Friday, April 6, 2012

Bare Feet and Dead Zones

I grew up with a nice lawn under my bare feet in the Jersey suburbs.  It was the field for so many fun and games; literally bright, sunny memories drenched in the joy of youth. 

I did not know that probably much of the fertilizer that my dad and all the neighboring dads spread on the lovely green expanses ended up in a nearby creek, and eventually the nearby ocean.  So what?  Fertilizer's a good thing.  After all, it helps things grow.  You know the saying, too much of a good thing...

It's the nitrogen in the fertilizer.  It does a number on the marine environment after it washes off lawns and fields everywhere.  Except for algae, which love nitrogen.  They get a taste of that excess nitrogen and gobble it up and it's reproduction time -- called an algae bloom. 

Trouble is the fecund explosion of algae sucks oxygen out of the water and blocks sunlight, both of which harms and even kills sea life including oysters and crabs.

So back to the bucolic lawn.  I know this is the time of year in the US to take off those hard and confining Winter shoes and run free on the verdant carpet.  But for the sake of healthy streams, rivers, and oceans, think again about pouring on the fertilizer.

Think Again About Fertilizer 

On the TV, the guy with the accent from Scott says Feed Your Lawn.  Of course they want you to buy their fertilizer and dump it on your lawn.  When I see those ads, I see dead zones devoid of oxygen creeping around the oceans. 

In all fairness, Scott sells a fertilizer, Scott's Natural Lawn Food, that is one of the better ones in terms of nitrogen content, but there's still nitrogen in it. 

How about one step farther -- healthy lawns with no nitrogen?

Did you know that incorporating clovers into your lawn is a great way to block out weeds and supply your lawn with nitrogen safely and naturally? That's according to the New Hampshire Coastal Protection Partnership. 

Here are some other ways to reduce your nitrogen footprint and maintain healthy lawns:

• Mow high – Taller grass has deeper, healthier roots. 3” or higher is recommended

• Leave grass clippings behind – Grass clippings are a free source of nutrients for your lawn

• Aerate your soil – Aeration allows water, air, and nutrients to penetrate more easily

• Plant low maintenance grass – Seed with mixtures that contain high proportions of fescue

Learn more with the Seacoast Nitrogen Campaign Home Action Kit.

Or visit a green living site like Earth Easy and find a sustainable alternative.

If you feel like nitrogen is the only answer, buy fertilizers with no more than 2% phosphorous and at least 50% slow release nitrogen.

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