Katy Elliott

A daily design journal about new england life, home decorating resources, and renovating a 257-year-old house in Marblehead, MA.

Oh No, My Boxwoods!

Posted on | April 11, 2011 | 29 Comments

We had a first warm weather this weekend. I cleaned out the front and side garden and planted a few spring flowers in the container next to my front door. It’s barely Spring here. I spotted a few daffodils blooming but we still have another few days before the Forsythia pops.

In my side garden Tulip and Allium bulbs are poking through. The Lamb’s Ear and Sedum have a head start followed by my Poppies—I’m crossing my fingers for blooms this spring. So relatively my garden is in good spirits except for the Boxwoods.

I planted four beautiful boxwoods last Spring after a trial run with Endless Summer Hydrangeas (I’m realizing I should have kept them and was being inpatient). Around July I started to notice some browning on the first and fourth boxwood. At first, I thought it was the sun but soon realized it was dog pee. I started watering the shrubs every morning drenching them with buckets of water to maybe help get rid of the scent. My efforts didn’t really work and by Fall I had burnt spots on three out of four.

Over the winter I covered the bushes in burlap and rubbed a little cayenne pepper on the burlap. I was hoping the smell would be a natural remedy to deter my furry friends. The burlap has now been removed and the shrubs look worse then ever.

I’m totally kicking myself because I heard from a lot of other gardeners, Boxwoods can be finicky. The shrubs are in the shade and we’re not in a terribly windy spot so I thought I would be fine. But I never factored in the dog pee. So what do I do? Move them, clip out the burnt patches, put in something else? Any tips or ideas would be really appreciated!

In other news I picked up English Cottage Gardening: For American Gardeners via an Amazon suggestion. The book is filled with wonderful inspirational photographs and plants suggestions. Also in my cart a new pair of Felco garden shears. I like that their smaller and really easy to use. Hopefully, I’ll have them for many years to come.

Related Posts:
Last Spring: Putting in Boxwoods
My Hydrangeas Are Sad
Yay or Nay: Coffee Bag Boxwood Covers
Planting Bulbs and Bareroot Perennials

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29 Responses to “Oh No, My Boxwoods!”

  1. Ellen
    April 11th, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

    That is a bummer about the dog pee, everything looks so nice otherwise! I wish people were more educated. People think they are not doing any harm when they let their dog pee on plants, and a lot of people think “hey if horse manure is good fertilizer, then so is dog poop!”

    I’m curious to see if there is a solution. Good luck!


  2. Katy Elliott
    April 11th, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

    Oh gosh I don’t blame the dogs. Once one pees on it the whole neighborhood has gotta spray. And the shrubs are right on the street. Maybe I just need a different plant? Or maybe there is a natural repellent?


  3. dal
    April 11th, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

    that is a bummer but at least you didn’t plant arbor vitaes. you should see the growing collection of dead arbor vitaes at my house. my box woods are the only thing keeping my faith in shrubs!


  4. Steve
    April 11th, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    That is such a drag. I had the same problem with a neighborhood cat that peed on my boxwood. I suppose it would grow back if you trimmed out all the dead stuff but if the dogs are continually going to pee on them, it’s not going to help.

    Juniper, rosa rugosa and hosta are supposed to be pet pee proof. If the area is shady, you might be stuck with hosta. Is there any possibility you could add a few cedar planters so the boxwood is up out of pee range?


  5. liz
    April 11th, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    We have the same problem with dog pee and unfortunately solid waste as well. I agree it can’t be prevented, but I think neighbors should do their best to prevent their dogs from harming neighbor’s gardens especially in areas where there are nicer plants that people have spent time and money to plant. When living in Beacon Hill, we had to pull our dog away from people’s gardens and wait till he got to the park or a large public tree that wouldn’t be harmed the like smaller plants. It’s a huge problem in our city, so people are pretty protective of their curbside gardens. A great website for tasteful/thoughtful “curb your dog” signs: http://www.thelawndog.com/product.html which also has helpful info about the impact of animal waste.

    A variety of repellent sprays do work, but you have to spray them regularly (at least a couple of times a week) and they leave a strong unpleasant odor that can waft into your house if you leave windows open in the summer.

    Good luck!


  6. Katy Elliott
    April 11th, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

    I was thinking about moving the boxwoods to my backyard aka mud pit and plant them in cedar boxes for my someday patio. I’m sure they’ll be just as beautiful.

    But I do need to find something to replace them with. I liked the hydrangeas and kinda thinking about trying them again. The first set I had got moved down my walkway and they’re doing great.


  7. Sarah
    April 11th, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    Ick. I would move them if they’re on the street. Just prune the burnt side and rotate that away from view. Heather might do well if it’s not too shady; ditto for lavender. And the lavender is a natural repellent.


  8. Katy Elliott
    April 11th, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

    Lavender! I didn’t even think of that! I see it all over town in front of houses. I have three growing on the other side of my house but they might do better here. Thanks Sarah!


  9. mary
    April 11th, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

    Ack – what a bummer about your boxwoods. I hope you can revive them! If you can’t find a way to repel the dogs, I’d definitely move them. I saw them *everywhere* in London, especially in containers (window boxes, in pots flanking doorways, etc.). I love the look and I’m planning to buy a few this week plant in containers and place around our yard.


  10. tony
    April 11th, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

    katy katy katy
    i say why fight it….
    plant dogwoods
    just kidding
    but i do think perennials would be much better for that area
    i’m not a big fan of shrubs in front of those old house
    one…it keeps moisture in
    and two….i don’t think old houses need foundation planting…..
    and three …what good are they if you are wrapping them with burlap all winter?
    i’d pic out an old fashion fern
    maybe mix in a few other shade loving perennials
    I know a good nursery in maine!


  11. abby Belknap
    April 11th, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

    citronella sprayed on your plants keeps the animals away but having to do it all the time is a pain, how about building up your front bed with a stonewall base, and then earth and the plants are out of the way, You could also try an evergreen low growing and or weeping over the stone.


  12. Katy Elliott?
    April 11th, 2011 @ 8:30 pm


    Thanks for the comment. You’re hilarious, dogwoods. So I guess the boxwoods are getting yanked??

    I need to find a new home for them or start looking for planters or make my own.


  13. Liz
    April 11th, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

    a little decorative fence can help, or cayenne directly onto the boxwoods–dogs sniff before they pee and cayenne does NOT sniff well. i used it in my garden beds to deter cats and as long as i sprinkled after every rain, it worked.

    a sign works, too. sorta. ;)


  14. Stacey
    April 11th, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

    I agree with Tony. Shrubbery up against the house invites moisture and bugs. It would be a shame if after all the renovation, carpenter ants made themselves cozy. I like the perennial garden idea and I would look around for something prickly if you want to put shrubbery of some sort- like barberry. Those dogs will thing twice about doing a sniff and lift!


  15. karen brown
    April 12th, 2011 @ 9:38 am

    one thing we didn’t take into account when we planted boxwoods along the front our our home was the weight of the snow that got shoveled on top of them. mine are green, but are all squished in the middles leaving big holes. uggh!
    maybe perennials are the way to go. good luck!


  16. Josephine
    April 12th, 2011 @ 10:59 am

    I like your idea of moving the boxwoods to the back for cedar boxes in the future. One thing I’ve learned with gardening is to stop fighting the inevitable. It’s just a waste of time in the end. Even if you find a repellent that works if you forget for a few weeks or go out of town you’re back where you started from. I’m not sure what else you could try that’s a shrub. I think your best bet is asking your local nursery for something “dog pee hardy.” If the hydrangeas weren’t affected that’s a great choice too. I live in VA and have daylilies and a wild rose planted against my sidewalk that receive “dog nitrogen” daily and they do great. My own dog almost killed one of my snowball bushes once from marking it repeatedly. I put one of those litte metal decorative fences around it until he gave up and focused elsewhere and then took it down.


  17. Sarah L
    April 12th, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    Katy, you’re welcome. Only bummer is that you will need to replace the plants every couple of years but if the dogs brush up against the plants while peeing, the plants will release their oils and make the front smell better.


  18. Donna
    April 13th, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

    Lots of great ideas here, Katy, although I have found that you really need a lot of sun (and somewhat sandy soil) for lavender. Anyway I have been meaning to recommend a book that was recommended to me (and has been quite helpful) for a while: Rudy and Judy Favretti’s For Every House a Garden: A Guide for Reproducing Period Gardens. It has a whole section on foundational planting, but maybe you’re not going to go that route? Happy Spring, anyway!


  19. Olga
    April 14th, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

    I have dogwoods in pots on the patio. They do great in pots, so I highly recommend you don’t get rid of them, but keep them for your patio. Make sure you rotate them couple of times per season, otherwise they will be somewhat flatter on the shadier side. And I agree with the above commenters, lavender works great for peed on areas


  20. Erica
    April 16th, 2011 @ 7:18 am

    I have boxwood bushes in my front “yard” (about 5ft by 3 ft) behind a low cast iron decorative fence (and they’re at dog pee level and get peed on), and boxwood trees in my back in pots. Every year, I think they have died because they get quite brown over the winter, but then they spring back and turn lovely and green.

    Maybe you could put a little pee-guard fence up if you like them in the front?

    I also think boxwoods basically smell like animal pee, so unless you witness the dogs peeing on them, it might just be normal boxwood life cycle.


  21. Katy Elliott
    April 16th, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    Certain varieties of boxwoods smell like cat urine all the time. I have Buxus hybrid ‘Green Velvet’ which do not.

    I have witnessed spraying on my bushes and my neighbor who sits out on his front porch all day told me, owners do pull dogs away but some just spray as they walk. I don’t blame the dogs/owners. I live in a walking community and the shrubs are right on the street.

    I just want to find a solution that works for me. I was hoping as the plants matured they would be able to handle it. For now they are staying and we’ll see what happens.


  22. Ann
    April 18th, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    There isn’t much to be done about dogs peeing (and as a dog walking owner in a high rise, they have to go somewhere) but I know gypsum is generally used to neutralize the urine. You could try making a spray.


  23. Elizabeth
    April 19th, 2011 @ 9:35 am

    I think that you should move the boxwoods to the back. It will just be a never ending doggie battle. I would go for the hydrangea if it can tolerate a little dog pee or some of blue hostas are very pretty and shade friendly. You can also find some other perennials to plant too to spice up the hostas.


  24. Elizabeth
    April 19th, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    I think that you should move the boxwoods to the back. It will just be a never ending doggie battle. I would go for the hydrangea if it can tolerate a little dog pee or blue hosta and fern are very pretty and shade friendly combo.


  25. Christina
    April 22nd, 2011 @ 8:36 am

    How sad it is, when the fruit of your labors are wasted by ignorance!!!!
    You have such an artistic eye, have you thought of painting a sign Educating Your Neighbor/Dog??? as to WHAT is going on??? I bet that will be a wake-up-call for the culprits.
    Might agree with the potential moisture problem for the siding too….
    Airy Azaleas??? like the old-fashioned ones you find in woodlands? Early bloomers.
    And there is always Hollyhocks, they used to cover Old Town way back when…. I believe they are biannuals, though.


  26. Colleen
    May 24th, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    I have it on good authority that your boxwoods may be suffering from a fungus (and the dogs peeing on them is certainly another contributing factor for the brown areas!) I have large (potted) conical boxwood topiary and globe boxwood topiary- I was told never to mist the boxwoods late in the day (only early in the day, if I must!) because they need to stay fairly dry to combat fungus. Apply a fungicide according to the directions and see if this helps. Good luck!


  27. Katy Elliott
    May 24th, 2011 @ 10:41 am

    Thanks Colleen for that tip! I didn’t even think of fungus.


  28. jeanne illenye
    January 2nd, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

    Looks more like Boxwood blight, which is what mine have. It’s likely not dog pee. We have a gated garden so no neighborhood dogs can get inside our garden at all, and some of mine look the same. It comes from overwatering and root rot. They like dappled sun so sounds like yours are in a good spot. Animals don’t like boxes typically, which is why they’re so popular. Arborvitaes LOVE water and will brown if they don’t get enough…unless it’s blight, which can be treated. I prefer an organic approach which means I just cut off the dead stuff before it gets too advanced. When I cut off the brown box branches the shrub was saved but w/ an unsightly gap for awhile…maybe I’ll need to do that this yr. w/ 4 more….


  29. Terri
    December 7th, 2012 @ 11:29 am

    Our dogs have caused a few of our boxwoods to turn brown where they pee. But last summer, they regularly peed on our small rosemary shrub, which is planted in a well drained, hot and sunny area, next to a pea-gravel path. The rosemary doesn’t seem to have suffered any, and it still smells like rosemary, (not like dog urine,) though I miss using the rosemary in the kitchen.


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