Here's my situation: I have a lawn that I've refused to use chemicals on because I have a dog who likes to graze. The lawn is now a mess of weeds and very thin grass. I've tried organic fertilizers with no luck. So I've investigated, and many chemical fertilizers claim to be safe for pets and children after a specific period of time. I'm assuming that means that after 2 days (or whatever is on the bag) the product will not topically transfer onto bare feet and/or paws.

However, as I said, my dog grazes like a cow. Once the fertilizer soaks into the ground, does the grass then soak it up through the roots, so that the grass itself becomes poisonous to eat?

  • 2
    For your dog's sake, I'd stay away from the fertilizer + weed killer combos.
    – bstpierre
    Jun 8 '11 at 20:11
  • I've read that if the lawn itself is healthy enough, it will eventually crowd out weeds. So I'm not looking specifically at any kind of week killer, just something to help the grass along.
    – EmmyS
    Jun 8 '11 at 20:14
  • 2
    If you're going to invest in fertilizer, it's worth getting a soil test done so you know what's missing from your soil. The tests are pretty cheap and you'll be able to target a solution more appropriately.
    – bstpierre
    Jun 8 '11 at 20:24
  • 1
    Thanks. Do I need to call my "local extension office", whatever that means (I keep reading about it on other gardening sites) or is one of those do-it-yourself tests like this good enough?
    – EmmyS
    Jun 8 '11 at 20:31
  • 2
    @EmmyS, your local extension office is a service provided to you by public universities in the US. In Illinois, you can go here. They are probably the best resource possible since they garden and landscape in your county. Every county should have their own office/rep.
    – Randy
    Jun 9 '11 at 3:42

According to your profile you live in Illinois, therefore I'm 95% you will have a cool-season lawn.

IMHO the single most important thing you can do for the health of your lawn is mow high - 2½inches (62.5mm) being the absolute minimum final cut height, with 3 to 4inches (75 to 100mm) being even better...

If you wish to read about my "organic" lawn care here on SE, go here:

Q. What "organic" lawn fertilizers have you tried?

Personally I have used:

I have settled on using a combination of all of the above except "Milorganite". Please note, I'm not saying "Milorganite" is a bad product, or there aren't other good "organic" lawn fertilizers on the market for homeowners to buy, it's just that I've settled on those four products for my lawn fertilizer needs/requirements...

Below is based on personal experience (I'm not a dog owner), a friends experience (dog owner), and I don't have any real science to back-up my thoughts.

  • My friend uses a non-organic (chemical) fertilizer on this lawn, it's the only thing we really disagree on when it comes to lawn care.

    • He applies the fertilizer (with some kind of added herbicide) per the instructions on the bag.

    • He then keeps his dog locked indoors for 3 days after applying the fertilizer, not "normal" for him to-do-so seeing as his dog is generally outside most of the day. The perimeter of his garden is installed with a buried electrical fence and the dog has a special attachment fixed to his collar that works with the electrical fence ie The dog stays within the confines of the garden without the need of a physical barrier (fenced in garden).

    • After 3 days, the dog is allowed to do as he pleases ie He's back outside enjoying the outdoors.

  • I apply the "organic" Bradfield and Ringer fertilizers per the instructions on the bags.

    • I tell my neighbours I've done so and suggest they may wish to keep their children and pets of my lawn for a day (24 hours).

    • I don't let my two boys on the lawn for a day.

    • After a day I really don't care who or what is on my lawn -- not quite true "Get off my lawn".

  • One thing we both agree on (when it comes to lawn fertilizers), there's no way on earth we would let one of those well known national (or local) lawn care companies apply anything to our lawns.

    • Allowing them to only apply fertilizer carries low to medium risk, even the "super" strength chemical fertilizers (not available over the counter to the average homeowner) they are licensed to use/apply.

    • The trouble is, they "normally" don't want to only apply fertilizer, instead they "usually" want to apply a fertilizer with some kind of added pesticide. Now the risk is high to off the charts.

    • As far as I'm aware, most local authorities require such lawn care companies to "flag" gardens (place small flags in the ground) they have treated ie Warn people the garden has been treated with some kind of chemical lawn treatment. Without being an alarmist or conspiracy type person, I honestly don't think that can be a good thing -- think about, they are required to warn the passing public they have put down some kind of chemical lawn treatment...

    • When I take my daily evening walk, I can tell the lawn care companies have been out before I see any "flags". How? By the (unbelievably) strong "chemical" smell in the air.

    • My friend with the dog is the same, plus he has to take his dog on zig-zag walks (switching back and forth across the street) to avoid those treated gardens. He does this, as he and his dog learnt the hard-way -- one time the dog burnt his paws on one of those treated lawn, which resulted in a visit to the vet and sore paws for a week or two...

Summing up:

  • "Organic" lawn fertilizers carry zero to low risk.

  • "Organic" lawn fertilizers with added pesticides (herbicides) carry zero to low risk.

  • "Non-Organic" (chemical) fertilizers carry low to medium risk.

  • "Non-Organic" (chemical) fertilizers with added pesticides (herbicides) carry medium to high risks for those available over the counter to the average home owner.

  • "Non-Organic" (chemical) fertilizers with added pesticides (herbicides) carry high to off the chart risks for those not available over the counter to the average homeowner ie Those used by (available to) licensed lawn care companies.

Please keep in mind, the above is just my personal opinion (built from experience gained via varying means) and not based on real scientific knowledge I can layout here in a coherent manner...

Good luck! and I do hope the above proves somewhat helpful/useful...


For reference... The USDA's National Organic Program has a regulation (205.202) which doesn't allow any land to qualify as "organic" unless it hasn't had any prohibited substances applied for 3 years. Synthetic fertilizers are in the prohibited substances category.

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