. Sometimes that feedback is a question
about a problem with a tree or shrub. Sometimes, it's a suggestion I
can pass along to help another reader who has a garden issue. And
sometimes, it's a follow-up to something I'd written in an earlier
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
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
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
If you plan to do this yourself, it's a good idea to read up on it
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
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
HI STEVE: "I am really proud of our creative solution to this (dog-
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