One thoughtful action can help promote both: Think before you fertilize. All too often, lawns are fertilized too heavily, at the wrong time, or when they don’t need it at all—thanks to the formidable marketing efforts by fertilizer companies. Instead of automatically reaching for your spreader, consider what your lawn really needs and the consequences of over-fertilization.
Know what your lawn needs
Timing. The time to fertilize a lawn is when it’s growing more roots than blades; and to know when that is, know the type of grass in the lawn. Grass can be categorized in two ways: warm-season or cool-season. These terms refer to the weather in which the grass has adapted to grow. Turf grasses most common in our area, St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda, are all warm-season grasses and start their growth in spring, making that the best time for fertilization.
Fall is when these grasses go dormant making fertilizers moot. Fertilizing at the wrong time can actually be harmful. Feeding your warm-season turf nitrogen in fall can force new top growth making the lawn susceptible to frost, shock and disease. What’s more is that this takes away energy from root growth, leading to weak, thin lawns.
No matter what, always follow a fertilizer’s instructions exactly when it comes to application.
Test it. Having said all this, don’t assume you need to fertilize every spring. The only way to know what nutrients your soil is lacking is to have your soil tested. Instructions for how to take a soil sample and the form for sending it to Texas A&M for analysis can be found with this link: Soil Test Form.
Go organic. If you find your soil needs supplemental nutrients for turf grass, consider using organic instead of synthetic fertilizers. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, organic fertilizers don’t create high levels of salts which kill beneficial soil organisms—the key to good soil health. And organic fertilizers work slowly, wasting nothing. They also improve soil texture making it easier for air to get to the roots and helping the soil retain water longer.
Organic forms of fertilizers include:
- Alfalfa meal
- Bat guano
- Fish emulsion
- Cotton seed meal
Refer to Best Organic Fertilizers for a full list of organic fertilizers and what they specifically offer.
How does this affect the quality of streams?
When quick-release synthetic fertilizers are over used, the chemicals are washed from our lawns in a downpour. The polluted run-off is channeled into the nearest waterway via storm drains, untreated and unfiltered. This water in turn contaminates our creeks, rivers and groundwater. High concentrations of nitrogen in water can also lead to an algae overgrowth, threatening the health of aquatic life.
Currently, over 80% of waterways in Texas are listed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as “impaired,” creating poor habitat for aquatic organisms such as fish and turtles. High bacteria levels are another culprit and may lead to restrictions on water-contact recreation, such as swimming and wading, fishing, and kayaking.
Other ways to help keep our water clean:
- Pick up pet waste—it’s the number one source of bacteria in our waterways.
- Maintain cars so they don’t leak oil and other chemicals onto driveways.
- Compost, compost, compost.
- Never flush unwanted or out-of-date medicines down the toilet or drain.
- Minimize areas of turf grass and pavement while increasing areas of native plants
- Install a rain garden
For more information about lawn care, download Guide to Yard Care, by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
To learn more about water conservation in The Woodlands, visit The Woodlands Township’s Water Conservation webpage.