Happy National Gardening Day!
Celebrated on April 14, National Gardening Day is a day to celebrate the beauty and intrigue of gardening. Whether you bear a green thumb or have never touched a garden shovel before, this national holiday is a perfect way to kick off the spring season.
Before you warm up your green fingers and get to planting, there is an aspect to gardening that many people overdo that can have a negative impact on local waterways and lakes. Excessive use of fertilizer in your lawn and garden will not only be of detriment to your dream backyard, but it may also affect your next fishing trip to the river or visit to a local reservoir. People often apply too much fertilizer in an attempt to save their plants or lawn, which leads to improper residential lawn management and environmental damage.
When the rains are heavy or you are too generous with your hose while watering your lawn, the water runs off into local storm drains, streams, rivers and lakes and carries pollutants with it. The runoff water can bring fertilizers, chemicals, and pet waste—all of which can be harmful to water quality and wildlife.
When fertilizer ends up in the water, it causes an exponential increase of nutrients in the waterways. Nitrogen and phosphorus are found in water naturally, but when the fertilizer’s nutrients are added, it can lead to excessive growth of aquatic vegetation and algae. When this happens, the algae will die off, using up oxygen as they decay and potentially causing algae blooms and fish kills.
What can you do to make sure you apply just enough fertilizer to help your lawn and garden but not damage your local waterways? Fortunately, it just takes some research and some extra thought to ensure that you are practicing proper lawn fertilization. The first step to properly applying fertilizer is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how much fertilizer to apply.
As most gardeners know, plants require light, moisture and nutrients to stay alive. While Mother Nature and occasional watering can help with light and moisture, some plants require extra nutrients. However, if plants are struggling to stay alive and not growing well, fertilizing them will only be helpful if a lack of nutrients is the cause of their problem.
“Plants grown in poorly drained soils, in excessive shade, or in competition with tree roots will not respond to fertilizer,” Joseph Masabni said in a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension online article.
Before you begin to fertilize and plant your spring garden, consider which garden beds may need fertilizer and which areas may not. Native plants typically require less water and fertilizer, as they are already adapted to the area’s conditions. Testing your soil can also help you determine which areas will need the extra nutrients
When selecting a fertilizer to use, consider an organic fertilizer instead of a man-made, inorganic fertilizer. Inorganic products usually have a higher nutrient content, so opt for an organic, no-phosphate or slow-release fertilizers as much as possible.
If you live close to surface water, avoid using fertilizers near the water as the chance of fertilizer runoff is significantly higher. However, placing vegetation around shorelines, slopes, and driveways can reduce runoff as they absorb and filter pollutants.
Do not apply fertilizers or pesticides before or during a rain event—wait until it stops and a clear forecast is on the radar. For tips on how to properly apply fertilizer in garden beds, click here.
Before purchasing a lawn fertilizer, try testing your soil, as you may not even need it.
According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the two factors to consider for fertilizing your lawn are…
• The fertilizer application rate
• Weather conditions
The application of lawn fertilizer is based on plant requirements, available soil nutrients, and your lawn size. While most fertilizer manufacturer instructions will provide fertilizer application instructions, the Texas AgriLife Extension service can analyze your soil samples and provide recommended fertilizer application rates for a small fee.
Like garden fertilizers, do not fertilize your lawn before a rain event. While you need to water your lawn after applying fertilizer thoroughly, remember to check the weather forecast before the fertilizer application and watering session. If the rain comes right after you fertilize, the nutrients will not have time to sink into the soil and will run off your property.
When you do need to water your lawn after fertilizer application, apply only 0.5 inch of water. If this watering process causes runoff, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recommends turning off the irrigation system, allowing the water to soak into the lawn’s soil and then you can finish the watering process.
If you want to save some money and keep grass clippings out of the waterways, consider keeping your lawn clippings on your lawn after you mow. This will utilize the clipping’s nutrients and reduce the need for fertilizers.
For more lawn fertilization tips, click here.