DALY: Use proper landscape practices to protect bodies of water

One of the most important natural resources we have is the numerous bodies of water in our area, such as lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and groundwater. With a continually growing population, protecting these resources is vital in maintaining the environmental health of the community. Water pollution originates from many sources including fertilizers and pesticides used on home lawns and gardens as well as organic yard wastes, such as leaves and grass clippings.

Fertilizers, especially the nitrogen and phosphorus components, need to be applied to prevent their entry into waterways. They can stimulate the growth of algae that shades other plant material and depletes the water of oxygen, thus killing fish and other aquatic wildlife. The fertilizer, along with other pollutants, gets into bodies of water through leaching into groundwater and by runoff caused by rain or irrigation that can wash it down banks or storm drains and into water bodies.

To reduce the likelihood of fertilizers contaminating the water, apply only the recommended amount for your lawn and landscape plants. Most established healthy trees and shrubs require fertilization once every two to three years. Have your soil tested for pH and several key nutrients through Gwinnett County Extension. Apply the amount of fertilizer recommended by the soil test. Clean up any fertilizer that gets on paved areas and avoid getting any in storm drains.

In applying pesticides, make sure you thoroughly read and understand the label directions and apply only the amount listed on the label. In some cases, pest levels are low enough to avoid the application of chemical herbicides. Alternative control methods can be used to control plant material. When making fertilizer or herbicide applications, keep them away from any bodies of water, off paved areas and away from storm drains. Always fill up and clean out sprayers and other application equipment well away from these areas and pathways to them. Never pour pesticides down storm drains, sewer pipes, sinks or toilets.

Avoid directing grass clippings, leaves or other plant debris into the street, drains or into drainage ditches where they could eventually reach the water ways. When the debris gets in bodies of water, it decays reducing oxygen levels which harm aquatic organisms. When mowing your lawn, let the grass clippings fall back to the ground instead of bagging them. Some mowers are designed to mulch the clippings during mowing. They are beneficial since they are a natural source of fertilizer for the lawn. Mow your grass at the maximum recommended height. Compost plant wastes or put them in the appropriate bags for curbside pickup.

You do not have to choose between having an attractive home landscape and protecting water quality. Both goals can be achieved by using chemical pesticides properly and only when needed, managing the application of fertilizers and keeping organic wastes out of the water drainage system.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or by email at tdaly@uga.edu