Green Choices for Lawn and Garden
Practical steps consumers can take to reduce the amount of excess nutrients added to the watershed where they live
Everyone needs clean, fresh water. Keeping our water clean is crucial to supporting life, for both people and nature. As spring weather spreads across North America, The Nature Conservancy wants consumers to know that the decisions they make about lawn and garden care can affect the fresh water in your local river and everything downstream – all the way to the ocean.
Hundreds of millions of people across the country rely on fresh water for drinking water and recreation, and these sources need to be protected so they can stay clean for us and for future generations. One frequent way that water becomes polluted is through excess nutrients – fertilizers, both chemical fertilizers and manure, running off farm fields and suburban lawns.
“Every living thing needs nutrients, but overloading a freshwater system with nutrients can be disastrous,” said Jeff Opperman, a senior freshwater scientist with the Conservancy. Too many nutrients cause algae to grow in unnaturally high quantities, leading to fish kills, drinking water problems and “dead zones” in places like the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.
“Globally, agricultural chemicals are a primary source of these nutrients, but the way people manage their lawns and gardens has a real effect on the streams and lakes in your neighborhood,” Opperman said.
What can you do to make your lawn truly “green,” and not just lush?
Five Ways to ‘Green” Your Lawn and Garden Care
Use Less Fertilizer
Excess fertilizer flows off your lawn and garden and ends up in nearby rivers and lakes and eventually make its way to the sea. If you must use fertilizer, get a soil test first. Find out what your lawn needs. Many lawns don’t need phosphorus, for example, so phosphorus-free fertilizers might just work for you. Use only what you need, and make sure it stays on the lawn. If you spill some on the sidewalk, sweep it up. And only use it when the lawn is growing. Remember that any kind of fertilizer, organic or chemical, can be over-used.
Slow Your Runoff
We all want to keep our properties from flooding, but when all the water washes off city streets and our rooftops and yards, it carries a lot of nutrients and sediment with it. These materials can be harmlessly processed by the soils and plants on your property, but in a lake or river they can cause real problems. To slow that water down, don’t cut your grass along a creek or drainage swale. Better yet, replace grass with native plants that will bind the soil and slow down the water. Or maybe create a water garden, which is both functional—it holds and slows down stormwater—and an attractive landscaping feature. Or buy a rain barrel for the water coming off your roof. The rain in the barrel can then be used to water your gardens and lower your water bill.
Create Less Waste
Grass clippings are high in nutrients so you want to keep them out of the water. Use a compost bin or use a mulching mower or both. Often, mulching your grass clippings can help reduce the need for fertilizer. And it’s good to keep the nutrient-rich grass clippings and leaves out of storm drains and of ditches. Cutting your lawn high (3-4 inches) also increases its vigor, shades out unwanted weeds, and requires less water.
Use Native Plants
In general, using more native plants that are right for your part of the world reduces the need for fertilizers, pesticides and watering. Replace some of your lawn with wildflower gardens, for example.
Although home lawn care can play a significant role in keeping fresh water clean, you can also help promote healthy land and water with your food choices: what you buy, when you buy it, and the producers you support with your purchases. You can make choices about food that support the kind of farmers who work to minimize water pollution. Organic farms, for example, don’t use chemical fertilizers and are required to demonstrate that they are protecting their watershed.
Read more about protecting fresh water resources at www.nature.org/freshwater
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.