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Greener View

Can Pet Droppings be Used as Manure for the Yard?

BY JEFF RUGG

Spring is coming, which means it is time to get out of the house and into the yard. We have been cooped up all winter, and when the first warm days hit, we want to get outside and do something. Take it easy. Relax. This is a great time of year to enjoy the landscape without the pressure that there is work to do.

If you want something to do, then pick up dead sticks and paper that has blown under a shrub. Otherwise, make things tidy. There are several things you shouldn’t do: Don’t fertilize or prune flowering shrubs until they are in bloom. Don’t fertilize lawns until they have been mowed a couple of times. Don’t use weed killers on the whole lawn — just spot spray the few weeds, if you have to do anything at all. Don’t dethatch a lawn if you don’t know much about thatch. Don’t prune trees after the buds start swelling.

Q: Over the winter, my dogs have made a mess of one area of the lawn. I am wondering if this “manure” can be spread like farm manure on the lawn or the flowerbed without harming the plants? It seems that there might be some fertilizer value, as the grass grows better around the edges of the area.

A: There are several things to consider before spreading this “product” on your landscape. First, let’s consider the fertilizer value of manures. Animal waste products have some of the same chemicals that plants need for growth. They are not usually in the form that plants can consume; they first must be broken down into simple elements. Bacteria do the breakdown, and once the elements are released, the plant can’t distinguish the source of the nutrients.

Manure from animals that eat plants, from rabbits to elephants, is still mostly undigested plant material that is covered with bacteria. In many instances, manure from farm animals includes the bedding material that is an additional source of plant material, such as straw or wood shavings. All of this partially decomposed organic material is beneficial to the soil structure and to plants as bacteria decompose it further.

Urea found in the bedding material of farm animal manure is broken down by bacteria into beneficial nitrogen compounds, which are not found in dog droppings. The dog urine is being decomposed in the landscape and it’s feeding the greener grass, but it won’t be spread with the droppings.

Manure from cats and dogs will not include the beneficial plant material or litter. Cat litter is typically clay, and even though it includes the cat urine, we don’t need more clay in all but the sandiest of soils.

In small amounts as a fertilizer, dog and cat litter are not harmful to the plants, but they are also not of any great benefit as the nutrient value is too low.

The biggest reason that dog and cat droppings should not be spread in the landscape is that they have the potential to spread deadly parasites to people, especially kids. Dog droppings can be infested with roundworms, which can transfer to people if the droppings contaminate objects that people touch. The eggs hatch in a person’s intestines, and the larval worm moves through the blood stream to the liver, lungs, heart and other organs. It is one of the leading causes of blindness in children.

Cat droppings can contain a parasite known as toxoplasmosis. It may cause abortions and malformations of unborn children. It also can be spread via garden produce contaminated by cats using the garden as a litter box.

E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg, University of Illinois Extension at jrugg@illinois.edu. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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