Sanitizing soil after dog poop

Asked April 23, 2013, 10:49 AM EDT

How do I sanitize soil after dogs have used backyard for years, to make it safe for a vegetable garden?

Marion County Indiana fruits and vegetables gardening soil and fertility issues

1 Response

There is no way to "sanitize" the yard. I would follow the basic recommendations for using fresh manure in a garden:

  • Time is your friend. The pathogens and parasites that might be in the dog droppings will eventually die if they don't get taken up by a suitable host. If you can fence off the garden to prevent future contamination, then digging the garden now should give you a safe soil for next spring.
  • Avoid direct exposure by the plants. The pathogens won't get INTO the crops: they will cling to the outside of the vegetation. Therefore, avoid all root crops and underground tubers (potatoes, etc.) for this year. I would also avoid leafy vegetables, like spinach and lettuce, because if the leaves touch the ground, they could in theory become contaminated. You should be safe with any fruiting crops, especially those that are peeled (winter squash, cucumber, corn, etc.).
  • Avoid direct exposure, part 2: Grow your crops on a trellis, or in a tomato cage, or on a stake. Don't allow the plants to grow on the ground, where they can be contaminated.
  • Avoid splashing. After planting, cover the entire garden with mulch. I'd recommend two to four inches of grass clippings or leaves; 6 to 8 inches of straw. That way, when it rains or when you use a sprinkler, no pathogens will splash upwards onto the plant from the soil.
  • Wash all produce before consuming. Clean all dirt off with cool running water. Soap should not be used on food items. Although there are several products on the market that supposedly sanitize produce, none of them are recommended by the universities because of inconsistent protection.
Starting in 2014, you should be able to return to normal gardening practices and crops, provided that dogs don't continue to use the garden for a bathroom.