Sunday, April 8, 2012

Clean Water Begins at Home

Sylvia says the height of your grass
can make a difference.

If charity begins at home, so should clean water, says Sylvia, a member of the Bay-Wise Committee of the University of Maryland Extension Howard County Master Gardener program.

“Some of our major pollution problems—such as algae-laden ponds—result from fertilizer run-off from neighborhood lawns,” Sylvia explained.  “Since scores of homeowners contribute to this problem, we’ll take a step toward solving that problem every time a homeowner chooses to do lawn care in ways that protect our waterways.”

Intrigued, the Ancient Gardener asked Sylvia to explain her thinking.

Ancient Gardener:  What are simple, practical steps I can take to help clean up local ponds and streams?

Sylvia:  Read a good fact sheet about responsible lawn care, perform a soil test, and don’t over-fertilize.  When you fertilize, use fertilizers with a high percentage of water-insoluble nitrogen (WIN) and no phosphate unless the soil test indicates that you need it.  Keep the fertilizer off your sidewalks, driveways, and other impervious surfaces, where rain can wash it into local storm sewers that will end up in a pond, lake, or stream.  One of our local ponds is green and stinky in the summer because it’s full of algae that fed on the nutrients from fertilizers running out of neighborhoods and into the drains that end up at the pond.

Sylvia keeps her lawn mowed
between 3 and 3.5 inches.
Ancient Gardener:  What publication do you recommend?

Sylvia:  A great place to start is the University of Maryland Extension’s newly revised HG102, “Lawn Establishment, Renovation, and Overseeding.”  It covers a wide range of environmentally sound lawn-care principles, from pre-planting decisions to seeding, care and maintenance, renovation, even common turf problems.  It’s available free online, where you can read it, print it out, or download it for future reference.

Ancient Gardener:  Once I have a nice lawn and control the fertilizer, what should I do next?

Sylvia:  Keep your grass mowed to between three and three and a half inches.  Grass that length shades its own roots during the hot summer months and reduces weeds and thatch.  Leave the clippings right on the lawn, where they’ll provide about a pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet a year.  Mow frequently enough that you remove only the top third of the grass blades at a time.

Ancient Gardener:  What about watering my lawn?

Sylvia sweeps fertilizer onto lawn
to keep it from entering runoff.
(Photo by Sylvia)
Sylvia:  Actually the best grasses for most of the mid-Atlantic area are tall fescues, which are cool-season varieties that naturally go dormant in hot, dry weather.  Let them enjoy life naturally.  Let them go dormant.  Don’t water them.  They’ll revive when cool weather returns in late summer.  If you water, do so early in the morning to minimize disease problems and then only water up to one inch at a time so run-off doesn’t carry nutrients, pesticides, or herbicides into the storm-water system or directly into a nearby pond or stream.

Ancient Gardener:  Why do I see so many lawn-fertilizer advertisements in the spring and so few in the fall?

Sylvia:  They are selling fertilizer.  The best time to fertilize cool-season grasses is September and October.  The brochure has charts with recommendations.

Ancient Gardener: What’s considered best today in lawn care?

Sylvia:  Many homeowners are downsizing their lawns and upsizing their gardens with groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, and trees.  Gardens absorb much more runoff than turf does.  They reduce the sediment and pollutants that go into our waterways.  In the process they provide protection, food, and homes for wildlife.

Ancient Gardener:  The last word?

Sylvia:  A lawn that never has fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides applied is the friendliest to our neighborhood ponds and streams and to our great waterways, such as the Chesapeake Bay.

To link to the University of Maryland’s publication HG102 on lawn care, CLICK HERE.
If you want to review the earlier posting, “Clean Water: Does Your Lawn Measure Up?” CLICK HERE.

Fertilizer runoff can turn a sparkling pond into a smelly algae pit.
(Photo by Columbia Association)

1 comment:

  1. Clean water awareness is important as pure water is necessary for sane health.