We all want green lawns, healthy trees, and thriving shrubs. However, fertilizer runoff is creating larger problems than most of us are aware of. How can homeowners add nutrients to their lawns and plants without causing harm to the environment?
We all want lush lawns, healthy trees, and thriving shrubs. To achieve these things, most homeowners use fertilizers. However, though we may apply fertilizer innocently, many of us are unaware of the problems that its runoff creates.
How are our fertilizer choices impacting the environment? Are chemical fertilizers the problem? Can homeowners add nutrients to their lawns, trees, and plants without harming the environment?
What Does Fertilizer Do?
The purpose of fertilizer is to provide plants with the nutrients they need to thrive. Plants need three primary nutrients, all of which usually come from the soil: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. However, sometimes soil lacks one or more of these essentials. This is where fertilizer comes in.
Fertilizers can be split into two broad categories: 1) non-organic (or synthetic) and 2) organic. Non-organic fertilizers are chemically manufactured to deliver nutrients rapidly, while organic fertilizers contain nutrients that occur naturally.
Environmental Impacts of Fertilizer Overuse
A common mistake is the overuse of fertilizer. If you apply too much or apply it too often, the fertilizer unused by plants or lawns will wash away in the next rain or watering. Runoff fertilizer will enter the closest body of water and do what it’s made to do: promote plant growth. Excessive plant growth in bodies of water disrupts aquatic ecosystems, leading to eutrophication and toxic algal blooms.
Green Ways to Fertilize
There are methods of supplementing your soil with the nutrients it needs without contributing to fertilizer runoff. Do your research to choose the best option for your soil and your plants.
Test Your Soil First
Before choosing a fertilizer, have a soil test done to determine which nutrients exist in your soil and which are lacking. New construction areas often contain fill-dirt that is nutrient-poor. Much of Florida’s soil contains large amounts of sand. This kind of soil is also nutrient-poor. Understand your dirt so you know what fertilizer to apply.
As mentioned above, too much fertilizer can harm our water systems. This is the case even with organic fertilizers. No matter where they come from or how they are applied, excess nutrients will not be absorbed by the soil and will become runoff. Use only the amount and type of fertilizer needed by your lawn and plants.
Purchase Organic Fertilizers
Your go-to garden store should have several organic fertilizers for purchase. Organic fertilizers comprise natural components such as dried blood, bone meal, and seaweed extract. These ingredients must be broken down in the soil before they are available to plants. However, while they take longer to be effective than chemical fertilizer components, the upside is that the decomposing process creates humus. Humus improves soil structure and helps to reduce the leaching of unabsorbed nutrients.
Use Compostable Materials at Home
Much of your daily food waste can provide nutrients to your soil. Coffee grounds offer nitrogen and even small amounts of potassium and phosphorus. Leftover crustacean shells from dinner can be chopped up and buried, and a month later, you will have a nutrient-rich compost to spread through your garden. Wood ash from firepits can be sprinkled on gardens to provide potassium, calcium, and phosphorus and to help balance out overly acidic soils.