Issue 5, May 29, 2018

Making a Dog Friendly Lawn

A recent survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association found that 48% of the US population owned dogs. Unfortunately, these furry companions can be quite damaging to the landscape. As hardy as our lawns can be, they cannot seem to withstand a pet's frequent traffic, constant digging and excess urine. In this article, we will address lawn injury from pet urine and how to repair damaged lawns. 

A dog's diet is rich in protein, that when broken down by the body produces nitrogen and salts as waste products. While supplemental nitrogen can be beneficial when applied in the correct amounts, e.g. fertilization, we have to be wary of concentrating high levels of nitrogen in one place. Excess nitrogen and salts can "burn" turfgrass resulting in brown, dead grass. With urine injury, sometimes referred to as "dog spot," the affected areas are roughly circular, and often surrounded by a border of lush, dark green grass.  

Dog spot.

The sex of the dog can make a difference with both the pattern of occurrence and severity of the spots. Males and females each deliver their urine to the yard differently. A female dog will typically squat and concentrate urine in one place resulting in the brown "dog spot." A male dog, if he lifts his legs, and does not squat, will tend to distribute smaller amounts of urine over multiple places as he goes around marking his territory. Since males are not spraying a large quantity in any one location in the lawn, this behavior usually produces numerous patches of lush, dark green turf.

Dilution is a Solution

One potential solution is to dilute the excess nitrogen and salts deposited with the urine. Research has shown that watering the lawn within eight hours can help to prevent injury. We can achieve this by watering the spot immediately after they eliminate. However, this can be a bit tricky. The pet owner will need to be ready to dilute the urine either with a pitcher of water or with a hose immediately after the dog finishes their business. Alternatively, pet owners can time irrigation systems to dilute frequently used areas on a regular basis. Use this method cautiously. Overwatering a lawn can lead to additional turf problems.

Repairing the damage

Unfortunately, all grasses are susceptible to injury from pet urine. The saving grace is that there are some grasses that tend to bounce back from injury more quickly than others, making them a better selection for dog owners. Warm season grasses, such as bermudagrass and zoysiagrass, are options for owners in the southern portion of the state. These grasses grow vigorously through the summer and go dormant in the winter months. They spread with rhizomes or stolons, and are generally more aggressive allowing them to heal quickly from injury. Repairing warm season grasses may be as simple as applying supplemental watering to dilute the salts so that the turfgrass remains vigorous. Of the cool season grass species, tall fescue has been found to be more urine tolerant than others. Perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass are used often with tall fescue and the combination is adapted to tolerating some level of urine. Damage to any of the cool season grasses may require a more intensive repair. This may involve removing the dead patch and reseeding. Larger, severely damaged areas may require a complete renovation or replacement with sod. Fencing may be needed to protect these areas as they reestablish.   

Understanding how grasses grow and reproduce as well as growing conditions will help to evaluate the condition of the lawn. Many lawns are a mixture of species of grasses. The time of the year and weather conditions play a key part in the overall health of the turf grass. A drought or hot summer can cause lawns to be more susceptible to injury from animal urine, due to the stress of the conditions not just the frequent urination. It is important to think about the health of the lawn before solely blaming the family pet.

Designated Elimination and Digging Zones

If you have the opportunity to work with a client that has or will be getting a puppy, this is the time to designate an elimination zone, i.e. a specific area for the dog to urinate it. Young dogs tend to catch on a bit quicker and will learn that this is the area that they should eliminate in. Older dogs can learn to eliminate in these areas as well, but the success rate might not be as high. To create this area you will need to establish good drainage, place items that will encourage them to use this area as a restroom, and design a place that is still attractive in the landscape. Start by finding a location that is frequently visited and then prepare the area for adequate drainage. Suggestions for drainage material include sand and then a layer of pea gravel. From here it is the homeowner's choice to add mulch, the dogs preferred substrate or other items that will encourage their dog to focus their concentration in this area. Lawn ornaments like a bird bath, large rocks, or even a faux hydrant are useful as they encourage dogs to use this area. Since as a puppy they are encouraged to eliminate on grass, you can find pet turf grass carpet that allows for good drainage as well as the look and feel of grass for dogs.

These are a few approaches that you can take to preserve the integrity of your client's lawns. For more information on these methods, please see the references below. (Maria Turner)

Maria Turner

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