the green, green grass of home.
March 9, 2009 11:10 AM   Subscribe

newbie looking for a sturdy, dog-friendly groundcover for our back yard!

our dogs have reduced our back yard to bare dirt, so we have a nice opportunity (trying to think positively, here) to choose our groundcover.

grass normally grows quite happily in our soil (it's all over everyone else's yards, and picks up right at our fenceline), so replanting grass or laying sod is an option. if we do that, does anyone know how long we'd have to keep our dogs off it for it to properly take root?

alternatively, i've been thinking about sowing mint or thyme (or a mixture of both). our dogs will surely nibble here and there--are these safe plants for them? would we have to keep the dogs off this for very long?

any other ideas would be most appreciated. we are in middle tennessee, get lots of sun, and have been in a drought for a few years now. looks are of secondary importance; mostly we need something to prevent erosion, as we're on a slope, and keep the dogs from becoming utterly filthy whenever they go outside.
posted by thinkingwoman to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As it happens, I'm in Middle TN as well. When we moved into our house here, the back yard had been reduced to bare dirt by the previous owners' dogs. We asked for a re-seed, and he seems to have put down bermuda grass, which I love and hate.

Love: it seems well-nigh indestructible, though in fairness, the only foot traffic it gets are from the kids. Our dog is old and doesn't do much except use the back yard for the needful.

Hate: it seems well-nigh indesctructible, and sends runners out all over the place. Keeping it out of planted/landscaped areas or out of the front yard, which is fescue, is starting to become a real problem. Also, in the winter, it's brown. Heat doesn't seem to affect it too much, and I never water the back. But there it all is.

I've read that using any of the mint family for problem areas (high-sun, slopes, etc) can be a boon. Plus, they smell good. These will also spread, but at least they're perennials and will die back in the winter.
posted by jquinby at 11:33 AM on March 9, 2009

I'm really hoping someone has a good suggestion for this, because I have the same issue. That said, I want to warn you about planting mint. I planted a single mint plant in my front yard, surrounded by landscape fabric covered by mulch. It spreads all would literally crawl 5 feet under the fabric and pop up new sprout nowhere near the original plant. And it wasn't particularly short, although other varieties might be. I'm guessing your neighbors will not be pleased when it starts crawling under the fence.

Anyway, I got so frustrated with trying to cut it back and finding new bits across the yard the next day that I ripped it all up at the end of last summer. I have no doubt that despite filling 5 or 6 of those giant lawn waste bags with mint, I will still find some growing this spring.
posted by thejanna at 11:39 AM on March 9, 2009

My dog loves to eat mint -- from what I've read, it's safe, and she's never shown any ill effects.
posted by alynnk at 11:41 AM on March 9, 2009

Don't flame me if you don't like this idea, but you could consider artificial turf made especially for dogs. Maybe I'm being sucked in by all the marketing, but to me it's an idea I would consider for my dog if I didn't live in a condo and actually had a yard. Sure I would have to see it and feel it, but I'm opening up to the idea. K9 Grass Easy Turf Pup-Grass FieldTurf
posted by spoons at 11:49 AM on March 9, 2009

sorry I fubbed up the links.
posted by spoons at 11:51 AM on March 9, 2009

Best answer: A nice well established lawn will be your best bet. Jquinby is right on about bermuda grass. It's pretty much indestructible once established, but that far north in TN I suspect it'll be brown from Oct to May each year. It needs to be 85 degrees for a few days before it really starts to green up and grow, and it'll shut down for the winter on the first frost.

An improved fescue will probably be a better choice. It will be moderately drought resistant, and look good. You may have to water it in the summer a bit if you want to keep it green as it will want to go dormant when it hits 90. Personally, I consider that a feature as I can often get away with mowing once in July and once in August if we don't get too much rain in VA.

If you want to go cheap throw pasture mix down. It'll be a mix of fescue, orchard grass, clover and other stuff depending on what is ideal for your area. It'll look decent enough when mowed, and won't cost a lot to maintain.
posted by COD at 11:55 AM on March 9, 2009

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod please do not plant mint please do not plant mint please do not plant mint. While yes, it smells good, and some varieties taste good, it is incredibly invasive and impossible to get rid of. Planing mint as a groundcover is the horticultural equivalent of installing bedbugs as a mini cleanup crew. Even if *you* don't rue the day, the person who comes after you will.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:00 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Even if *you* don't rue the day, the person who comes after you will.

For what it's worth, I planted a mint patch at my parent's house when I was a kid and my dad got rid of it with copious amounts of RoundUp. They planted vegetables and the like afterwards and didn't seem to have issues with it coming back.
posted by jquinby at 12:30 PM on March 9, 2009

Creeping Charlie is considered a weed in most places, but some varieties can be bought at nurseries. I have 6 dogs and can attest that it is dog resistant. Makes my dirt patch a lovely green.
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:33 PM on March 9, 2009

Same dirt yard situation.
This spring we are laying in pebbles. We shopped and we found prettty nice looking stuff.
But,wait, We are building elevated little island plantings (stone walls maybe) where the two big poodles dont run. I cant talk Mr Tight Ass into a fountain.
posted by Palmerpoodles at 12:33 PM on March 9, 2009

You might find this thread regarding low-water ground cover useful.
posted by batmonkey at 1:06 PM on March 9, 2009

I think grass is the most rugged ground cover. Go to a nursery or call a landscaper to find out the roughest, toughest grass that will grow in your area. You could get a play yard, a flexible fence used to corral babies, and use it to allow a section of yard to recover by keeping the dogs off. Tree trimmers often have excess wood chips. They're a great surface for dogs; I put them under the dog run once the grass died.
posted by theora55 at 3:23 PM on March 9, 2009

I have this problem, too. You might also check out my earlier question about the pros and cons of having a weed lawn.
posted by walla at 9:23 PM on March 9, 2009

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