When fertilizing lawns and using other common chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, remember you’re not just spraying the lawn. When it rains, the rain washes away fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides along the curb and into storm drains, which ultimately carry runoff into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. In addition to degrading the water quality of our streams and rivers, pesticides can kill critters in the stream and fertilizers can cause algal blooms, which rob our waterways of oxygen that fish need to survive. If you have to use fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, carefully read all labels and apply these products sparingly.
Many homeowners are unaware of the actual nutrient needs of their lawns. According to surveys conducted by the Center for Watershed Protection, over 50% of lawn owners fertilize their lawns, yet only 10-20% of lawn owners take the trouble to perform soil tests to determine whether fertilization is even needed (CWP, 1999). Organic lawn care practices (no chemical pesticides and fertilizers) can also be a wise environmental choice and will save you money. Conduct a soil test on your lawn and adhere to the following practices to reduce the need to fertilize on your lawn and garden.
- Use fertilizers sparingly. Lawns and many plants do not need as much fertilizer or need it as often as you might think. Test your soil to be sure!
- Consider using organic fertilizers; they release nutrients slower.
- Never fertilize before a rain storm (the pollutants are picked up by stormwater during rain events).
- Keep fertilizer off of paved surfaces—off of sidewalks, driveways, etc. If granular fertilizer gets onto paved surfaces, collect it for later use or sweep it onto the lawn.
- Use commercially available compost or make your own using garden waste. Mixing compost with your soil means your plants need less chemical fertilizer and puts your waste to good use.
- Let you grass clippings lay! Don’t bag the grass. Use a mulching lawn mower to cut one-third of the blade length each week and naturally fertilize your lawn in the process.
- Wash your spreader equipment on a pervious (penetrable) vegetated area, like the lawn, to allow for the natural absorption of excess fertilizer.
- Never apply fertilizer to frozen ground or dormant lawns.
- Maintain a buffer strip of un-mowed natural vegetation bordering waterways and ponds to trap excess fertilizers and sediment from lawns/gardens.
- Grow an organic garden (no pesticides or fertilizers).