Homeowners asked to participate in nutrient reduction

Mar. 04, 2013 @ 06:08 PM

Most homeowners in Durham are venturing outside their front door now that the weather is becoming milder. This means they are also looking at their long-neglected lawns. As a homeowner, your first impulse might be to run down to the local home improvement store, buy a bag of fertilizer and then liberally apply it to your lawn. But what if that fertilizer you just spent money on is not really the type or the amount that your grass needs?

The Durham Soil and Water Conservation District is working to educate homeowners about this issue by encouraging them to reduce fertilizer applications to their properties by 40 percent through a new program called the Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Program (VNRP). The VNRP encourages homeowners to follow fertilizer application Best Management Practices (BMPs) when applying fertilizer to their lawns or gardens. Misapplying fertilizer on home lawns is a common mistake that has far reaching implications. Not only may it be a waste of the homeowner’s money and time, but can contribute to the nutrients that run off into our streams and lakes.

By improving fertilizer application practices, landowners are protecting their county’s water resources and improving water quality in NC. The BMPs recommended by the VNRP include the following:

-- Test your soil. The soil test information is an important first step in determining what type and how much fertilizer should be used. The soil test is free, and you can obtain the sample boxes and reporting forms from the Durham County Agriculture Building at 721 Foster St., Durham. Once you have your soil-sample results, you will be able to calculate the amount of phosphorus, potassium and lime that your lawn or garden requires.

-- Do not apply fertilizer right before a runoff-producing heavy rain or when the ground is frozen, to prevent fertilizer from being washed into storm drains and ending up in our streams and lakes.

-- Sweep up spilled fertilizer from driveways, sidewalks and curbs to prevent fertilizer spilled on impervious areas from being washed into storm drains and streams.

-- Do not apply fertilizer within 20 feet of any body of water. Streams, ponds and bodies of water need a minimum of a 20 feet vegetated buffer area to help reduce the excess runoff of nutrients from the fertilized and managed areas.

It is best for the environment and your lawn to make more frequent low-rate applications and to use slow release or controlled release fertilizer. Apply fertilizer at the “basic” rate of nitrogen per year according to the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service publication, “Carolina Lawns a Guide to Maintaining Quality Turf in the Landscape.”

Optimizing the fertilizer application rate and timing for your lawn and implementing BMPs are the best ways to reduce the unintended consequences of nutrient runoff from your land. This program seeks to reduce the fertilizer applied to the estimated 53,000 single-family residences and areas managed by the 111 homeowners associations in Durham. Applying these nutrient reductions to lawns in Durham will save landowners money on fertilizer and will help to reduce nutrients from urban storm water runoff, thereby collectively saving Durham taxpayers lake cleanup costs. 

Please visit our website at http://www.dconc.gov/index.aspx?page=571 for more information about the VNRP or contact us at 919-560-0558 if you would like to sign the pledge and participate in the program.

Mike Dupree is watershed conservationists/agricultural development coordinator for the Durham Soil and Water Conservation District. The Durham Soil and Water Conservation District is part of Durham County Government. Their mission is to conserve, enhance and promote the natural resources of Durham County by providing technical assistance, environmental education information and economic incentives to County citizens and by exhibiting a diversified program to meet its changing needs. To learn more please visit www.dconc.gov.