Dogs love fertilizing lawns. They just don' t know when to quit. Here's what you can do to help.
Those of us with dogs know how hard it can be to keep the grass looking nice in the "potty area" of the yard. Female dogs especially are notoriously damaging to turf.
The question, though, is why? Female dogs, as well as some young males, senior males, and males who just never got the urge to lift their leg to pee, squat and deposit their urine directly into the turf. Males who lift their leg typically spread their pee around the yard, and actually pee on something like a tree or landscaping. So the yards where male dogs are peeing a little here and there typically don't see as much "urine burn" on the grass.
But let's talk about the yards where dogs squat and pee right into the turf. A common misperception is that those urine burns come from the acidity in the dog's pee. And while urine is acidic, that's not actually what's causing the burn. It's actually nitrogen. Urine is pretty high in nitrogen, so what your dog is doing is fertilizing your grass whenever she pees. the problem is that she just doesn't know when enough is enough.
With a female dog (or male dogs who squat to pee), there's a chance you've got some very lush-looking spots in your yard mixed in with some very dead-looking spots. The lush spots are where the dog's done some great work putting nitrogen into the soil. The dead spots are where she's overdone it. Either way, most of us don't want such uneven turf in our yard; we'd prefer a bit more uniformity.
So what can you do about fixing this unevenness in the turf? First, don't waste your time and money on pills that claim to eliminate turf burn. They're just not effective. If anything, you could reduce the amount of protein in your dog's diet, as high-protein means higher nitrogen in the pee. That being said, there's still going to be nitrogen potentially burning your grass no matter how much you reduce the protein in her diet (and dogs do need protein, so you don't want to eliminate it altogether!).
The more sustainable fix is to increase the frequency of your watering in the potty area. Normally, I suggest less-frequent but deeper waterings for your lawn, but when it comes to your dog's potty area, I suggest watering for 3-5 minutes every 1-2 days (you should also continue doing a deeper watering every 7 to 10 days). Even if you don't want to turn the sprinkler on for that short of a period, just put a spray nozzle on your hose and spray it down for a few minutes, giving a bit more attention to the specific spot where your dog recently peed.
These frequent short waterings will help disperse the urine into the soil and dilute the nitrogen so you won't be facing so much unevenness or dead spots in your turf.
A recently-released study from an international group of scientists and researchers (link to PDF) shows that vermicompost (compost produced by worms) not only improves crop productivity, but actively fights fungal attacks that can destroy harvests. This is great news, not only for organic farmers, but also home gardeners who are looking to boost their harvest and prevent fungal outbreaks without using harmful synthetic fungicides and fertilizers.
Their scientific conclusion:
"The application of vermicomposting to agricultural land increases productivity by a multifaceted impact on soil health and crops, facilitating nutrient enrichment and preventing pathogen development. Vermicompost and its derivatives, such as vermiwash [liquid extract produced from earthworm-rich vermicompost], along with associated decomposer bacteria, act against fungal pathogens. The antifungal efficacy of vermicompost may be associated with bioactive compounds present in the CF [coelomic fluid], mucus, skin secretion of earthworms and metabolites secreted by decomposer bacteria. The CF of earthworms has an inherent ability to defend worms against diseases. It inhibits the growth of a variety of fungal pathogens, such as Rhizoctonia solani, Alternaria solani, Aspergillus niger, A. flavus, Fusarium oxysporum, and F. graminearum. The metabolites from vermicomposting bacteria, CF, mucus, and skin secretion synergistically combat phytopathogenic fungi. As an organic product, vermicompost and its derivatives are environmentally friendly. Thus, these products should be used to boost agricultural productivity by nutrient enrichment and reduction of plant fungal diseases."
The layperson's summary:
Worms which break down organic matter have to be able to fight off harmful bacterial and fungal pathogens in the soil, so they secrete fluids from their bodies to do this. These fluids are also present in the vermicompost (their poop) that we apply to the soil in our pots and gardens. Therefore the study shows that because of the composting worms' fluids present in the vermicompost, their vermicompost also acts as an antifungal agent for your plants.
To order Living Worm Compost for your garden and potted plants, click here.
The ideal time to prepare your garden beds for spring planting is in the fall. Yes, you read that right! Preparing your garden beds for next year starts as soon as the season ends.
Start by cutting down this year’s crops. Dispose of diseased plants and compost healthy ones.
Then, Alfalfa meal is a natural soil amendment that I add to my garden each year. Mix 5 pounds per 100 square feet of garden space before adding Living Worm Compost. Vermicompost is more nutrient dense than traditional compost and can fill the gaps of nutrients that may be missing in your soil. One bag per 100 square feet of garden space is a good place to start.
Healthy soil in the fall means healthy plants that will produce good crops and help fight off disease in the spring.
At Good Sweet Earth, we're big fans of clover in lawns (see: here & here). It fills in gaps and keeps out less attractive weeds, it stays green all summer, it's great for pollinators, it's good in high-traffic areas, but one of the best parts is that it actually puts nitrogen into the soil. It provides fertilizer naturally for your lawn.
From the University of Georgia Extension:
Nitrogen is "fixed" in clovers through a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria that infects the plant's roots. The plant provides energy for the bacteria, and bacteria provide the "machinery" necessary to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form available to plants. Nitrogen fixation is one of many economically important features of clover, particularly when clover represents a substantial proportion of available forage. A vigorous stand of white clover will fix 100-150 pounds of nitrogen per year depending on soil and growing conditions
But what does nitrogen fixing actually mean for your lawn? It means that in areas where you've got clover growing, your grass will be healthier too-- greener, thicker and stronger in drought conditions. Take a look at the lawn below where Dutch white clover is currently being established. The test sample on the right, with clover currently fixing nitrogen in the soil, shows shows thicker, greener turfgrass, even during the heat of summer months.
Want to water your garden less, even in the driest months of the year? Want to know that your garden's soil can hold onto the nutrients you apply in the form of fertilizer? Then you need to put down some vermicompost, also known as worm compost or worm castings.
Before I get into the amazing benefits of Worm Compost, I just want to say that putting down any compost will help your soil hold onto water better. If you've got sandy soil, adding organic matter (compost) will help keep water from running right on through. Even if you've got loamier soil, organic matter will provide HUGE benefits to your garden, especially helping it to hold onto water longer.
All that being said, we've found that the best type of compost for gardens is the compost made by worms-- Worm Compost. Not only does it lock water into your soil, it has beneficial microbes from the worms' digestive tracts that will help your garden flourish, both as a mild fertilizer and a disease suppressant.
According to a study at Cornell University, it's been "shown that beneficial microbes in vermicompost can colonize a seed's surface and protect it from infection by releasing a substance that interferes with the chemical signaling between the host and the pathogen."
To buy some of our amazing Living Worm Compost, click here. Free local delivery in West Michigan (Kent, Ottawa, Allegan & Muskegon Counties).
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.