Love the dogs, hate the grass burn


By Tina Patterson, Iowa State University Extension

Can we talk about something here? Something not usually discussed in polite company. I love my dogs. They are a constant source of delight and I love to play with them in the garden and yard. But the grass in my yard that grows beautiful and green doesn’t stay that way very long with a houseful of dogs.

The nitrogen in the urine of dogs can cause yellow and brown spots in your yard. This nitrogen dump can cause your lawn to burn and turn straw yellow. Our green heavily fertilized lawns are already very nitrogen rich so adding more through a canine friend can be detrimental to your lawn. Dogs fed an overly rich protein diet can leave even more nitrogen in your yard. Dog urine can really damage a lawn in times of drought, or if you have a fragile new lawn.

What is a dog owner to do? You can saturate the chosen spots with water as quickly as possible. When walking your pet, carry along a water bottle to drench the area they use to water down the patch and avoid burn. Keeping your pet well hydrated may possibly help dilute the strength of their urine. You can try to train your dog to use a particular area for their “business”.

One thing a lawn lover can do is plant a variety of grass that is resistant to high levels of nitrogen. Perennial rye grasses and fescues are most resistant. Around here we typically see Kentucky Bluegrass and maybe Bermuda grass in our lawns and those are the most sensitive to urine burn. Try to match the majority of the lawn with your seeding efforts. You can remove some of the soil and the dead sod and replace it with healthy sod. If the spots are yellow and dead, you should never add fertilizer hoping to revive the area. It is the same as if you were to empty a container of nitrogen rich fertilizer on your yard in a single spot. You may try to add a small cover of compost to the area to neutralize the spot.

If the area isn’t yellowed, but instead really dark green from a boost of nitrogen in a single spot or two, add nitrogen rich fertilizer to the rest of the lawn to even out the color.

Contrary to urban myth, dog spots are not caused by certain breeds or unusually high alkaline urine, cannot be prevented by food supplements, or neutralized with soap or baking soda on the area.

Or like me, you can throw in the muddy puppy towel and put in an area of river rock and stepping stones just for my four legged pack. Not that I spoil them or anything.

• For gardening questions, call the Linn County Extension Master Gardener Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

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