CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Darn Dog Spots!

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

The year 2020 may well be the year of many things, but horticulturally speaking, I'm deeming right now as "The Year of the Dog Spots." It seems my inbox is filling up with a lot of turf questions. Being the turf nerd I am, I really enjoy responding to turf inquiries. Primarily because I love lawns.
Yes, this is all dog urine injury! Promise!
So you have brown spots? You're not alone. I have them too, because of the beagles, Maple and Hazel.
It seems the beagles didn't get the "physical distancing" memo...
I have a couple of theories as to why dog urine injury seems to be so prevalent this year. The first is that we had a pretty dry fall and winter on the Colorado Front Range. The lack of snow and rain didn't add any moisture to the soil, which helps leach the salts from the urine deposits. The second is that dogs are lazy. I watch my older beagle, Hazel, dash into the yard, assume her position right next to the patio, and dash back inside. She does this all winter, because she doesn't like the cold. So day-after-day, she adds to the salt accumulation. By the time spring rolls around, the area is nuked. Hazel is just a little beagle....if you have a bigger dog, you might have bigger problems.
More urine = more potential for lawn injury
The interesting thing about urine is that is contains some nitrogen, so you often get a greening response. Urine also contains salts, which is the killing culprit.
Nitrogen response from dog urine.
Look at all that growth!
What can you do? First, be grateful we're getting some moisture to move those salts through the soil. Yay moisture! Second, take your fingers and rough up the spots. Look carefully for any sign of green life. Even a few springs of turf are a good sign that the grass isn't dead. It will take time to recover, but where there's green, there's hope.

If you don't see any signs of green, then it's time to reseed. Check out this PlantTalk Colorado video on reseeding the home lawn. It stars Maple the Beagle.

The steps to reseeding are pretty simple. First, seed selection is important. Perennial ryegrass is the most salt-tolerant cool season species we have and it blends well with Kentucky bluegrass. Seed perennial rye at a rate of 6-8 pounds of seed/1000 square feet.

Using an aerator (for large spaces) or a pitchfork (for small spots), make lots and lots and LOTS AND LOTS of holes. These holes are going to create "germination chambers" for your seed. After you poke the holes, spread the seed. For large areas, use a fertilizer spreader, with the mouth just open wide enough to let seed fall out; if you're just doing a spot or two, you can sprinkle it with your hand. Then work the seed into the holes. Water to keep the seed moist. There's no need to add any additional soil to the lawn or topdressing materials.
Make holes. Lots and lots AND LOTS of 'em.
If you need to seed this spring, don't use a fertilizer with a crabgrass preventer. If you already applied such a product, wait to seed until late summer or early fall.

Oh, and train your dogs to use mulched areas or non-lawn areas to prevent further injury. I know. Training dogs is hard. I have beagles!
Maple the Beagle


  1. Alison, Great, timely post. We also get tons of calls about dog spots. Our rule of thumb is that any area bigger than the size of a dinner plate with NO green grass is a candidate for seeding. Like you noted, even a small young sprig will grow and fill in with fertilizer and water. I commonly see people seeding by just throwing seed on the dead spot. I echo the importance of getting seed to soil contact. Keeping the seed moist is also essential and may take two or three light waterings per day for 10 days. Most germination fails are for those two reasons. Thanks again. Great moisture out of this last storm!

  2. Great post! When is the best time to try and fill in those "dog spots" this spring? Is there a soil temperature we should watch for?

  3. Hi Alyssa, for best seed germination, the soil temps should be over 60 degrees. If you seed now, which you can, the cool soils aren't conducive to rapid germination for cool season grasses, so it will take a little longer. The "best" time of year to seed would be in the fall, but that's a long time to live with brown spots! If you're repairing spots in warm season turf, seed those grasses in June.

  4. I love the pic of the beagle stepping on the other beagle! And great info!

  5. The last time I seeded, in the fall, and did not cover the seeds, all I accomplished was to feed the birds.