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Many Oregon lawns need little or no fertilizer to grow. When fertilizer is over-used, it can pollute our rivers and waterways. Here are a few tips for keeping your lawn healthy and our rivers healthy, too.
Watch the color: A healthy lawn should be a light meadow green color. A blue-green lawn indicates heavy nitrogen use, which leads to more growth on the top of the grass at the expense of the roots. This can make your lawn vulnerable to disease and pests.
Use organic or slow-release fertilizer. Organic fertilizers release nutrients over a longer period and are less likely to run off your lawn into waterways after a rain. Avoid water-soluble or quick-release fertilizers.
Grasscycle. Grasscycling, the practice of leaving grass clippings on the lawn, releases nutrients back into the lawn and reduces your fertilizer needs by up to 50 percent.
Skip the weed and feed. Weed and feed contains herbicides that may pollute waterways. The herbicides commonly found in weed and feed products, 2,4-D and mecoprop (MCPP), can also pose dangers for the health of your pets and children. Why use weed killer over the entire lawn if you only need to get rid of a few weeds? Weed and feed does nothing to prevent germination of new weed seeds. Pull weeds by hand, or spot-spray problem weeds if necessary.
Never apply more fertilizer than needed. Read label recommendations to determine how much you should use. Turf that is regularly over-fertilized can be more susceptible to disease and other problems.
Timing is important: Most Oregon lawns only need to be fertilized once per year, if at all. If you do choose to fertilize your lawn, fall is the best time to do it. Remember, too, not to fertilize right before a heavy rain is predicted.
Make sure the fertilizer goes on the lawn and not on sidewalks or in the street. The single greatest source of pollution from lawn fertilizers is the fertilizer that ends up in the street. If you live near a lake or stream, leave an unfertilized buffer zone of native vegetation next to the waterway. Mowed grass all the way to the water surface is an accident waiting to happen.
Have less lawn. Less lawn can mean less work, less fertilizer, and less water use. Consider replacing portions of your lawn area with landscaping using native plants, or with grass alternatives such as an “eco-lawn” – a mixture of grasses, flowers, and herbs developed by researchers at Oregon State University that stands up well to mowing.