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Fertilize ProperlyAlgae Growth

Plants need nutrients, just like humans need vitamines. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Runoff from excessive lawn irrigation, and from heavy rains discharges unused fertilizer directly into our waterways. High nutrient levels often result in algal blooms, like the one in the photo to the right. Algae tend to out-compete plants, and many species may die. The dead organic matter becomes food for bacteria that decomposes it. With more food available, the bacteria increase in number and use up the oxygen in the water. Fish kills are often the result of algal blooms. For more information on nutrient pollution and algal blooms, check out this great video produced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

What can you do?

  • Use fertilizers sparingly. Lawns and many plants are generally over-fertilized. Not only does following the directions improve water quality, it also saves money!
  • Get your soil tested. Plants can only absorb so many nutrients. If you already have nutrient rich soil, you may not need fertilizer at all! If you do need additional fertilizer, consider using organic fertilizers; they release nutrients more slowly. Soil testing is free in North Carolina. To find out more, check out http://www.agr.state.nc.us/AGRONOMI/sthome.htm.
  • Don't fertilize before a rain storm. Fertilizer that doesn't have time to absorb into the ground will wash off your lawn and into our surface waters.
  • Use commercially available compost, or make your own using garden/yard waste. Mixing compost with your soil means your plants will need less chemical fertilizer and puts your waste to good use.
  • Let your grass clippings lay! Don't bag the grass. Use a mulching lawn mower to cut one-third of the blade length each week and naturally fertilize your lawn in the process.
  • Wash your spreader and equipment on a pervious or penetrable vegetated area like the lawn to allow for the natural absorption of excess fertilizer. Remember, anything that lands on an impervious surface will eventually find its way into our waters.
  • Maintain a buffer strip of unmowed natural vegetation bordering waterways and ponds to trap excess fertilizers and sediment from lawns/gardens.

Links and Resources

Download the Stormwater SMART Landscaping for Water Quality brochure.

NC Department of Public Health - Cyanobacteria (Blue-green Algae)


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