A healthy, green and weed-free lawn can add to your home's aesthetic value. Unfortunately, many fertilisers and weed killers contain chemicals harmful to pets and beneficial wildlife that visit your garden. Tens of thousands of pets come into contact with hazardous fertilisers and weed killers each year. Even fertilisers and weed killers advertised as "organic" or "all-natural" can harm your pets if used incorrectly.
Compost-based fertilisers provide a pet-friendly solution. Compost options include ground peat compost, fish emulsion, water manure slurry, processed sewage, top dressing and kelp. As with all fertilisers, keep pets away from fertilised areas for a few days after application, regardless of which method you choose. Many compost mixtures have a strong aroma that may attract pets.
Meal fertilisers offer effective lawn performance and are generally safer than chemical compounds. Bone meal, or defatted, dried, frozen and ground animal bones, makes an effective organic fertiliser, but it also smells very good to pets. In small amounts, bone meal is relatively safe. Problems arise if pets ingest too much, as the meal can form ball-shaped obstructions in the intestines. Blood meal, or flash-frozen and ground animal blood, provides up to 12 per cent nitrogen for your garden. If pets ingest too much, it can cause intestinal distress or even pancreatitis.
Manual weed killers
The safest ways to kill weeds in your garden requires the most commitment. Pulling weeds by hand is effective and pet safe. For the best results, water the lawn before you start to loosen the soil. Weed while plants are still young and remove the entire root, taproot, rhizome, tuber or bulb. Tools, such as dandelion fork or a wide screwdriver, make the process easier Soil solarisation not only rids the lawn of unwanted plants, but also kills garden pests like fungi, pathogens and nematodes. This method puts your lawn out of commission for about two months. During the sunniest time of the year, smooth the ground you wish to treat, and then cover it closely with clear, plastic tarps. Once the plastic is in place, soak the ground underneath. Leave the tarps in place for six to eight weeks. Solar energy heats the soil underneath, killing plants and pests.
Homemade weed killers
If your weed problem is confined to a few areas or clumps, use a spray-on, liquid weed killer that won't harm pets. A simple combination of white vinegar and water is cheap, effective and pet friendly. Boil two parts water and one part vinegar. After the mixture cools, pour it into a spray bottle and apply directly to the base of weeds. Common household sugar and salt also safely kills weeds. Just pour salt or sugar at the base of unwanted plants.
Corn meal weed killers
Scientists discovered the herbicidal properties of corn gluten meal, a byproduct of commercial corn production, by accident while testing other weed killers. A protein in the corn gluten prevents weeds from germinating. Known as a pre-emergent herbicide, corn gluten meal must be applied before weeds grow. Corn meal gluten is nontoxic to pets. Apply the meal to bare ground in areas where you do not want weeds to grow.
- University of California Davis: Soil solarization
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: ASPCA Guide to Pet-Safe Gardening
- Virginia Commonwealth University, The Spirit: Green Thumb? Pet owners need to be savvy with fertilizers
- University of Wisconsin Extension: Seven easy steps to fewer lawn chemicals
- University of California, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: The UC guide to healthy lawns, hand weeding
- Iowa State University; Corn gluten meal research