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 shade other plant material and deplete 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 vital nutrients through UGA Extension Gwinnett. Apply the amount of fertilizer recommended by the soil test. Clean up any fertilizer that gets on paved areas and avoids getting any in storm drains.

In applying pesticides, make sure you thoroughly read and understand the label directions and use 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 waterways. When it 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 puts 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 correctly and only when needed, managing the application of fertilizers and keeping organic wastes out of the water drainage system.

The UGA Extension Gwinnett 2019 annual plant sale is underway. Many plants are available at affordable prices. Choices include blueberries, gardenias, ferns, goji berries, and many others. Many plants are available at affordable prices. Options include blueberries, gardenias, ferns, goji berries, and many others. To obtain an order form, download one from the Extension website at www.ugaextension.org/gwinnett, or you can have one mailed to you by contacting the Extension office.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be contacted at 678-377-4011or tdaly@uga.edu