Today we are talking about fertilizer, specifically fertilizer used on lawns and in gardens. We are talking about this on Water Wednesday because anything you put in your yard has the potential to end up in rivers, lakes, and waterways when it rains. In particular, the concern about fertilizer is excess nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.
These nutrients are essential to plant growth and health, but in excess they can cause environmental problems, the biggest ones being algae blooms and eutrophication. Essentially, when excess nutrients reach a waterway, algae populations can rapidly boom and bust. The “bust” is problematic because when the algae die off and decompose the oxygen in the water is consumed and depleted. Waters that are low in oxygen are unable to support healthy populations of other species. You can read more about eutrophication here.
The main sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are yard waste and leaves, and fertilizer and other soil amendments.
Yard waste and leaves that fall or are blown into the streets end up in storm drains, and eventually end up in our waterways. Instead of putting yard waste in the street, you can collect it for other uses in your yard. Leaves and lawn clippings make excellent additions to a compost pile, or can be used as mulch. Also, many cities offer free or low-cost yard waste pick up.
As previously mentioned, the fertilizer nutrients that are not taken up by plants and grass can end up in out waterways after a rain event. There are several alternatives to traditional fertilizing that can make your lawn just as lush and healthy, among them: leave clippings on the lawn, use time-release fertilizer, limit herbicide/pesticide use. See below for some great resources for environmentally-friendly lawn care.
Resources for Organic/Low-Impact Lawn Care:
Another option is to survey your yard to figure out where most water runs off and plant a garden there. These plants will take up excess nutrients before they leave your yard and enter the stormwater system. A rain garden reduces the amount of water running off your lawn, and improves water quality, therefore limiting the impact on your local waterways.
This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning compost. Check back tomorrow for Part 1 of a guide on how to start your own compost pile. In addition to keeping nutrient-rich food waste out of the landfill, composting also gets a second use out of food scraps and yard waste. Compost and mulch are great additions to any garden and can reduce your use of traditional fertilizers, and even reduce the need to buy potting soil.
Remember, everything you put on your lawn can end up in your water. It’s also important to remember not to overwater. Water early in the morning (between 4am and 8am) or later in the evening. Keep an eye on the sprinkler and make sure it doesn’t run all day or during the heat of the day. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, make sure to override it so it doesn’t go off when it is rainy. You can also install a rainwater collection system for your yard!
How are you making a difference in your lawn and garden care?
P.S. Click here for an update from last week about the two Baykeepers who challenged themselves to only wash their hair with baking soda for a week.