According to the Humane Society of the United States, over 54 million or 44% of American households own a dog and of those over 99%, view their dogs as family members or companions. So naturally dog owners want their landscapes to be a safe place for their companions.
A Healthy Lawn
Lawns get a bad rap as water-hogs requiring large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides to keep them healthy. But a well-maintained lawn is actually one of the best ground covers around, providing a great place to play and rest in the shade. And it doesn’t have to be a fertilizer and pesticide sink. Tall fescue should be the turfgrass choice for pet owners, for the following reasons.
- Tall fescue is more durable under heavy paw-traffic than Kentucky bluegrass
- Fewer disease problems, which means less chance you’ll ever need to apply a fungicide
- Very seldom troubled by white grubs, which eliminates the need for insecticide applications
- Established lawns grow well with natural precipitation and no additional watering, unless drought conditions occur
Keep your lawn healthy and thick, which also minimizes the need for weed control products, by overseeding in fall. If your lawn becomes thin due to digging or heavy traffic the prime time for overseeding tall fescue lawns is just around the corner – August 15th through September 15th. Aerating is a great way to prepare the thin spots for overseeding.
More information on good lawn care practices.
Use Non-Toxic Plants
Unfortunately, there is a long list of plants toxic to dogs, including many bulbs like naked ladies, Asiatic lilies and tulips, as well as trees, shrubs, weeds and mushrooms. If your dog is likely to chew plants, don’t forget tropical plants in containers on your deck or patio as a potential threat. Visit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) website for a complete list, www.aspca.org/toxicplants. The easiest way to evaluate your current landscape would be to make a list of plants and check them again the ASPCA list.
When mushrooms appear in your garden, pick and discard them. Don’t allow your dogs access to your compost pile, where they may find toxic plants and be tempted to chew on them.
Choose Non-Toxic Products
Look for fertilizer and pesticide options that minimize risks to your four-legged friends. Pests like aphids and spider mites can be reduced with a strong spray of water or an application of horticultural oil, rather than a traditional insecticide.
Use wood chips or a similar mulch to minimize weed problems in landscape beds. Mulch used in combination with a preemergence herbicide gives the best weed control; consider using corn gluten meal as your preemergence product. But stay away from cocoa bean hulls as a mulch. Although they smell great, they contain theobromine which is toxic to dogs.
Spend a couple hours in your gardens each week throughout the summer hoeing or pulling any weeds that appear. This eliminates the need for post emergent herbicides. Plus, it's a great way to get outside with your dogs and enjoy a quite summer evening.
Corn Gluten Meal
Corn gluten meal provides two benefits in hands of animal-loving gardeners. First, it can be used as an organic fertilizer for your lawn or landscape plantings. Second, it also works as a preemergence herbicide to kill germinating weed seeds. Look for it in products like Preen Organic, Concern and Wow.
Corn gluten meal contains about 10% nitrogen by weight. Nick Christians, Iowa State Professor of Horticulture, recommends 20 lbs. of product applied per 1,000 sq.ft. This supplies about 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq.ft., which equals about one of the fertilizer applications normally recommended for lawns. Corn gluten meal is a slow release form of nitrogen, providing nutrients over a 3-4 month period after application. This can be a benefit to gardeners, since it eliminates the risk of burning your lawn with an overapplication of nitrogen.
The same application rate is also recommended for lawn weed control. Preemergence herbicides, like corn gluten meal, will not kill any existing weeds. They only act on newly germinating weed seeds, by inhibiting their root formation. Weeds germinate and form a shoot, but not a root. If conditions are dry, affected weeds dry out and die.