Here at the Nitrogen Pollution Action Project we understand that lawns are a part of our culture. We realize that many people associate a lush, green lawn with a quality home. We aren't asking you to give up your lawn, rather to maintain it in a way that keeps the grass looking great while decreasing your ecological footprint. Here are 14 great ideas that anyone can adopt for their home that will decrease the amount of nitrogen polluting the Watershed while saving you money and time.
1. TRY NOT FERTILIZING: Your lawn may have enough nitrogen already. Stop fertilizing and see how it goes! BUT IF YOU MUST FERTILI ZE...
2. Use a fertilizer with a LOW FIRST NUMBER, preferably less than 10, and that contains a MINIMUM OF 50% SLOW RELEASE NITROGEN - Slow Release nitrogen must be "activated" by microbes in the soil before it can be used by plants. It is also not water soluble, meaning that it does not leach into the groundwater. Slow release nitrogen remains in the soil longer, feeding your lawn and staying out of the Watershed. The bottom line is that less fertilizer is needed, thus saving you money while reducing your home's environmental impact.
3. Fertilize only once in the spring and once in the fall. When you use a slow-release fertilizer your lawn gets all the nutrition it needs for a long period of time. Over-fertilization can harm your lawn. Note: Your lawn is not dead in the summer; it is dormant. Don't add fertilizer.
4. Get your soil tested. If your soil is too acidic (low pH), as is the case in most of Ocean County, grass just does not grow. Lack of fertilizer is not the problem: the high acidity is locking the nitrogen into your soil and out of your grass. Adding lime lessens the acidity (raises pH) making nitrogen and other nutrients more available for plants. You should not add lime, however, if you live in the Pinelands, because acid (low pH) conditions are an absolute necessity for the ecological health of Pinelands streams. Soil test kits are available in your local garden supply store or by contacting the Rutgers Agricultural Extension at 732-349-1245. When soil pH is balanced, your lawn can use the nitrogen you've already applied, eliminating the need to reapply, thus saving you money.
5. Go Native. Native plantings require no commercial fertilization after establishment because they are naturally adapted to our soil and climate. By replacing lawn area, you reduce the fertilized area of your yard. Not only are native plants attractive, they provide diversity to your lawn and increase the depth of your soil root profile, thus helping to filter more harmful pollutants out of the groundwater before they reach the Bay.
6. Leave grass clippings on your lawn. This is referred to as "mulch mowing", and some lawn mowers are specially designed to do this. Whether or not you use a "mulch mower", grass clippings are a complete fertilizer and provide your lawn with a natural fertilizer source and improve your soil quality by adding valuable organic matter. Ask your lawn care professional to leave the clippings on the lawn.
7. Plant clover or low nitrogen grasses. Clover fixes nitrogen from the air, which fertilizes your lawn naturally. Clover is resistant to pests and weeds, drought tolerant, and requires less mowing than typical turf grass species. Clover and grass seed mixes are readily available at most garden supply stores. Other species of grass such as “alkali grass” and many members of the “fine fescue” family need less water and virtually no fertilizer to thrive. Ask your local garden supplier for a grass seed from these families or checkout Low Maintenance Landscaping produced by the at Rutgers Agricultural Extension for more great grass tips.
8. Replace loose Stone Yards with Non-Fertilized Native Plants by Xeriscaping. Give xeriscaping (pronounced zeerascaping) a try. It will look super, save you money and save our streams and Bay. Xeriscaping is the centuries-old gardening technique of using plants that are both beautiful and require little or no watering or maintenance otherwise known as native plants. Rainfall already contains nitrogen from the atmosphere. When it falls on a stone lawn, the rain water runs off into the Bay without the nitrogen being removed by plantings. You may also wish to consider filtering your rainwater through a "rain garden" of native plants. Visit http://www.pineridgegardens.com/xeriscape.htm for more great information.
9. Do not fertilize when rain is expected in the next 24 hours. Rainwater not only leaches polluting nitrogen into the Bay, it also removes the fertilizer from your lawn, robbing the grass of the nutrients you just applied. If you have a sprinkler, water sparingly after fertilization and only irrigate in the morning or evening. Watering during the midday is wasteful, as the water merely evaporates.
10. Use a broom to remove fertilizer spilled onto driveways and sidewalks. When water rinses the fertilizer off these surfaces, all the nitrogen enters the Barnegat Bay watershed without being taken up by plants.
11. Never fertilize within 10 feet of streams, creeks, or the Bay. Much of the fertilizer applied in this area leaches directly into these water bodies. If you are lucky enough to live near the water, respect it. Areas adjacent to water are ideal for native plantings.
12. Never allow grass clippings to go down storm drain catch basins. When grass decomposes, its nitrogen fertilizes the Bay and creeks instead of your lawn.
13. Let the grass grow. Lawns are not putting greens. Grass grows best when it is allowed to grow to a height of about 3 inches. When the grass is left to grow a little longer, it puts down deeper roots. These roots will help the grass to stay healthy during the hot summer months because they will pull water up to the plant from deeper in the soil profile.
14. Use a Hand-Powered Rotary Mower. Gas powered mowers are extremely inefficient. Unlike cars, these "two-stroke" engines are not required to meet EPA emissions standards, so they release incredible amounts of CO2 and NOx gas into the atmosphere. Rotary mowers work with good old fashioned man power and are much better for the environment. Newer rotary mowers are easy to push and if the blades are kept nice and sharp, will do a great job on your lawn.