Dog urine contains nitrogen, acid, and salt that can kill plants, bushes, and grasses. While it is possible to find perennials that can handle dog urine, you may have noticed that the same dog's urine kills some vegetation but not others or kills one plant but not an identical one. Whether a particular plant, grass, or bush will meet its demise from dog urine has to do with the concentration of nitrogen in the urine as well as whether the dog prefers to pee in the same area each time or likes to sprinkle it around your lawn and gardens.
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Understand why dog urine kills vegetation
Nitrogen is a good fertilizer, but using too much of it can "burn" and kill plants, bushes, and grasses. That's why fertilizer containers are marked with numbers that tell you how much nitrogen they contain for safe use on some vegetation but not others. Unfortunately, the nitrogen in dog urine along with acid and salt tends to harm vegetation rather than help it to grow and thrive. That's because the urine is more concentrated some times than other times depending on how much water the dog recently drank.
Many dogs have a habit of running immediately to one area to relieve themselves and not because it's the first vegetation they see. That may have been the reason they first chose it, but they return to the same spot because of its lingering urine odor and their inherent desire to mark their territory so other dogs will stay away. Even if the scent has faded so that you no longer notice it, dogs' sensitive sniffers know where to go. Some dogs like to mark many spots as their territory, so they will pee a little in a lot of places. Urine that hits the same areas each time is more likely to cause brown or yellow dead spots on lawns and kill plants or bushes than small amounts of urine in multiple places.
Provide fresh water at all times
Making sure dogs always have ample amounts of fresh water available both indoors and outdoors will dilute their urine so when they pee on vegetation, the urine won't be as concentrated as it is when they aren't drinking enough water. Of course, this solution doesn't work if it's a neighbor's dog that is killing your lawn and gardens unless you do the neighborly thing and pass along the full-water-bowl tip to the offending dog's owner.
Dilute the urine yourself
You can ensure that the urine is diluted by watering it down yourself on a regular basis. Chances are you are not going to see every time your dog pees, but if you watch him several times when you are both outside, you will notice his pattern.
Does he prefer one area or certain plants or bushes? If so, water down those areas every day with a hose or sprinkler because although you didn't see it yourself, you know that's where your dog goes to pee. Water the soil at the roots and all around the plant or bush and if you have a dog tall enough to spray part of a bush, water its leaves too.
Choose perennials that can handle dog urine
No known perennials thrive on dog urine, but some plants don't seem to be bothered by it as much as others. Bulbs are nearly foolproof because they are planted deeply enough that the urine doesn't reach them. Perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and Bermudagrass seem to tolerate dog urine better than other grasses.
While you're selecting plants, choose varieties that dogs don't like because of their smell, such as citronella, roses, and lemon balm, or their texture. Dogs tend to stay away from thorny roses and cacti, for example. Be sure that any plants you choose are not toxic to dogs in case they eat or chew on them.
Install plant barriers and a potty area
Another way to keep your lawn and plants alive is to install picket or chicken wire fencing around areas you want to protect in the way that museums rope off fragile displays. Make sure you place fencing far enough from the plant or protected area that the urine spray won't reach it even if the dog favors a spot near the fence. Along with protecting certain areas, designate one area for the dog to use just for elimination.
Choose a spot that has some privacy, like behind a large tree or in a corner of the yard. This has the added benefit that if plants and grasses there do die or turn brown, it won't be as noticeable. To train dogs to use one spot to potty, take them out on a leash, lead them to it, and give lots of praise when they use the potty area. Do this every time until they learn to go to the potty spot on their own.