Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Be Wise When You Fertilize!

July 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 


We fertilize our lawns to enjoy thick, lush green grass. However, excessive and improper fertilizing also promotes thick, lush algae growth in our local waterways.

Too much nitrogen — the main ingredient in lawn fertilizers — is the cause of the excessive algae growth. Its growth interferes with recreational water activities including boating and swimming, changes the natural ecology of our waters, and harms the environment. Algal blooms can cloud the water, blocking sunlight from reaching underwater plant life. This is a problem because submerged aquatic vegetation serves as a spawning habitat and nursery for finfish and shellfish. In some cases, algal blooms can actually kill fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life by using up the BWGB JULY 14available dissolved oxygen in the water.

Nitrogen plays a large role in triggering and sustaining harmful Brown Tide algal blooms which have intermittently plagued Long Island’s waters since 1985. Reoccurring Brown Tide events can be very damaging; they have contributed to the mass loss of vital eelgrass beds, the decline of hard clams in Great South Bay, and the collapse of the Peconic Bay scallop fishery.

Nitrogen from fertilizers can also pollute our groundwater. Excess nitrogen not taken up by plant roots can leach all the way down into Long Island’s natural aquifers — the sole source of Suffolk County’s drinking water. Elevated concentrations of nitrates in drinking water can potentially cause serious health problems for humans and animals.

In response to environmental and health concerns attributed to excess nitrogen, Suffolk County Law No. 41-2007 was passed to reduce nitrogen pollution in our groundwater and surface water caused by improper lawn fertilization. Suffolk County launched the comprehensive Healthy Lawns, Clean Water campaign to convey the aspects of the law to the public, including:

  • A countywide ban on fertilizer application to turf grass between November 1 and April 1. The potential for fertilizer runoff into surface water and leaching into groundwater is greatest during this time, as the grass is not actively growing and unable to absorb the nutrients.
  • A ban on the use of fertilizer on county owned properties (with exceptions for golf courses, athletic fields, the Suffolk County Farm, and new turf along public works projects).
  • The development of best management practices for County golf courses, athletic fields, and the Suffolk County Farm.
  • A requirement that all licensed landscapers take a Fertilizer Turf Management Course, which teaches the proper use and application of fertilizers and best management practices for lawn maintenance.
  • A requirement for retail establishments to post signs and brochures, supplied by Suffolk County, to advise consumers about the risks of nitrogen-based fertilizers and provide them with information on the proper use and application of such products.
  • Periodic inspections of retail establishments to insure compliance with the posting requirement.
  • An annual reporting requirement on fertilizers sold in Suffolk County to track trends in sales and usage of fertilizer products.

BWGB JULY 14In addition to Law No. 41-2007, which aims to reduce overall fertilizer usage, Suffolk County Law No. 5-2009 specifically targets waterfront properties in an effort to prevent direct nitrogen runoff and leaching into our waterbodies. The law prohibits the application of fertilizer to turf within 20 feet of regulated surface water.

Through its multi-faceted Healthy Lawns, Clean Water program, Suffolk County is taking a proactive approach to minimize the harmful effects of nitrogen pollution on our precious ground and surface waters. With the support of residents, this effort to keep fertilizers out of our waters can have a significant impact on the health of citizens and the environment.

By Jennifer McGivern

Jennifer McGivern is a Research Technician for the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, Division of Water Quality Improvement. For further information on Suffolk County’s Healthy Lawns, Clean Water program, the local laws, or landscaper training courses, call 631- 853-4412 or visit http://healthylawns.suffolkcountyny.gov


 Top Photo Credit: Suffolk County Department of Health Services | Great South Bay during brown tide event


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