Posted: June 16, 2017

Runoff from our lawns and gardens can cause harmful algae blooms that deplete oxygen and kill fish each year. The following tips can help you keep our waterways clean and healthy.

Mulch or compost your grass clippings

Mulching grass clippings as you mow reduces the need for fertilizer because as the grass clippings break down, nutrients are released into your lawn. If your mower bags the clippings, make sure you compost them and use the compost in your garden beds next year.

Test your soils before you fertilize

A simple and cheap soil test kit from your local Penn State Extension office will help you evaluate what nutrients are lacking in your soils. Why add fertilizer if it is not needed?

Use a zero-phosphorus fertilizer

Most of our soils contain plenty of phosphorus (a soil test will determine that), and it is phosphorus that accelerates algae growth in lakes and waterways. Look for a zero in the middle number on the fertilizer bag (e.g., 10-0-10).

Keep fertilizers off sidewalks and other paved areas

When spreading fertilizer, avoid paved areas, or sweep up excess when you are finished spreading. Fertilizer on paved surfaces will quickly wash into storm drains and waterways.

Reduce stormwater runoff from your property

Runoff can easily wash grass clippings, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides off lawns and paved areas in your yard. Reduce the runoff by directing downspouts onto your lawn, creating a rain garden where native, moisture-loving plants use and filter the runoff, or using a rain barrel to collect roof water (potential runoff) that can be used to water the garden beds during a drought when it is not raining.

Plant native plants that are drought tolerant and require less fertilizer

Native plants are typically adapted to local soils and don't require much fertilizer. Remove nonnative, invasive plants that can quickly spread in your yard or watershed.

Dispose of household hazardous waste properly

Make sure gas or oil is not leaking from lawnmowers, gas cans, or automobiles. Dispose of things like paint, pesticides, herbicides, antifreeze, and motor oil properly at an approved waste recycling site or landfill. Do not pour these materials into your soils or down storm drains.

--Vincent Cotrone, Penn State Extension