The Q&A Archives: Cleaing Soil Contaminated with Pet Waste

Question: How can I treat/prepare soil that has been contaminated with dog and/or cat waste so that it will be safe for a vegetable garden? I live in a condominium community and it is common area, so I'm sure that pets have visited the area, although I have not seen any tell-tale signs.

Answer: Soil solarization might kill any dangerous microorganisms, but I can't guarantee it. You need to solarize during the hottest part of the summer, for up to 3 months. To solarize, smooth out part of the garden (removing plant debris and rocks), moisten the soil, lay a 4 mm to 6 mm thick sheet of clear plastic over bare soil, and seal the edges of the plastic with rocks or soil. This will naturally heat up to over 140 degrees F, which kills most pathogenic organisms in the top 4-8" of the soil, depending on soil type and temperatures.

Also, soil that is rich in organic matter (OM) will be "cleaner" faster than soil that is low in OM. Solarization may deplete some OM, so you can "beef" it back up again with clean compost (bagged, sterilized compost or guaranteed "HOT" compost, which has been composted to high temperatures.

If you want to plant some vegetables now, I suggest using containers with clean soil until you can solarize. Your county or city health department may be able to have the soil tested for "baddies" if you want to take it that far.

Finally, erect a fence around the clean soil, and keep it mulched with clean straw, hay or other material to keep pets from recontaminating the area. Best of luck!

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