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Dog urine killing grass and leaving ugly brown spots is a common problem for pet owners who want a healthy, uniform, aesthetically pleasing lawn. Dogs and beautiful lawns can coexist by taking a few simple steps to prevent or repair urine spots.
Lawns are damaged when dogs are allowed to urinate on the grass and progresses as the dog continues to go in the same spot. The damage appears as dark green spots that turn into straw colored dead patches, 6-12 inches in diameter, surrounded by a ring of dark green grass.
The damage is caused by the high concentration of nitrogen and salts in dog urine. Nitrogen is the primary nutrient in lawn fertilizers. Healthy lawns require nitrogen but too much stimulates excessive growth, hence the deep green patches, and burns the lawn when concentrated to a small area. The damage is similar to burns caused by fertilizer spills or applying too much fertilizer.
Urine spots really stand out in lawns that have not been fertilized as the grass responds to the nitrogen with patches of greener, more vigorous grass. However, dark green patches will also show up in healthy lawns that have been properly fertilized.
The excessive nitrogen and salts from urine, concentrated in one spot, cause death to the grass tissues through dehydration. Lawns under stress from heat, drought, or low fertility will be damaged more severely from dog urine while the damage is lessened in cool, wet weather. The reason for this is frequent rains wash the urine from leaf tissues and also leaches the concentrated nitrogen and salts from the soil root zone. Additionally, cool, wet weather lessens the dehydrating effects of urine.
Small dogs expel less urine than large dogs so the damage is often less severe and usually shows up as dark green patches. Urine spots from small dogs can be masked with a nitrogen fertilizer application.
There are two way to prevent dog urine dead patches. Train your dog to go in an area off of the lawn or flush the spots with water as soon as possible. Flushing the area with water is effective because it washes the urine off of the grass blades and dilutes the concentration of nitrogen and salts. It's the same approach taken to reduce the effects of a fertilizer spill.
Flushing urine spots with water and maintain a healthy, vigorous lawn that recovers quickly will minimize the damage from dog urine. Dead spots may recover with re-growth but often require seeding or sodding. To repair dead spots, flush the area with water, rake/remove the dead grass, patch the area with a piece of sod or mix seed with topsoil (or compost) and apply that to the dead spot. Then water and keep moist until the new grass is established.
Warm-season grasses such as bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, or zoysiagrass are creeping grasses that tend to recover from dog urine injury fairly quickly. Cool-season grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and tall fescue usually need to be re-seeded to repair dead patches. Of the cool-season grasses, tall fescue is the most heat and drought tolerant and tends to be more resistant to dog urine than Kentucky Bluegrass and ryegrass.
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