Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Dog Pee Burns in Your Newly Sodded Lawn

I've Got Good News and Bad News
by Tom King © 2011

Miss Sheila, Daisy and I (and Justin, Rick, Sue, Mr. Muggs and the 4 cats) all just moved into a beautiful new home we're sharing in Puyallup, Washington here in the shadow of Mt. Ranier. One of the more exciting things for me about the move (other than living under an active volcano) is the fact that we have store-bought grass!

I grew up poor in Texas and have never in my life had a laid out lawn. The sod crew came in one day, spread some topsoil and laid out our lawn like a carpet. I'm thinkin', “Yee-haw, buddy. This is great.”

Now, I'm not entirely new to sod. Back in Texas we laid out squares of St. Augustine grass to try to encourage a lawn to grow under our big oak trees and sweetgums - usually to no effect. And we did lay out some centipede sod squares and plant some seed at the Lake Palestine house. The landlord had, a few years earlier, given up on having a lawn and was going to cover the (large) front yard with white gravel. He got as far as spraying it all with weed killer and then found out what that much white gravel cost. We fertilized, brought in dirt and as much sod as we could afford, planted seed and watered and managed to get a good covering of green. That said, I've never had an entirely store-bought lawn before. One day it was dirt and gravel and the next it was genuine mowable grass.

Dogs can crater a new yard in no time at all.
Then to my horror, yellow spots began to appear in the pristine green surface; first in the front yard where the neighbor's pit bill insists on marking his territory and then in the back where Miss Daisy, our half lab/half border collie and Muggs the chihuaha do their “bidness”.

Surely,” I thought, “There must be something you can put on the pee spots to neutralize the acid or whatever is that burns the grass.”

Turns out there's not. The thing that causes the yellow burns on your grass is urea, a nitrogen rich substance excreted by dogs in urine – not the acid in the urine. Females, particularly cause these burns because of the way they pee. Males scatter urine over a larger area or pee on posts, fire hydrants and trees so their urine is diluted. Females squat in one place and tend to dump their pee all at once. *I make no editorial comment regarding this behavior in dogs nor intend to extrapolate any meaning positive or negative toward females of any other species.

You can see the dark green circle developing around the ring.
Urea in the dog's urine dumps a huge dose of nitrogen on the grass and burns the plants, especially in new sod. Because different types of grass have different needs for minerals, some lawns are especially vulnerable to nitrogen burn. You'll notice that along the fringes of the area burned, you'll see a ring of lush green grass, fertilized by the lower levels of nitrogen in the soil along the edges of the burn.

Burn spots are particularly common if your lawn is sodded with one of those lush Northern varieties of grass. These are more delicate-natured grasses and don't handle high temperatures and strong substances well. In the South, temperatures march along in the 100s for months at a time. Our Southern grasses welcome any moisture that comes their way and since the grass looks dead in the summer anyway, you wouldn't likely notice pee spots if a St. Bernard, three coon dogs,a half-dozen Rottweiler's and a Tyrannosaurus Rex designated your front yard as the neighborhood's public toilet.

Partially recovered dog burn spots with thick rings.
There is currently, no substance you can make or buy that you can dump on nitrogen to neutralize it. Nitrogen is a basic element and there's not a lot you can do about it if you get too much of it in your soil. Pouring on brewer's yeast and sugar are of virtually no value. Feeding your dog tomato juice won't get rid of the nitrogen in her pee either, though you might catch her swiping Vodka from the liquor cabinet if she gets used to the flavor.

Painful as it is to tell you, there are only four things you can do to prevent dog pee burns on your lawn. None is easy. None is convenient.

  1. Follow the dog out to pee with a big gallon can of water. Pour the water on the pee spot. This dilutes the nitrogen. Do this consistently and you'll actually have a lot of very green circles on your lawn since nitrogen is a fertilizer. If you miss one, you'll get a yellow burn spot every time. After the grass is burned, it's too late to dilute the spot. All you can do is add some dirt and grass seed or fresh sod and water it well.
  2. Train the dog to pee in a special spot. This is going to be like house-breaking all over again. Create a pee pee spot by marking an area of your yard with some sort of border and fill it with wood chips and other organic compost. The powerful urea in the dog's urine will actually break down the organic material in the pee pee place and accelerate the composting process.
  3. Give the dog away. If all this is too much of a pain in the tookhas, you'll just have to get rid of the dog, because dogs will pee and dog pee WILL burn your lawn, especially if you have that wimpy Yankee kind of grass. It comes down to the grass or the hound if you're congenitally lazy..
  4. Tell your neighbor's you bought a yellow polka dotted lawn on purpose. “It's the latest thing,” you'll tell them. “It's from, uh, France. Yeah, that's the ticket. …Paris, France!”


  1. The grasses should be provided with the essential nutrients since these cannot be provided by the soil in all seasons of the year. Therefore, you are required to apply proper fertilisers as per its requirements in different seasons. This is one of the ways of maintaining the health of your lawn and New Lawn.

  2. Hancey,
    Note, as I pointed out, the problem with female dog urine is the concentration of nitrogen they deliver to one spot on the lawn. This creates a situation where the lawn is burned by too much nitrogen. As the excess nitrogen leeches out of the soil over time, the grass comes back a nice dark green. Don't add fertilizer to a dog pee burn. It will only delay the lawn's recovery. I know you were trying to get the weblink in there to the fertilizer site, but please don't confuse folk. Your nebulous comment is mostly confusing. I left it in because it brings up a valuable point about adding fertilizer to a dog pee damaged lawn. You should continue your regular fertilizer program, just don't spread it on the dog-pee marks. - Tom

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