GOOD TO KNOW
Your lawn care practices greatly affect the health of our local waterways. The nitrogen and phosphorus found in fertilizer can run off your yard and end up in our waterways. Excess nitrogen leads to “dead zones” – or areas with low amounts of oxygen. With little or no oxygen, fish, crabs, oysters, and other aquatic animals literally suffocate. An excess of these nutrients also fuels the growth of dense algae blooms that block sunlight that underwater grasses need to grow in order to continue providing food for waterfowl and shelter for blue crabs and juvenile fish.These blooms also cause our waterways to become discolored, smelly and undesirable for swimming and boating.
GOOD TO DO
Ask your lawn care provider these nine questions from our friends at the Elizabeth River Project to ensure your yard isn’t harming local water waterways.
- What kind of fertilizer do you apply? What proportion of this contains slow-release nitrogen?
Ideally, your lawn care provider should apply at least 50% slow release fertilizer. Organic fertilizers, such as compost and kelp (seaweed), are preferred. There are two problems with fast-release, chemical synthetic fertilizers. First, when they release their nutrients quickly, they create excessive grass-blade growth at the expense of root development. This unbalanced growth weakens your lawn. Second, quick-release fertilizers leach away without being used by grass plants, especially in sandy soils. Unused nutrients then wash into the river, contributing to harmful algae blooms.
- How do you control your rate of fertilizer application?
Your lawn care provider should give you a description of how they calculate the amount needed based on your yard’s acreage and fertilizer application rates. If they’re able to this, it increases the chances of your provider not over fertilizing.
- How do your recommendations reflect the specific conditions of my lawn?
In order to avoid over-fertilizing and over-watering, your lawn care company should first conduct a soil test and diagnose the needs of your specific lawn before discussing a plan.
- Do I have warm or cool season grasses? What are the differences in terms of water and fertilizer needs?
If your company can’t tell you, this should be a clue that they may not be adjusting seeding, fertilizing and watering schedules to meet the specific needs of your yard.
- What “green” practices do you follow when mowing?
They should leave grass clippings on the lawn to compost as natural fertilizer. Ideally, the company should also use an electric mower. Gas mowers are a surprisingly large source of air pollution, which contributes to water pollution. It’s also important that they keep mower blades sharp and cut grass no shorter than two inches..
- What is your approach to weed control for my lawn?
It’s best to tolerate beneficial “weeds” such as clover. Clover is not just beautiful, it restores nutrients. If 5 percent of your lawn is clover, it may be enough for you to avoid adding fertilizers.
- What alternatives to chemical pesticides will you use?
Ideally, the company should offer to sign a contract guaranteeing that chemical pesticides will not be used on your property. Toxic chemicals could cause harm to your children and pets in addition to our local waterways.
- How do you handle yard debris such as grass clippings, leaves and pine straw?
Grass clippings should be mulch mowed and left in your yard. Depending on how many leaves your yard has, mulch mowing may also be the best option. Mulch mowing leaves and grass clippings acts as natural fertilizer for your soil and helps soil retain moisture. Another option is to follow your municipality’s yard debris removal program whether that’s bagging yard debris or leaving it in piles by the curb, but away from storm drains. Be sure you’re aware of your locality’s rules so that you can educate your lawn provider if need be. Yard debris including leaves, grass clippings and pine straw should never be raked or blown into the street, ditches or storm drains.
- Does your company have any water quality certifications?
There are two programs which Hampton Roads lawn care companies can participate in that show a commitment to improving local water quality. First, the company may have a Green & Clean Initiative certification with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Nutrient Management Program. Companies with this certification have pledged to voluntarily implement responsible lawn care practices. Landscapers may also be certified through the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professionals program. This voluntary credential ensures that landscape professionals have been properly educated in the design, installation and maintenance of sustainable landscaping techniques, such as rain gardens, for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.If your provider does not participate in these programs, please encourage them to do so.