Americans apply 90 million pounds of pesticides every year, the EPA estimates. And, every year the ASPCA receives tens of thousands of calls about animals that have been exposed to insecticides, weed killers and other hazardous lawn and garden products.
Needless to say, many homeowners might not even know anything about the products they’re using in their yards, or that it’s potentially harmful to their furry best friends.
So what can you do to ensure your yard is safe for your beloved pets? Here are four tips to keep your lawn pet-safe for the entire family:
Diagnose Whether Your Lawn Is Pet-Safe
First thing’s first: To keep your lawn pet-safe, you need to determine if it’s to begin with.
There are many DIY ways to diagnose any issues in your yard before calling in a professional or looking into other solutions.
A common concern for outdoor areas and pets is whether you have fleas. Since fleas are so hard to see due to their size and quickness, try the sock trick:
Get a pair of knee-high white socks that you can part with and put them on. Then, walk around the areas in your yard that your pet frequently visits. If those areas have fleas, you’ll notice the small, dark pests against the socks. This will quickly help you figure out which areas in your yard have fleas.
Next, make a list of all the products you use in your yard and do extensive research to determine if they’re actually pet-safe.
Many products that are labeled as natural, organic or safe might very well be, but it’s important to find information on what will happen if a pet ingests a large amount, or if there’s external info about the product that might differ from what’s listed on the packaging.
Also check for spots of standing water, as it can be home to parasites, bacteria and mosquitoes.
Use Pet-Safe Fertilizer, Grass Seed and Weed Killers
Achieving luscious, green grass should never stand in the way of having a safe yard for your pets, so ensure you’re using pet-safe fertilizer, grass seed and weed killers.
Many all-natural or organic options are considered safe, but it’s still important to use caution and do your research.
While natural options like cornmeal, cottonseed meal and blood meal can provide nutrients to your yard and even be considered safe for pets, some of these meals are highly palatable for dogs.
This may mean your will try to eat a whole bunch of it, making these meals a bit unsafe. Use caution when applying these to your yard.
Lime pellets are another common lawn fertilizer, used to support your yard’s growth by raising the soil’s pH acidity levels.
While lime pellets are also considered safe, you should still be cautious. Before you let your pets onto the yard, wait for it to rain, or water your yard thoroughly. If lime pellets are inhaled or become in contact with skin or eyes, it can pose a hazard or cause irritation.
Instead, try searching for fertilizer that is specifically advertised as pet-safe. Or use grass clippings from your lawn mower, or rake the clippings to spread them out if you mow while the grass is damp. Other options include kelp seaweed and compost.
No matter what you use, keep your pet off your lawn for 24–48 hours after fertilizing and always be proactive if you suspect poisoning. Symptoms can include stomachaches, vomit, diarrhea, anxiety, hyperactivity, panting and seizures.
Keep Your Lawn Free of Pests, Fleas and Ticks
It doesn’t matter if your pets spend most of their time indoors — all pet parents should be concerned about fleas, ticks and other pests in their yards.
First, frequently mow and cut all shrubs. When you have shorter grass, it allows the sun to reach the ground and make it drier so it’s harder for fleas and ticks to take up residency in your lawn.
And if you’ve verified that your lawn has fleas, ditch the chemical treatments and try nematodes instead.
Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that prey on fleas and ticks by infecting them with bacteria that kills them within 24–48 hours. Nematodes are safe for pets, and it’s perfect for them, too, so they can continue to enjoy the yard during the warmer months.
Another natural option is Diatomaceous Earth, a powder that comes from the remains of fossilized phytoplankton. The tiny specs in this powder scratch the exoskeletons of the pests lurking in your yard and kill them via dehydration. And it’s totally non-toxic to pets!
Conduct Regular Maintenance on Your Lawn
Once you have a pet-safe yard, you should conduct regular maintenance to keep it that way.
Like we mentioned earlier, continue to use lawn clippings from your mower. This decreases the amount of fertilizer you need because the clippings reduce your lawn’s nutritional need by up to 30 percent.
Next, maintain the length of the grass in your yard to prevent pests from invading your (and your pets’) lawn.
And don’t forget the shrubs. Ensure that you’re trimming shrubs each time you mow your yard.
Another way to keep pests away is by attracting birds. Lure birds to your yard by planting trees like bittersweet, crabapple, dogwood and holly. Or, plant flowers like marigolds and geraniums. If you don’t have a green thumb, bird feeders could do the trick.
Lastly, call on a lawn professional to help. Pros who specialize in lawn maintenance can really help you achieve a pet-safe yard 24/7, 365 days a year.