Tips to help your lawn survive your dogs

Save the date: McGrath in Fredericksburg Oct. 15 & 16

Mike will appear at the Fredericksburg Home Show at the Fredericksburg Expo Center on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 15 and 16. He’ll give talks at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Find more information at See Mike’s schedule.

A lawn that has really gone to the dogs

John in Sterling writes: “My back yard has been toasted by my dogs; thanks to their urination, all the grass is gone and I have nothing but dirt. Several years ago, I spread compost and reseeded in the fall. The grass grew well but didn’t survive the summer. The next year I tried sod, but it didn’t survive either. Any ideas how I can get my grass to grow again?”

Well, if you want to try and get a new lawn established, the time is now, John, while the soil is still warm enough for speedy germination and there’s time for good strong root growth before winter arrives. So spread more of that compost and sow turf-type, tall fescue seed. That’s the type of grass used on local athletic fields and other areas that see a lot of abuse.

Get a high-quality, name-branded seed that specifies it can handle lots of foot traffic. Sow it thickly. Rake the seed into the compost and keep it well-watered for the first week. (Don’t use starter fertilizer; the compost will take care of that. And no straw or other nonsense. Just compost and grass seed.)

Keep the dogs off of it for a solid month to let the roots get established, then follow our best practices plan for dogs and lawns below.

Water your dogs, not your lawn

Luckily, we’re still within the window for sowing fresh seed—specifically a high-quality, turf-type tall fescue, which is the best cool-season grass for heavy traffic.

And to protect that grass, we’re going to makes the pooches’ pee less punitive by giving them more water. Many people limit their dog’s water intake because they think that more pee equals more stress on the grass. But the opposite is true: Limiting their water intake concentrates the chemicals in their urine and makes it much more destructive. It may seem counter-intuitive, but allowing them to drink more water dilutes the urine and makes it much less damaging to grass.

And you’ll completely negate any negative effect if you water the peed-upon area promptly to further dilute the damaging urine.

Give your dogs their own rest room

Luckily, now is a good time to establish a new lawn by seed. And then just a little bit of training will protect it.

First, do whatever it takes to keep the dogs off the lawn while the new grass establishes. Then, the first time the dogs go out, don’t just “let them out.” Take them out one by one, don’t let them stop on their own and lead them to an area in the back that you don’t care about: the most out-of-the-way spot you have.

Let them do their business there, and immediately praise them and reward them with a treat that you’ve been keeping in your pocket. Repeat this for a week or so, and concentrate on the praise, not the occasional mistake. Be diligent about the process and soon the dogs will use this designated area on their own. (Want to be certain? Put one of those fake fire hydrants out there; the dogs will line up to use it!)

If part of the problem is their digging holes in the turf to stay cool in in the summertime, do the same kind of training in a different out-of-the-way spot. Take them out to the area you’ve chosen in the spring and start a little depression for them with a shovel. Make a small hole, loosen up the dirt in the bottom and they’ll be happy to use that as their cooling-off spot—especially if you reward and praise them when they do.

Most dogs want to do the right thing. We just have to help them learn what that is.

Trap stink bugs before they move in!

The arrival of fall means that the nasty stink bugs that attacked your tomatoes all summer are going to now try to get inside your house to hibernate for the winter.

The marmorated stink bug — a pest that arrived from Asia a decade or so back — is one of the most annoying home-invading insects. They often cluster by the thousands on the outsides of homes at this time of year, looking for a little crack or other entry point (generally on the south-facing side of light-colored homes).

To greatly reduce the number that have a chance of getting inside, make a version of the simple cardboard trap designed by New Jersey stink bug foe Jody Williams and hang it on the side of your home where you see the stinkers. It can be Jody’s perfected design with wood shim spacers inside, or something as simple as a pizza box with some holes cut in the sides.

Either way, the stinkers will crawl into these easier entries during the day. Then you take the trap down and empty it into a bucket of soapy water early in the morning, while they’re still too sluggish to fly away.

Read this great newspaper article about Jody and his traps for lots more details.

Get all rosed up next weekend

Missing your summertime garden already? You can get a last glimpse — and whiff — of what we’re leaving behind when the Arlington Rose Foundation presents the Colonial District Rose Fest at the Hyatt Regency in Fairfax next weekend — Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2.

The event is free to the public from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The event features a large exhibit area, seminars and consulting rosarians who will try to help you with any rose-related problems. What’s sure to be the main event: a 6.5-foot-square wall of roses designed to be the perfect photo op background. So be sure and bring your camera.

Find more information at

(Note: The website info is mostly geared towards growers who will be exhibiting their roses. But the foundation welcomes visitors, and all the events on Saturday and Sunday are free.)

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