Sand in the backyard - what could go wrong.
April 16, 2021 9:03 AM   Subscribe

We recently adopted a greyhound. He's wonderful. He likes to run, unsurprisingly. He is tearing up our back lawn, which was already in crappy shape for various reasons. Is sand and pine straw a workable solution?

Lots of people use regular straw over dirt to allay the mud. I don't really want to do that. In one of my greyhound groups, a woman on the east coast showed her solution. She had a couple inches of topsoil removed, brought in several tons of beach sand, and covered the sand with pine straw. According to her, she replaces the mulch each year, and every couple of years has to bring in minimal sand to even some places out. Her dogs can dig and run and she brushes their feet off at the door and there's no mud. She says it hasn't impacted her established trees.

I live in Michigan, if climate matters. Our yard isn't large; we have two kids (8 and 12); it's shady and the grass has always been a struggle. I have lots of ideas about how this could be great - less upkeep, good for the dogs and kids, no mud. Are there potential downsides that I am missing?

We'd only do the backyard, the yard is bounded by concrete driveways so there's little risk that the sand will migrate to the neighbors, and we will take other measures to prevent that. No one will really be able to see it.
posted by dpx.mfx to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cats. Cats are the downside. Even with fences. A stray/feral/neighborhood cat who isn't supposed to be outside but dashed out anyway will see that area as a GIANT litterbox.
posted by cooker girl at 9:08 AM on April 16 [20 favorites]


The expense seems like the biggest downside to me. Truckoads of sand is not cheap, especially if you are redoing it every year. If you live somewhere beach-adjacent (like in California), parks have sand bases. The sand still grows plants and when it dries, its rock hard, but it rains more often in Michigan so that may not be an issue. It also gets insanely hot in the direct sun.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:23 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Is gravel an option? If you can find some that is large enough to dissuade cats from being attracted to the yard but also round enough to be gentle on your dog's paws, that might work better.
posted by mezzanayne at 9:45 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Maybe Astroturf? I've seen some big patches of it at the outdoor dog daycare and it seems to work well
posted by The otter lady at 9:47 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


My main concern would be sand impaction because dogs are weird and sometimes they like to eat sand. Particularly once said sand is inevitably visited by the local cats, as cooker girl noted it will be. Here's a tidbit from the article I linked about sand impaction:

"Now we ask, “How on earth does a dog get sand in it’s stomach?” There are several ways, but the most common is Coprophagia, eating feces. Dogs are notorious for eating other dog’s and cat feces. The more problem-some for sand impaction is cats as it is buried in the dirt/sand. Obviously, this is confined to areas of sandy soils or if your dog as access to sandy places such as playgrounds."

You could still use sand, never leaving the dog unsupervised out there.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 10:11 AM on April 16


Response by poster: Dog is unlikely to ever be outside unsupervised. The cat thing could be a problem. I know we have a couple of strays in the hood, although we will have a fence and could use chicken wire to keep them out.

Expense is minimal for the size of our yard. Initial dump of sand will be around $300 for where we want to cover (not sure about the pine straw though). We would easily spend that much between water and treatments trying to keep this lawn alive.

Gravel would be hard on the kids I think. Turf, hmm, maybe.

Thanks everyone.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:37 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Would it mess with re-sale? I guess you could just haul out the sand and replace with sod or something before you sell...? It seems a bit elaborate and hard to retreat from plus I do not think chickenwire would keep out a determined feral cat. But I'm also not living with your mud sitch, so what do I know; it might be worth it.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:57 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


um, hound tax?
posted by dum spiro spero at 11:05 AM on April 16 [9 favorites]


The cats are going to be a problem no matter how hard you try to keep them out.

Realistically, putting down a patio and bordering it with mulch or gravel would probably be easier to maintain in the long run, and depending on how handy you are it's a project you can do yourself.
posted by larthegreat at 11:12 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Assuming there is no town regulations against it, I would go with the artificial turf. Low to no maintenance, looks good, easy on everyone's feet and knees and being in Michigan, not much worry about the heat. Added bonus, put in an artificial turf putting green too for the kids and the big kid.
posted by AugustWest at 11:15 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Realistically, putting down a patio and bordering it with mulch or gravel would probably be easier

I can’t speak to sand, but as someone with greyhounds and (until a week ago) a backyard that was all concrete I definitely recommend against any sort of hardscape patio type solution. The dogs will tear their feet/pads to the point of bleeding trying to run on it.

Personally I’m giving grass a go for now, but our backyard gets full sun which I’m hoping will help the grass be more resilient. If it doesn’t work out I might turn some of the grassy areas into pea gravel or crushed limestone but the latter can definitely get muddy.
posted by misskaz at 11:25 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


The advice here is good; I'll only add that we also had an adopted greyhound and while we could get her to run every once in awhile when she was young, she turned full-couch-potato as she got a little bit older. We got her at the youngest possible age - around 2. She hadn't even had her maiden race. When I tracked down her breeder to let them know where she had landed, the guy said "oh I remember her - she never did take to the training. just wanted to play. Glad she wound up in a good spot." We were living in apartments at the time.

My point is - you might not need a terribly long term solution. The only running she'd do is out-to-pee-then-back-inside-please-now.
posted by jquinby at 12:33 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


The cat thing could be a problem. I know we have a couple of strays in the hood, although we will have a fence and could use chicken wire to keep them out.

I can't emphasize to you enough that nearly anything you do to keep the cats out will be defeated by said cats. Chicken wire is not going to be enough. The only cat fencing I've ever seen that works is the kind meant to keep them in a yard, not out of a yard. That type of fence curves inward so the cats can't jump over it. In order to make it work for you, you'd have to have the curve facing the other way and I can tell you if you were my neighbor and had fencing curved so it overhangs my property? We're gonna have words.
posted by cooker girl at 1:21 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Have you considered clover? We have neighbors with two greyhounds and a clover lawn that stays green and appears very tolerant to their antics. I believe clover generally prefers sun, so not sure how shady your yard is but may be low enough barrier to experiment, as well as there may also be more shade-tolerant varieties.
posted by subwaytiles at 1:46 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


I don't have a dog but a 12yr old who is picky about surfaces his feet touch/has very soft feet and a yard to shady to grow a lawn. And my neighbours have cats.
When we moved in last year and realised that the yard was a shady mud pit, i considerd sand at first but because it will be tracked inside and also remain wet after rain due to our wet climate most of the year, i put in gravel instead. I chose small round pebbles, size 4-8mm.

It was the perfect solution for my son's soft feet, it feels pleasant to walk on barefoot, drains after rain, and made it possible to have a table tennis table. Your boys might like that? It is easy to Play for beginners and if enjoying it, can also be played at more proficient levels.
It is easy to weed.
The cats ignore the gravel and use my flower beds instead.
Re Cats: my yard is surrounded by walls topped with fencing (neighbours choice), and this ugly construction does not hinder the cats from visiting/leaving their own yard...
posted by 15L06 at 1:54 PM on April 16


we have three dogs that like to run the same route every single time they sprint out the back door and the same back and forth when they are out patrolling for squirrels. the biggest problem is where they turn so we occasionally put up small obstacles that make them detour around those spots. it helps. we have a pretty good stand of grass in our back yard though. the idea or clover or other ground cover isnt a bad one either.
posted by domino at 2:18 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Would it mess with re-sale? I guess you could just haul out the sand and replace with sod or something before you sell...?

Assuming grass is actually possible in the OP's location just tilling the sand/mulch mixture in, seeding with grass, and watering regularly for a couple months would likely lead to better lawn than they have now.
posted by Mitheral at 7:04 PM on April 16


The drainage properties of sand are quite different than soil. If you’ve already got a mud situation you’ve got significant water infiltration. This is something not to mess with on your own. You have to be concerned about drainage both for your house foundation and for your neighbors’ properties, plus sometimes local codes regulate major changes to drainage. You need a *locally* experienced landscape designer at least, maybe an engineer (the kind who design septic systems, and do percolation tests).

In other words, I wouldn’t do this. Astroturf sounds like a fine solution.
posted by spitbull at 7:09 PM on April 16


I'm having the same problem. Two border collies and a berinese mountain. We added the berinese last year, and now my backyard is a mudpit. I don't know how I'd plant clover or anything else, they'd trample it before it could sprout. I called a local contractor who does artificial turf, he's coming out next week to give me an estimate. He said about $8 per square foot. Ouch.
posted by Marky at 10:45 PM on April 16


You can buy decent fake turf online for far less than that, in great big rolls. It’s not that hard to DIY it over existing grad (er, mud).
posted by spitbull at 11:34 AM on April 17


Just a data point: we have pea gravel in our yard, and both the dog and cats avoid walking on it whenever possible. Especially if it has rained. They will even try to walk on the hose if it's out.

If you properly install a good lawn (by that I have someone do all the requisite soil amending, smoothing and rolling &c., and install a tough turfgrass), your dog will be able to run on it and it will be the best possible surface. Soccer is played on lawns, and cleats are terrible for grass. Yet a good turf lawn stands up to quite a bit.

The wrong sort of sand can have rough instead of rounded surfaces and be very hard on your dog's feet, your flooring, your plumbing (if you bathe your dog inside). But you could do a deep layer of pine straw without sand. Cheaper, easier, better for any future gardeners, not likely to invade every corner of your house.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:23 PM on April 18


Greyhound feet are very fragile, I would strongly discourage any solution that is a hardscape. They can and do sometimes run so hard they can rip off a toe if they get unlucky.

The sand is the best option and if the dogs aren't out there alone you can catch them before snacking on poop if cats are a problem.
posted by winna at 9:04 AM on April 22


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